Astros fans, I feel your grief, your heartache, your shock. I’ve listened to the countless sports radio “ifs” and “should haves” from armchair quarterbacks trying to make sense of the gut-twisting World Series Game 7 loss. There just has to be some explanation, someone to blame for the collapse. There has to be a reason other than it wasn’t our year, other than the Washington Nationals just outplayed us. A reason other than “that’s baseball.”
I may have the answer. It wasn’t Manager A.J. Hinch’s pitching moves in Game 7 or Gerrit Cole’s absence from the mound. It wasn’t the left-on-base numbers through the series. It wasn’t the carried bat, the dropped bat, the missing bats, the expanded strike zone, catcher’s interference, runner interference, the umpires, the replay center, the relievers with no relief or the aces often looking, well, un-ace-like. It wasn’t even Joe Buck. And it definitely wasn’t home-field advantage.
I offer the only explanation that makes sense to me – the World Series was on its period.
It began with the Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman’s uncontrolled clubhouse rant following the ALCS win over the Yankees. He’s now the former assistant general manager. The mood swings over the next nine days were intolerable. Games 1 and 2 we questioned what’s wrong with us. Games 3, 4 and 5, we righted the ship and smelled a sure victory. One travel day we fretted, the other travel day we reveled. Games 6 and 7 there was nothing to stop the pain. After Game 2, Alex Bregman said the Astros needed to stop the bleeding. By Game 6 it came back heavier than ever.
The old ABC Wide World of Sports intro highlighted “the human drama of athletic competition” as the ski jumper slid off the ramp like an uncontrolled rocket and crashed pretty spectacularly in the “agony of defeat.” That was our fate, bleeding orange the last three innings of Game 7.
“Hi, this is Brian from the Houston Astros.”
Had they read my article?!
No. I had gone to enough 2019 regular-season games to make the season ticket solicitation list. Nevertheless, we had a great conversation about the end of the regular season.
“How are you feeling about the postseason?” he asked.
I laughed. “Feeling like I’m about to open my wallet.”
In 2017, if there had been an attendance sheet for the Astros’ postseason home games:
Round/Game Opponent Result Amy at the Park?
ALDS Game 1 Red Sox Won, 8-2 Yes
ALDS Game 2 Red Sox Won, 8-2 Yes
ALCS Game 1 Yankees Won, 2-1 Yes
ALCS Game 2 Yankees Won, 2-1 Yes
ALCS Game 6 Yankees Won, 7-1 Yes
ALCS Game 7 Yankees Won, 4-0 Yes
WS Game 3 Dodgers Won, 5-3 Yes
WS Game 4 Dodgers Lost, 6-2 No
WS Game 5 Dodgers Won, 13-12 Yes
Missing Game 4 of the World Series had confirmed my belief that I was the reason for the home wins. It was a no-brainer that I should then attend every postseason home game. For who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t been at Minute Maid Park to witness Game 5, one of the most classic baseball games in history. Two games later we were World Champions.
My routine had been set in 2017. Every game I wore the same t-shirt with the slogan “The Postseason is Ours, 2015” (which it wasn’t that year), then a t-shirt change-up during the World Series to one stamped with “WS2017.” Same Astros-orange baseball cap, same walking route, same security line, same left field entrance, same Saint Arnold Bar off the Crawford Boxes, same line with the cheery blonde cashier who always asked, “What can I get for you, Sugar?”
The 2018 postseason started like 2017. Same game routine, same clothes, and the same expectation. But three home losses in the ALCS against the Red Sox refuted my superstition – my presence was not the good luck charm.
This October I was focused. Same “The Postseason is Ours, 2015” t-shirt, same cap, same everything. While still committed to attend every home game, I knew my presence alone wouldn’t earn wins. I had to up my game. I decided to sharpen my orange Astros pencil and score each game, something I’d learned to do during the 2018 season from a friend I’d made at the 2017 WS Game 5 (because you make friends during a five-hour game). He said it helped his PTSD, kept him focused on the field and unaffected by the crowd and the noise.
Scoring the games made me watch the game carefully, learn the opposing players and their positions, the plays, what is and isn’t an at-bat. I could analyze a game through numbers and letters in little boxes, see the innings where pitchers struggled and hitters caught fire. My scorecard could tell the story.
