MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Hinch finds glory with style, substance

Astros manager builds relationships with players, shows faith in them

Hinch finds glory with style, substance

HOUSTON -- When the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, one of the first things manager Charlie Manuel did was look for a reporter from Cleveland.

"Tell 'em I did OK," Manuel said.

Dress like a champion! Get Astros World Series title gear

In the happiest hour of his professional life, Manuel still carried the sting of being fired by the Indians six years earlier.

Did Astros manager A.J. Hinch have something along those lines he would like to say?

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"Well ...," he said.

Hinch said he hadn't forgotten an opposing manager or two who'd given him a cold shoulder when the D-backs hired him.

Nor had Hinch forgotten the sting of being fired by Arizona after parts of two seasons in 2009 and '10.

Nor had Hinch forgotten that plenty of people did not think he deserved another job and were openly surprised that Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow hired him three years ago.

What goes around …

Today, Hinch, 43, is the prototype for what the modern Major League manager should be. He builds lasting relationships with players. He jokes with them and listens to them.

When outfielder George Springer struck out four times in Game 1 of the World Series, Hinch told the media the idea of benching Springer or dropping him in the lineup was silly.

"He's too important to what we do here," Hinch said. "Listen, my players are going to know I've got their back."

Hinch did not mention that he had texted Springer and told him to hang in there and that great things were going to happen for him in this World Series.

Springer revealed those text messages after the Astros won the World Series on Wednesday with a 5-1 victory over the Dodgers in Game 7. Springer was named the Most Valuable Player of the Series for batting .379 with five home runs.

"When someone has your back, that allows you to go play hard and take chances and not worry about the other stuff," Springer said.

Hinch praises Springer's play

Hinch did the same sort of thing after third baseman Alex Bregman began his Major League career in 2016 with a deep confidence-shaking slump.

Rather than bench Bregman, Hinch moved him from sixth to second in the batting order.

"That reflects what the organization thinks of you and what I think of you," Hinch said.

Minutes after Game 7 ended, a representative of the Hall of Fame asked for Bregman's third baseman's glove.

"We have another glove from a World Series third baseman," Bregman was told. "That's Brooks Robinson."

"Brooks Robinson?" Bregman said. "My dad's favorite player."

Bregman's glove is on its way to Cooperstown.

This World Series was a coming out party for the Astros, for owner Jim Crane's leadership, Luhnow's blueprint and the individual greatness of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, etc.

It was a tribute to reborn players like Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock, to veterans like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, who have more yesterdays than tomorrows in this game.

But maybe the lasting impact of this World Series is that Hinch had one of the great World Series any manager has ever had.

That the Astros won the World Series is no surprise, since they have a roster that was been carefully built and smartly managed.

But to win a World Series when Hinch simply could not rely on many of the relievers that helped Houston win 101 regular-season games is astonishing.

Rather than try to coax his main guys back into the mix, Hinch came up with a brilliant Plan B on the fly.

One of his season's most reliable starters, Peacock, was invaluable in appearing in Games 1-3-5-7 as a reliever.

And Morton. He'd never pitched in relief prior to the World Series. But Morton was probably the key to the Astros winning Game 7 by pitching the final four innings to finish off the Dodgers.

Astros' bullpen comes up big

Morton is a tribute to Luhnow and his staff's ability to see things in players that others don't.

When Morton became a free agent last offseason, he was so frustrated with his career that he wondered if he'd even get a Major League deal.

The Astros were impressed enough to offer Morton two years, and he repaid them with two solid postseason starts -- five shutout innings in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball in Game 4 of the World Series.

Then, working on three days' rest, Morton turned in a World Series performance he'll remember for the rest of his life.

In the end, Justin Verlander gave Houston two solid starts and Morton and Dallas Keuchel one apiece. Hinch had to scramble from there, and in Game 7, with starter Lance McCullers Jr. gone in the third inning, Peacock and Morton combined to go six innings.

Hinch called his bullpen management "a race to 27 outs." Without the usual late-inning guys lined up, he improvised.

And then when Morton got the 27th out in Game 7, a celebration filled with gratitude and elation began. Hinch's brilliant work was huge in getting the Astros where they hoped to be.

Hinch will be in downtown Houston on Friday to be honored with a championship parade that should be an outpouring of emotion and joy.

• Parade set for Friday in Houston

Not every manager gets a second chance. Hinch is grateful for his.

The Astros are even more grateful.

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.