For the Astros, the Real Season Begins Now
Hi, Astros fans.
In a short time, Minute Maid Park will be buzzing as the Astros face the Cleveland Indians in game one of the American League Division Series. You may be pregaming already. You should be. Forget December—this is the most wonderful time of the year.
I’d like to tell you a story.
I was born in Philadelphia and am a lifelong Phillies fan. I can’t shake that—if you’re from Philly, that fandom is part of your DNA. So, back in 2008 I felt the glory of my team winning a world championship, its first in my lifetime.
I remember the feeling as the Phillies approached the 2009 postseason, rewarded with the opportunity to repeat as champions. It was mysterious, wild, and chock full of uncertainty. I hope that’s how you feel now. Maybe you’re still wondering if last season was some gift bestowed from the baseball gods, that Antaeus transferred his powers of invincibility to Charlie Morton before Game 7 of the ALCS, and that a spirit flattened Brandon Morrow’s first-pitch offering to George Springer in Game 5 of the World Series.
Maybe you’re still doubting the expectations you have because isn’t it someone else’s time? Or that those big East Coast teams that everyone can’t stop shutting up about are just going to find a way?
Please feel like that.
The Phillies didn’t win the World Series in 2009 (the New York Yankees, who everyone couldn’t stop shutting up about, beat them). They didn’t win in 2010, either, but in 2011 they were the odds-on favorite. The Phils steamrolled through the regular season winning 102 games. All of us in Philadelphia decided, before first pitch of the postseason, that we would be watching our team through the end of October.
And that brought a feeling in baseball I had never before witnessed: boredom. I attended a division series game that year, against the St. Louis Cardinals, and around me was a crowd that didn’t roar, that didn’t emote, that didn’t care. The Phillies lost that competitive series in five games, and it was deflating, but I could honestly say the air had been sucked out long before the final pitch was thrown. I hated that feeling more than anything.
This postseason the Astros aren’t the odds-on favorite. In fact, they seem like an afterthought behind the dominant Boston Red Sox, who won 108 games, and the Yankees, whose sheer presence has national sportswriters at their every beck and call. While it’s annoying to have to watch the five-hour marathon games between Boston and New York this October, this is a good thing.
Somehow quietly, the Astros have won 103 games, the most in franchise history. Somehow quietly, Jose Altuve hit .316 and Alex Bregman turned in a career season with 31 home runs and a .394 on-base percentage. Somehow quietly, Tyler White became a threat off the bench with 25 extra-base hits in 237 plate appearances. And somehow quietly, Justin Verlander finished a superb season on the hill, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton shined with high strikeout totals, and the bullpen sorted itself out in time for the postseason.
Somehow quietly is just what you want, because now is the fun part, the time to get loud. It’s the time to worry about every two-strike count against a hitter, the time to pogo at your seat when the count gets to three balls. It’s the time to stretch your wrist, because that rally towel is getting a workout. It’s time to drink a beer (or a few more) with friends before first pitch, then get to that seat and not leave until the game ends. It’s time to live and die on every pitch, every swing, every moment that ball is flying free in the air-conditioned hum of Minute Maid.
It’s time for the train whistle. Again. And again. It’s time for fireworks, for home run celebrations, and for fist pumps after dramatic strikeouts late in the ballgame. It’s time to recall all those doubts, all that paranoia, all that worry, and let everything out because you’d better believe the ‘stros are hungry for it.
The repeat year is an awesome year. It can let us down hard, but it can confirm everything we hope for our favorite baseball team. And that repeat? I can’t imagine it, but can you?
The Astros begin their quest for another world championship at 1 p.m. on TBS (and at Minute Maid Park) against the Cleveland Indians.