Tell people we’ve never seen a September like this, and they’ll assume you’re talking about The Storm. Tell them the odds were long, the skeptics many and the obstacles great, and they’ll think you mean Recovery from The Storm. Tell them these are folks who demonstrate heart and soul and joy and valor and finesse and indomitability, and they’re sure to think you’re talking about Houstonians before, during, and after The Storm.
But tell them you’re talking about the city and not the Astros, and no one will ever again believe you, because from opening day of the season until yesterday afternoon, when the team clinched its first division title since 2001, the fates of both have been mystically, inextricably joined. Both started out as golden boys, both were tested during a long, brutal season, and both have emerged better and more impressive for the challenge.
Certainly that’s the case in the American League West division, which the Astros sat atop for an astounding five months this season. As the champagne corks popped and the celebrating began in the Astros’ Minute Maid Park clubhouse yesterday, it still seemed unbelievable that they’d beaten the Los Angeles Angels, their closest rivals, by 15 games, and the Oakland Athletics by 25. Like a runaway winner of the Kentucky Derby, they charged onward anyway despite never once being threatened. The finishes will almost certainly be closer in the days ahead, as the playoffs near and the Astros turn their attention to teams with records as good or better than their own. But Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park was not a time for questioning the health of a pitching staff or a team’s postseason inexperience. Sunday afternoon was about celebrating what by all measure has been an incomparable season for both a team and the city it calls home.
That’s why a single gesture at the end of the game, small though it was, seemed so important. As Carlos Correa caught the final pop-up and the ‘Stros claimed victory over the Seattle Mariners, 7-1, the train horn blared and the bouncing infield pile-up of players ensued. There was Jose Altuve skipping onto the field like those distant days of Little League. There was Alex Bregman, for whom Little League days are not so distant, unable to contain his excitement. There were Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel tightly hugging everybody they could find, and Marwin Gonzalez, who well remembers the lean years. It was all joyous and yet completely expected.
But then, just a few minutes later, something unexpected: George Springer began leading the team on an impromptu victory lap around the entire periphery of the field, every player high-fiving every fan that reached out to them—fans in the plush seats along the lines and behind home plate, and fans in the outfield cheapies. With every slap of a hand came a reminder to the city, a city that hardly needed such reminding, that we’re all in this together. For a moment at least, it seemed that anything might be possible, that the sky might indeed be the limit, for them and for us, that in stopping everything thrown in our path, we’d finally become unstoppable ourselves. And even as the greatest challenges lay ahead, there’d be no storm we couldn’t face if the team and the city met them bravely and in a spirit of happy warriorhood.
Or so it seemed on the afternoon of September 17, 2017, a day of elation and relief for anyone lucky enough to be a Houstonian, by birth or happenstance. On September 17, our team realized something our city had only recently realized itself: that Houston was something remarkable indeed.