Starting with the ALDS against the Rays – home games 1, 2 and 5 – won and done. Home field advantage mattered. Let’s relish Game 2 for a moment. Remember Cole’s incredible outing? My scorecard was full of K’s. I’d never seen anything like it, counting 15 strikeouts while closer Roberto Osuna took the mound for the last out of the eighth inning. I was so overwhelmed with joy, up 3-0, that I stopped keeping score in the ninth. And then the stadium went quiet.
“Let me see your scorecard, how many hits did Osuna give up?” the guy behind me asked as Hinch pulled Osuna in the ninth for clutch reliever Will Harris.
“I stopped scoring, I got so caught up in the game,” I told him.
“It was YOU! Don’t EVER put your card away!”
I grabbed the scorecard out of my bag, and he and I, along with another guy who had traveled from Louisiana and had a razor-sharp memory of each play, reconstructed the top of the ninth that almost undid Cole’s unreal game. Two hits, two walks, one run, a force-out. At least that’s what my scorecard says. Harris then recorded two outs to secure the win. Since that game, I never put my scorecard away, just kept sharpening my pencil while the eraser rubbed down to nothing.
In the ALCS Game 1 7-0 loss against the Yankees, I was reminded again that my presence was not the good luck charm. How much more can I up my game? Do I need to change my shirt? Get a new cap? Something had to make sense in the uncertain chaos of October baseball.
So I changed my orange cap to a new blue one, added a new postseason hoodie, but remained true to the same t-shirt. The postseason would be ours. ALCS Game 2. Let’s stop and savor the memory of that game. Aaron Judge hit a two-run homer off Justin Verlander in the fourth inning. By the fifth inning and three Yankees pitchers in (six more would be used to finish the game), the score was tied 2-2 after a George Springer home run. Like magic, at the first pitch in the bottom of the eleventh, Carlos Correa belted a walk-off home run into the right-field stands. Series tied 1-1. The stadium screamed and jumped like a frenetic madhouse of joy, all of us out of our minds. Pent-up tension moved from my stomach to my throat and tears of joy released in the thrill of victory.
Let’s stay with the wins. After winning Games 3 and 4 at Yankee Stadium, the Astros returned to Houston up 3-2 in the series. We needed just one more win. Remember Game 6? Just two weeks ago we watched Jose Altuve come up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth after Springer took a walk to first base. I looked at my scorecard. I was running out of lines for the pitchers, analyzing who was still available in the bullpen as we’d for sure go into extra innings tied at 2-2. With two outs and on a 2-1 pitch, Altuve hit a two-run homer off closer Aroldis Chapman. Through my watery eyes, I watched the streamers float down. The stage was driven onto the field. Orange and blue confetti covered Altuve as he accepted the Series MVP trophy. I couldn’t hear him over the cheers of Al-Tu-Ve! Al-Tu-Ve! Outfielder Josh Reddick ran the whole perimeter of the field waving a huge AL Champs flag. It was joyful madness. We were headed to the World Series.
And then we know what happened.
Four World Series home losses. Nothing I did, nothing I wore, said or thought mattered. The best record in baseball, our possible Rookie of the Year, MVP and Cy Young winner, our experience, our belief, all the times we heard the players say “we’ve been here before” – none of it mattered. Not even my complete or perfect scorecard. Nothing brought us a World Series championship.
“Why are you scoring these games like an old man?” my brother asked me during the postseason. “Dude put the scorecard down and go wave a Stros flag on top of the Rays’ dugout!”
I had no idea why I stuck with it. Superstition maybe. Or maybe I was just recording stories in a new language. Whatever it was it deepened my love for the game. In 2017 the Astros gave me the joy and happiness I had lost. In 2019 the postseason confirmed that what matters is what we can’t measure – heart rate, doubt, confidence, luck, disappointment, fate, edge, destiny.
I’ve thought a lot this postseason about loss and remembering the wins. The season is bigger than one game, than one month. Remember those no-hitters? It was an unbelievable season that ended with a World Series Game 7, and I’ll take sitting in the park deep into October any year.
I still share your pain, Astros fans. And so does my wallet. But I’ll see you next year, cheering until the last out of the ninth inning, win or lose, in the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. That’s just life. That’s baseball.
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