You might have missed it among all the majestic home runs and masterful pitching and marriage proposals and crowd shots of Sandy Koufax, but Houston pulled off a triple play in the World Series.
It might not show up in any of the box scores, but that’s how the Astros won their first major league championship in 56 seasons — with three-way dominance.
Houston won on the field.
The Astros hit better — and longer — and also pitched better in the clutch and fielded better, especially at third base. After wild ebbs and wilder flows, numerous twists and turns and taunts, and more gut-wrenching drama than a presidential campaign in one of the most dynamic, exciting postseasons in baseball history, the Astros ultimately won Wednesday night in a straightforward, wire-to-wire, 5-1 no-doubter.
Boring became beautiful.
Houston won in the managerial chair.
Third-year manager A.J. Hinch seriously worked the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dave Roberts the entire series. Save for not sticking with an effective Chris Devenski in the ninth inning of Game 5 and switching to struggling closer Ken Giles and perhaps sticking too long with the slumping Josh Reddick the entire Series, Hinch’s every move was sheer genius.
Roberts, on the other hand, overworked his bullpen in the early games. He started the train wreck that was Yu Darvish in Game 7 instead of going with the safer Alex Wood. He twice pulled effective starter Rich Hill at the first sign of trouble, and no water cooler in the Dodgers’ dugout was safe. He didn’t play the infield in and allowed the Astros a cheap, early run in Game 7. He probably should have dropped the slumping Cody Bellinger in the order.
And Houston won in the front office.
General Manager Jeff Luhnow landed star Justin Verlander in a late August trade. The Dodgers landed Darvish. Any questions?
Luhnow has worked his magic for the past several years, masterfully identifying Jose Altuve as a free agent and Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr. and George Springer as first-round picks, and adding critical veteran pieces like journeyman Charlie Morton (with a 46-71 career record), seven-time All-Star catcher Brian McCann and 40-year-old DH Carlos Beltran.
They all came together in a championship season.
“We were at the bottom,” said pitcher Dallas Keuchel, a seventh-round pick in 2009 and one of a handful of Astros who were on the team when they lost 111 games in 2013. “Nobody wanted to come here. It was an open tryout, and now it’s a destination for players to come. We’ve got MVPs wanting to come here; we’ve got Cy Youngs wanting to come here. We’re on top of the world … literally.”
And they just might stay there.
The Astros made history and seem poised to repeat it. Few teams are as prepared to win the 2018 World Series.
“The exciting thing for Astro fans is the majority of this team will all be back next year,” Astros President Reid Ryan told me Thursday. “And 2018 should be a lot of fun.”
Consider that Houston has just six players who will become free agents this offseason, and not a one of them is a front-line player.
The three who contributed in small roles but could move on are Beltran and relievers Luke Gregerson and Francisco Liriano. Otherwise, this roster returns largely intact with maybe the best young nucleus in the majors and a stacked rotation of Verlander, Keuchel, McCullers, Morton and World Series hero Brad Peacock, although Houston could be in the market for a closer such as free agent Wade Davis or 41-save man Greg Holland.
Yeah, go ahead and bet against Houston in 2018 at your own peril.
This was one of the biggest turnarounds in sports, a championship team just four years removed from a 111-loss season. That capped a run of three consecutive 100-defeat seasons that galvanized a clubhouse and motivated a front office to assemble a perfect team.
The Astros might have the best infield in baseball with giant talents Altuve and Correa, budding star Bregman and 33-year-old rookie Yuli Gurriel. But they won this Series in large part because of guys like Morton, a reclamation project who told us last weekend that he wasn’t even sure he’d make the team out of spring training.
Houston won it with superstars.
Houston won it with spare parts.
It’s a roster overflowing with talent, such as three-time batting champion and likely American League MVP Altuve, Cy Young winners Keuchel and Verlander, and World Series MVP Springer, who crushed five home runs in seven games and had a tempo-setting double and a homer in Game 7.
But perhaps the two biggest plays of this postseason came from players who are not yet household names but integral parts of the team.
Bregman, the second pick of the 2015 draft, who was playing shortstop for LSU just two years ago, fielded a short-hop grounder and fired a throw home to nail New York’s Greg Bird as Houston led 1-0 to defuse what might have been a game-turning Yankees rally in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.
Then Marwin Gonzalez, a seventh-hole hitter and maybe the best utility man in baseball, rocketed a leadoff home run in the ninth off Dodgers star closer Kenley Jansen to tie Game 2, which Houston would win in 11 innings.
Typical heroics from an Astros team that beat the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers, the three teams with baseball’s highest payrolls.
And there was Altuve, the best Astro of them all, fielding the ground ball for the final out at Dodger Stadium.
A champion at long last.