Houston, Texas, how are you feeling? How was your Saturday night? Because from where I was sitting, it seemed like it was pretty good.
It’s been more than a decade since I’ve been able to say this: Houston is going to the World Series. And those 12 years haven’t always been pretty. There were a few seasons in there when just winning a game was a reason to party. And now you’re four wins away from the ultimate party.
And the way they got there is so impressive. Remember when the Houston Astros looked like they were done? When they were fumbling around for their mouthpiece after being hit by a three-punch combo from the Yankees in New York? Remember when it looked like they might have jumped out to a 2-0 series lead only to have blown it and their shot at a World Series? Yeah, me neither.
Because what I remember is Justin Verlander taking the ball in an elimination game and doing what Justin Verlander does in elimination games – keep his team alive. After throwing a shutout in Game 2, he came back to throw seven more shutout innings in Game 6. It wasn’t necessarily easy, but it was awesome. He freaking battled. He’s now 4-1 with an ERA just over 1 in five career elimination games and has 24 straight shutout innings in those games.
Think that doesn’t have an impact on his teammates? Think again. Or ask Jose Altuve: “I literally love Justin Verlander. The way he goes out there makes me feel like I have to go out there and play the same way he’s doing it.”
And he did. Altuve broke out of his mini-slump in Game 6 by going 2 for 4 with a homer and then homering again in Game 7. And speaking of Game 7, that was a seriously brass performance from the Astros? How brass? Charlie Morton allowing two hits over five innings. Or Lance McCullers Jr. throwing 24 straight curveballs to close out the game.
Or my man, Alex Bregman, gunning down Greg Bird at home plate in the fifth inning of a 1-run game.
That was brass. Actually, Verlander said it was more than brass. After the inning, he told Bregman, “you’ve got balls.” Truth. In fact this whole team does.
As Bregman, the ABQ’s finest, said, “When you’re playing Game 7 of the ALCS, you need to play aggressive. I was playing to win. I wasn’t playing not to lose. That’s the difference since we got home. And I guarantee you one thing. When we go to L.A., we’re playing to bleeping win.”
I guess the Astros got their swagger back. They aren’t coming to Los Angeles for sightseeing. They aren’t just happy to be in the World Series. They’re for real. It might not be Yankees-Dodgers in terms of history, but it is the best matchup and they are the two best teams.
Altuve’s bat came alive in the final two games of the ALCS. Carlos Correa broke out as well and the Astros are starting to look like the best offense in baseball again. And now we get one of the great offenses in history against one of the stingiest staffs in history. And the Astros aren’t just looking to show up. They’re playing to bleeping win.