City's post-Harvey strength carried Astros to title
Keuchel: Winning World Series is 'what we give on back'
By Richard Justice
LOS ANGELES -- At one point, Astros outfielder George Springer thought Hurricane Harvey might have destroyed his home. Being on the road with his teammates during that stretch in late August, he simply did not know.
That uncertainty gnawed at Springer, and at others, too. Teammate Jose Altuve approached manager A.J. Hinch during this time and poured out his heart.
"How long am I going to have to play like this?" Altuve asked.
Altuve's wife and infant were back in Houston. They were safe and dry, but they were trapped inside their home by the floodwaters. Altuve loved his baseball team, but he knew he should be home as Harvey devastated Houston.
"That's not easy to ask your players, 'Jose, now, go out and get your normal two and three hits. Be the three-hole hitter. Play hard. And deliver us a win,'" Hinch said.
This baseball team -- and this championship -- will be forever intertwined with Hurricane Harvey, and that conversation between Altuve and his manager resonated in all sorts of ways Wednesday night when the Astros won the first World Series in franchise history by beating the Dodgers, 5-1, in Game 7.
"If you want to humanize baseball, look at that story," Hinch said. "And it will show you what these guys go through daily in their personal lives that leads to the professional lives. And on top of that, I think we were able to really keep in perspective what was going on in Houston."
The Astros knew they could not magically heal a wounded city. They did not pretend otherwise. They simply wanted to do something. This is what good people do in tough times. They offer a helping hand. Besides, this was their city, too. These were friends and neighbors in need.
When the Astros did return home a few days later, they worked in homeless shelters and funded animal-rescue efforts and gave both their time and money. But they knew the main thing they could do was simpler than that.
The Astros could play baseball. They could play it with energy and joy. They could continue to win and provide a few hours of distraction each day from the pain and suffering of Hurricane Harvey.
"It means everything," pitcher Dallas Keuchel said. "We knew that, so we wanted to really be behind them. We love each and every one associated with Houston. We've been through a lot, and for us not to be there when everything was going on really hurt us. This is our redemption. This is what we give on back."
In the end, that's what the Astros did. When they returned to Minute Maid Park on Sept. 2, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner declared it the beginning of the city's rebuild.
The Astros became a rallying point for plenty of people, a baseball team so engaging and so entertaining that it provided a few hours of entertainment or distraction from the grim days of real life.
"We're just happy for the city," Astros owner Jim Crane said. "The city was in bad shape. Still a lot of work to do there, but I'm happy for the fans and the city and the region. Just couldn't be more proud of that, and we look forward to getting back with the trophy."
The Astros won because they were a team smartly constructed and shrewdly managed. They won because Springer played the best week of baseball of his life and was named the Most Valuable Player of the World Series.
Houston also won because Springer, shortstop Carlos Correa, third baseman Alex Bregman and Altuve form a young nucleus as good as any in the game.
And finally, the Astros won because Hinch, the guy who wondered if he'd ever get another chance after being dismissed by the D-backs in 2010, pushed every right button.
Now, Hinch is the prototype of what a big league manager should be in 2017. And in the biggest game of his life, a game in which his starting pitcher, Lance McCullers Jr., didn't finish the third inning, Hinch smartly worked around a tired bullpen by squeezing 6 2/3 innings from four relievers, including right-hander Charlie Morton for the final four frames.
When it ended, Houston players mobbed one another in the middle of the diamond at Dodger Stadium, where they laughed some and cried some and celebrated a moment they will remember for the rest of their lives.
The Astros also won this World Series for all the fans who'd waited so long and cared so deeply. For all those hours at the ballpark with parents and grandparents, for those hours in which they came to care so deeply about their baseball team.
This day had been so long coming that some had begun to doubt if it ever would. Houston was the place that watched other cities hoist championship trophies and host joyous parades.
Only three franchises have waited longer than the Astros for their first championship -- the Phillies (77 seasons), Orioles (63) and Rangers (57 and counting).
Now Houston has a World Series trophy to call its own after a Fall Classic filled with crazy games and close games, a Series as wildly entertaining as any that has ever been played.
On baseball's biggest stage, the Astros did themselves proud. Crane bought the franchise six years ago and steadfastly stuck to his blueprint despite some tough times.
That blueprint is now being copied all over baseball. That is, this notion of tearing a franchise down to its bones and building it back through player development and affordable free agents.
Crane's best decision was to hire Jeff Luhnow, a scouting director for the Cardinals, to be his general manager and baseball architect. In turn, Luhnow's wisest decision was bringing in Hinch to manage the club.
The Astros won because of Luhnow's forward-thinking judgment and his gift for constructing a championship roster. But they won because of Hinch's communication skills and bullpen management and the knack for saying or doing the right thing at the right times.
In the end, though, this team's journey will be forever intertwined in that of Houston's recovery from Hurricane Harvey and also from the team's collective efforts to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria.
Both were devastating storms, and both deeply impacted Astros players and coaches.
After Harvey, the Astros added "Houston Strong" patches to their uniforms. They said they took the message of those patches personally. They knew that they mattered in ways baseball teams don't always matter.
Funny how these things play out. In some of the worst of times, Houston's greatness and heart and strength shined more brightly than ever before.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, as Houston picked its battered self up and dried itself off, it was about neighbors helping neighbors.
Into this moment stepped a baseball team. Today, that baseball team is the World Series champion.
"We never lost perspective of what was important," Hinch said. "I saw these guys do good deeds for people as they start to rebuild the city. And I think that's why the city fell in love with this team all over again, and why we had that Houston Strong strength that carried us a long way."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.