No sooner had the players finished dancing than the fans started singing. The game still had three innings to go, and in fact this was the middle of an inning, but no matter.
The dynasty would not wait.
The chant from the stands grew louder with each repetition, and more insistent: WE WANT HOUSTON! WE WANT HOUSTON!
They were Houston, these fans. They were mocking the fans of Seattle, and of New York, who had chanted how they wanted Houston. The Astros had swept Seattle, and the Astros had swept the Yankees, and now the Astros were nine outs from redemption, from validation, from whatever noun you want to use for winning the first untainted championship in franchise history.
“Dynasties are judged by championships,” Astros pitcher Lance McCullers had said on the eve of this World Series.
With their 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6 on Saturday, the Astros now have two championships in six years, this one presumably without the assistance of a trash can. They have four World Series appearance in six years, even as they turned over their management and most of their roster along the way.
Yordan Álvarez, who developed into one of baseball’s premier hitters after the Astros plucked him from an anonymous stockpile of Dodgers prospects, launched a 450-foot, three-run home run in the sixth inning. It was a game-winning hit and an exorcism all at once.
His teammates poured out of the dugout to dance. Even with a two-run lead and nine outs to go, victory seemed surprisingly assured. By the end of the inning, in which the Philadelphia Phillies had used arguably their three best pitchers, the Astros had turned a 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 lead.
The countdown to the champagne was on. Saturday night is all right for drinking.
The Astros are an easy-to-admire, hard-to-hate team except for, well, you know.
Their manager, Dusty Baker, might be the most beloved man in baseball. They did not throw sacks of money at free agents. The pitchers that sustained their run came from sharp scouting in Latin America. Framber Valdez, the winning pitcher Saturday, posted a 1.46 earned-run average in two World Series starts; he recorded 18 of his 37 outs by strikeout.
The Astros have the greatest percentage of homegrown players on any champion this century, according to Baseball America. The only other champions for which homegrown players made up even half the World Series roster: the 2002 Angels, the 2020 Dodgers, and the 2014 San Francisco Giants.
The Astros replaced perhaps their most dynamic player, shortstop Carlos Correa, with a rookie – Jeremy Pena, a third-round draft pick who first became the first rookie to hit safely in every game of a six-game Series.
Their best-known player might be the second baseman who stands 5-foot-6. Jose Altuve is a three-time batting champion and, now, a two-time World Series champion.
“Maybe my next goal,” Altuve said, “is win another World Series.”
The sign-stealing scandal is forever a stain on the Astros, no matter how well they play, and no matter how the cast of characters has been shuffled.
The Dodgers and their fans rightfully felt cheated out of the 2017 World Series. The Yankees and their fans understandably felt cheated out of the 2017 American League Championship Series.
But the reaction in Philadelphia in this World Series tells the true tale. The Phillies did not even play in Houston in 2017, and still the Phillies fans treated the Astros harshly.
Houston’s Martin Maldonado used a bat gifted from Albert Pujols, and league officials asked him to stop because the old model was no longer approved for use. An honest mistake, and not a big deal, except that Maldonado played for the Astros, and it was no great leap for Philadelphia fans to assume he must have been trying to cheat too.
Rob Manfred, the commissioner, thought the matter was resolved two years ago, when he sanctioned the Astros with a fine, a suspension of the manager and general manager, and a loss of draft picks. Manfred said he could not suspend any players because he had promised them immunity in exchange for their testimony, but that did not satisfy fans who were astonished that no players were punished and the 2017 title was not stripped from the Astros.
“The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act,” Manfred said then, thereby earning another round of scorn by referring to his sport’s most cherished trophy as some sort of doorstop. Manfred later apologized for that remark.
The topic remains a sensitive one for Manfred, as evidenced by an interaction with a television reporter a few days ago. The reporter, clearly looking for a cheery sound bite, asked Manfred what it said about the Astros that they could maintain their superiority and qualify for the World Series in back-to-back years despite all they went through.
“I tried this once before,” Manfred said with a nervous laugh, a very nervous laugh.
“Let’s see if it goes better. The predicate of the ‘what they went through,’ I don’t really have a comment on. I will say this: Their record on the field is phenomenal. To be able to sustain the level of excellence they have sustained is a credit to everyone in the organization, from [owner] Jim Crane on down … and Dusty in particular, who came in in a difficult situation. They’ve done a great job.”
Indeed, they have. Ladies and gentlemen, like it or not, your 2022 World Series champions: the Houston Astros!