Say good night to the bad guys: Astros fall short in Game 7
SAN DIEGO (AP) - The Houston Astros spent this season odyssey as baseball's greatest bad guys.
When Aledmys Diaz flew out with a runner on Game 7 of the AL Championship Series, the bad guys finally lost.
The Astros has been mocked, roasted, and torn up all year long long after the franchise theft tactic was revealed in previous seasons. He still conjured enough heart and poise for October to get to the brink of another World Series. Manager Dusty Baker's club came painfully close to the biggest playoff comeback in baseball history in a wild ALCS.
"The legacy of this group is that these guys are ball players and these guys are men," said Baker, who took over the team in January. "They've been through a whole bunch of things other than the ball field and these guys can." Forget about the problems they had and come together as a group. These guys will be friends forever. "
Houston fell back early and suffered a 4-2 loss in Game 7 against Tampa Bay on Saturday night. After three wins in a row, there was no astonishing series comeback.
While they couldn't conjure up another incredible post-season performance, this playoff run should be a source of pride for these Astros long after the boos stopped.
If fans are allowed to return to most stadiums in 2021, this battered franchise probably won't hear the end of 2020 anytime soon - but the Astros, who return next season, plan to greet the conviction with the same mental harshness they do demonstrated this month.
"I think we showed the kind of team we are," said Lance McCullers Jr., who started Game 7 with a four-hit ball in the fourth inning.
"We weren't on a revenge tour," added McCullers. "It wasn't. This was just a group of people who got together and wanted to play damn good baseball and go to another World Series. That was it. We missed our target, but a lot of growth and a lot of amazing people got there reinforced. "
After winning two of the previous three AL pennants and the 2017 World Championship, the Astros played under a large, dark cloud all season after revealing the scope of the team's plan to use a midfield camera and steal opponents' marks forward them to Houston's Batters, in part by hitting a trash can.
Despite this threatening start to an already strange season, Houston's veteran core never stopped fighting - and in October the Astros showed the proudest reasons for their impressive post-season success.
"I've never had more fun playing baseball than with this group of guys," said shortstop Carlos Correa. "Everything - the pandemic hit, the spring training 2.0, everything we didn't manage. We kept fighting."
The wild year of the Astros began in January with the layoffs of Manager AJ Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow. But several Astros veterans from those depraved seasons remain on the team, and the players have not been sanctioned.
They signed up for spring training in February, only to be universally condemned by their peers for being the team that every other team happily hated.
The Astros were relentlessly torn apart by their opponents and scourged online from spring training. They were booed and serenaded by the popping of trash cans when opponent fans were allowed to be near them during this coronavirus-shortened season.
A fan even got a megaphone and sent his condemnation of the Astros 2017 in game 4 in this ALCS from a balcony behind the field fence into Petco Park, calling them out individually as fraudsters.
Some Astros ignored the hatred while others like Correa enjoyed it. The beloved baker added a measure of seriousness, but the Astros faced a long regular season as the most angry team in the majors - until the coronavirus pandemic messed everything up.
When baseball finally got going again in July, the Astros played in largely empty stadiums where opposing fans couldn't hollow out or harass them - even though they tried. Fans gathered outside Dodger Stadium to express their displeasure when the team buses took the Astros to a regular season against the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine, who lost the 2017 World Series in seven games to Houston.
After an off-season with sales and injury losses, the defending AL champion struggled through a mediocre regular season and made the playoffs only because of the expanded field. They had their worst season at 29-31, having won the percentage since 2014.
At this point, they quickly returned to the excellent big game shape that they have had so consistently over the past four years - regardless of whether they knew which pitches were coming or not.
"I'm very proud of this team that they fight every day, fight every single place and go out there and play hard for each other," said third baseman Alex Bregman.
The Astros lost the first three games of the ALCS with a combined 11-5 against the deep, talented Rays. Instead of giving up, Houston became the second team in baseball history to win three times after losing 3-0 in a playoff series.
Houston's follow-up to his 2019 pennant is even more impressive after a major upheaval from his pitching staff - a big factor barely noticed when the collection of second-choice starters and rookie reliefs in the ALCS did brilliantly.
The Astros lost Gerrit Cole, who signed with the Yankees, and Justin Verlander, who needed surgery from Tommy John. They also went into October without most of their preseason bullpen due to injuries.
Houston's line-up of veterans just continued to hit, and the Astros fought to the brink of the World Series.
"This team is a group of fighters with tremendous perseverance and steadfastness," said Baker. "One thing is certain: we will be in this position again next year."
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