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Setting records and burning up the base paths: First baseman Yuli Gurriel

Image: Marco Torres

GAME #151 WEDNESDAY NIGHT had all the makings of a grudge match from the very first pitch. There were two strong right-handed starters in the Astros’ Brad Peacock and the White Sox’ James Shield, both of whom lasted into the sixth inning, and the teams appeared evenly matched both defensively and at the plate. So why did the Astros win yet again, and for the eighth straight time at home, this time by a score of 4-3? Yet another superb one-two punch from the team’s pitching staff and hitters. Offensively, last night’s standout was Yuli Gurriel, who went three for four with two singles and a powerhouse 2-RBI double. The extra-base hit was Gurriel’s 57th, by the way, which sets a record for the most ever by an Astro in his rookie season.

“I don’t think he was particularly sharp,” said A.J. Hinch of Peacock during a postgame press conference, “which is funny to say for a guy that gave up one hit, but he did battle through his outing”—winning his 12th game of the season in the process, and perhaps too a spot in the postseason rotation. The night’s sharpest stuff belonged to closer Joe Musgrove, who, after giving up a double to White Sox third baseman Yolmer Sanchez, muscled through the game’s final four outs, striking out two in a gutsy performance that brought the Minute Maid crowd to its feet.

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM HAS IT that Texas is a football state, and Houston a football town. And it’s  true that there’s nothing quite like the love that this city demonstrates for its Texans—as of now, that is. Among the most intriguing story lines of this storied season, however, is the growing love affair between Houston and its Astros, one of the happiest group of guys to ever set foot on a baseball diamond. Indeed, the team’s natural sunniness, circumstances be damned, seems to prove the old maxim--which is neither old nor a maxim, but still--that cities only get the baseball teams they deserve. It’s certainly the case that there’s no team Houston deserves more right now than the Astros. Almost six months into this long season, the Bayou City Bombers continue to play the game at the very highest level. Seeing them last night, there were moments when you might be forgiven for thinking they’ve never played better. This is baseball that’s sound yet terrific, proficient yet fresh, mature yet somehow youthful. It is Houston in baseball form.

And there’s something else the Astros have in common with us—an unapologetic love of attention. Which is why we’d still like to see, during the five remaining home games of the regular season, bigger Minute Maid crowds than the 24,995 the park hosted last night.  We’ll admit to a bit of disbelief when it comes to the remaining naysayers. Honestly, is the prospect of an Astros World Series run any more unthinkable than everything else this city has been through of late? Not according to baseball’s greatest minds.  

“If the Astros of October really are the Astros of April and May,” wrote Mike Lupica in his must-read column yesterday, “they would provide the single greatest sports moment in their own city’s history.” Did you hear that, holdouts? The greatest sports moment in our history. So why not believe? After all, crazier things have happened. Indeed, crazier things just did.

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Musgrove's colorful cleats are being auctioned off.

AND SPEAKING OF JOE MUSGROVE, it was almost three weeks ago that the Astros reliever had the inspired idea, while visiting hurricane evacuees at the George R. Brown Convention Center, to cheer up children by letting them autograph a pair of his cleats. The brightly colored signatures helped put a human face to the catastrophe, even as Musgrove’s gesture brought nationwide attention to the still-unfolding tragedy when he wore them on the mound the next day, throwing two innings of scoreless ball during a doubleheader with the New York Mets, the team’s first games in Minute Maid Park since the devastation Harvey wrought. The other day, news arrived that Musgrove had had yet another inspired idea: to auction off his celebrated spikes to the highest bidder, with all proceeds benefiting victims of the hurricane. As of 10 a.m., the highest bid was $625, which to our ears sounds low for such a poignant reminder of resilience during our city’s epic storm. The good news is that there’s still time to make your bid, as the online auction, hosted by the MLB, remains open through Sunday night. Here’s hoping that this unique and moving piece of baseball memorabilia will find its way to some deep-pocketed fan with a heart of gold.  

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