CHICAGO – No, they haven’t gone anywhere.
To the chagrin of many in baseball, the Houston Astros – a franchise that is still condemned, still ridiculed, and still haunted by a cloud of fraud suspicions during the winning 2017 World Series – continues to win.
After beating the Chicago White Sox 10-1 on Tuesday, the Astros completed their three-game-on-one division streak for the fifth straight year and moved into familiar territory, the American League championship streak. They are the first franchise to compete for five straight AL pennants since Oakland Athletics did it from 1971 to 1975.
“To come out this season, and I have to face the music, so to speak, and play well, and win our division, and come out here to win away, that’s very cool and very impressive from the group of guys we got. and the guys who came before, ”said Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr.
Starting Friday in Houston, the Astros will face the Boston Red Sox in the 2018 ALCS rematch. The Red Sox, which won the World Series that year, is led by manager Alex Cora, who was the Astros bench coach during the infamous tournament. The 2017 season and later was suspended for the 2020 season due to his role in Houston’s illegal sign-theft scheme.
While the Astros haven’t won a championship since 2017, they’ve come close – losing the decisive seventh game of the 2019 World Series to Washington.
Even a Major League Baseball investigation after the fraud allegations were revealed in November 2019 and the resulting punishment couldn’t slow down the Astros. Their general manager Jeff Loughnow and manager AJ Hinch lost their jobs and were suspended. Opposition players and fans, when they returned to the stadium after the 2020 season, which was largely uncrowded due to the coronavirus pandemic, have since vented their rage on the Astros in the form of signs, hooting, lunges and harsh words.
“I’ve never heard them really mock or talk a lot,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said of his players. Astros shortstop Carlos Correa added: “We don’t pay too much attention to this. Everything is positive in the club ”.
However, the Astros won. Led by general manager James Clique and manager Dusty Baker, both hired from outside the organization after the fraud, the Astros reached the ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays last season and lost another World Series win.
This season, the Astros have continued their time-honored formula of relentless attack, vacuum protection and strong serve. They won 95 games, taking their fourth AL West division title in five years. And in October, they – again – challenged their opponents because their hitters were the top performing baseball player in the regular season and had the hardest hit to hit.
Over the years, the stars have gone (starter Gerrit Cole and outfielder George Springer), some have been injured (starter Justin Verlander) and others have emerged (outfielder Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker). But the Astros remained a formidable force because of their core group: first baseman Julie Gurriel, second baseman Jose Altuve, third baseman Alex Bregman and Correa. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the four have played together in postseason games (now 61) than any other four teammates in MLB history.
The talent and experience of this group showed up again in October this year. White Sox-designated striker Gavin Sheets brought his team a 1-0 lead in the second inning with a solo shot. But the Astros range is a noisy saw.
“We kind of took them apart in every aspect of the game, from Game 1 to tonight,” said McCullers Jr., who left the game on Tuesday after four innings with elbow discomfort. Five of his teammates have together spent five scoreless innings of relief.
“We were the best team,” he added.
The Astros also had additional motivation. After the White Sox won Game 3 in Chicago, Peter Ryan Tepera vaguely accused the Astros of continuing to steal badges from their home stadium in Minute Maid Park. The Astros, however, have bristled with ongoing criticism because they performed both home and away this season.
“I don’t think this will end anytime soon,” McCullers Jr. said of skepticism. “All we can do is just keep doing our thing, keep winning.”
Correa added about Teper: “It is a pity that he had to say these words, because we went out hungry.”
As Altuv faced more screams and shouts of “cheater! scammer! In the third inning, White Sox starter Carlos Rodon mistakenly punched his opponent in the left hand. Altuve dropped his bat and hung his head, and Chicago fans cheered him. He quickly stole second base, oblivious to the ridicule he received throughout the year.
“If you pay attention to something else, you may not be able to hit,” Altuve said. “You have to be 100 percent focused.”
The mood quickly changed as Bregman and designated hitter Jordan Alvarez fought back short-range shots from Rawdon with two strikeouts and pulled walks to load bases. Then came Correa’s crushing blow.
Rawdon beat Correa 0-2. But when he tried to slip through another fast fastball at 97 mph, Correa was ready. He adjusted his swing on the field just above the hitting zone and snapped it in the left side of the field, making a double that propelled Houston ahead 2-1.
Standing at second base, Correa looked at the Astros dugout and pointed to his wrist, where he usually wore a watch. “You know what time it is, baby: it’s October,” he said later.
Of course, the Astros didn’t stop there. They took a 5-1 lead in the fourth inning with catcher Martin Maldonado running with a single and Bregman, swinging 3-0, added two more doubles. This continued with three rallies in the top of the ninth, increasing the lead to 10-1.
“It was a classic win for the Astros,” McCullers Jr. said. “Good serve, good defense, well-timed shots. Imagine being away from home.
As they continued to hit more runs, reality became a reality on the speed guarantee field and all over baseball: the Astros are back again.
“I don’t know how they feel,” Correa said of his opponents, “but we are not tired of it.”