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HOUSTON — An Ode To The ’Stros.
The World Series returned to Houston Friday and the resurgent Astros thumped the Dodgers, 5-3, to take a two-games-to-one lead in the 113th World Series.
Lord knows there’s a lot to love about the Astros this year.
Let’s start with the obvious: The ’Stros play in a city slammed by the fury and fright of Hurricane Harvey just two months ago. There was death, destruction, and more than 30,000 homes under water. Thousands of greater Houston residents are still waiting for FEMA, hoping to restore their lives. At least 25 Astros employees lost homes and/or vehicles to the storm.
In this spirit, it is only natural to pull for Houston a little bit. The Astros are wearing “Houston Strong” patches on their jerseys.
New Englanders remember how the 2013 World Champion Red Sox galvanized Boston in the days and months after the Marathon bombings. The Yankees had the same effect on New York City just a month after the Twin Towers fell. Post Katrina New Orleans was lifted when the Saints resumed playing football and ultimately won a Super Bowl.
“This season means so much to so many people,’’ Astros manager A.J. Hinch said before Game 3 at Minute Maid Park.
Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, who has served the organization for more than 30 years, said, “This means a lot right now. There are still people not in their homes, but they’ve been able to live through the Astros. The city is so charged up, especially our first World Series win ever the other night. This is going to be an exciting three days.”
Having acknowledged the obvious, let’s explore everything else that is cool and worthy about the Astros.
The city itself grows on you. It screams “urban sprawl” louder than any place in America, but folks are friendly and generous. Houston is where the Patriots came to win Super Bowl LI less than nine months ago. The World Series this weekend is being played in the same ballpark where Tom Brady cried on Media Night when we asked him about his mom and dad. The Houston Convention Center sheltered the homeless in the aftermath of Harvey, and is the same place where Roger Goodell lied about his war with the Patriots last winter.
The Astros were born the Colt .45s when the National League expanded to 10 teams in 1962. They came into baseball with the New York Mets and changed their name to “Astros” when they moved into the spanking new Astrodome in 1965.
Houston’s baseball team is an homage to the US space program. On April 9, 1965, the original “Mercury Seven” NASA astronauts (including Alan Shepard of Derry, N.H.) threw out ceremonial first pitches to christen the Astrodome in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees. Mickey Mantle hit the Dome’s first homer. Houston’s hardball space theme continues to this day: The Astros’ mascot is “Orbit,” and it’s proprietary database is “Ground Control” — a distant cousin of Boston’s Carmine.
The Astros gave the world indoor baseball, artificial turf, nine years of Nolan Ryan, and rainbow uniforms. They gave the Red Sox Larry Andersen in exchange for Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell. Houston suburb Katy, Texas, gave the world Roger Clemens, who now serves as a special assistant to the Astros GM.
But there have been no World Series champions in Houston. The ’Stros made it this far only once before and they were swept by the White Sox in 2005. The only major league teams with longer championships droughts are the Cleveland Indians, who last won in 1948 and the Texas Rangers, who were born (as the Washington Senators) one year before the Colt .45s.
But now the Astros are here and they have a chance with a young starting lineup that includes probable American League MVP Jose Altuve and 23-year-old shortstop sensation Carlos Correa. George Springer’s game-winning homer in Game 2 in Los Angeles Wednesday is already local folklore, touted as the biggest hit in franchise history, and the Astros kept it going Friday, routing Dodgers starter Yu Darvish with four runs in the second inning.
The Astros are almost unbeatable at Minute Maid Park. They’ve won 19 of 21 here since Harvey, including a perfect 7-0 in the playoffs. Remember how they spanked the Red Sox in back-to-back playoff games here earlier this month?
Houston Texans lineman J.J. Watt threw out the ceremonial first pitch Friday. Watt recently had surgery for a broken left leg and used crutches to get to the mound. Watt’s left crutch held him up while he tossed his pitch to Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel is one of only four Astros leftover from the team’s 51-111 season in 2013.
In ordinary times we would make fun of the Astros for selecting a football hero to throw out a first pitch in a World Series game. Typical Texas, right?
But these are no ordinary times in Houston. And Watt is no ordinary football player. His emergency relief fund, assembled on the fly in the early hours after Harvey, has raised more than $37 million for hurricane victims.
The big lineman’s crutches were a perfect metaphor for this team and this town. Houston is wounded, still standing, and halfway home to its first World Series win.
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