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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Baseball

Astros return to World Series for chance at redemption


Jose Altuve and Justin Verlander have been a pivotal part of the Astros’ World Series birth this season. | Courtesy of Astros media

The Houston Astros have returned to the Fall Classic against the Los Angeles Dodgers for a shot at redemption 12 years after Roger Clemens and the Killer B’s took the team to the World Series in 2005.

The Astros won the American League Championship series this year in dramatic fashion behind the bat of second baseman Jose Altuve and the arms of left-hander Dallas Keuchel and recently acquired pitcher Justin Verlander. After winning two in a row, the Astros almost let the Yankees come back but ultimately won the series 4-3 on Saturday.

Manager A.J. Hinch will try to do what Phil Garner and his squad couldn’t do in 2005 by winning the World Series to bring the team its first championship.

Even though Garner’s team had what is considered one of the greatest postseason rotations in baseball history with Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt, the 2017 team has the offense to back up its two star pitchers.

Both teams’ journeys to the series could not have been more different. The 2017 Astros rolled into the playoffs with the third-best record in baseball with 101 wins and a comfortable 20-game lead in the AL West to close out the regular season.

The 2005 team started the season 15-30 en route to second place in the National League Central before finishing with an 89-73 record and a wildcard playoff berth. That was also 2017 Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Bagwell’s last year with the Astros as first baseman and the only time he and Craig Biggio went to a World Series.

This year’s Astros team may have only a couple big names in the rotation and lack legends like Bagwell and Biggio in the lineup, but in 2017, it has more than enough star power to give the Dodgers a tough time in the series.

Altuve leads the pack among hitters. He finished the regular season with a .346 batting average and 112 RBIs. More importantly, the second baseman has turned his season success into postseason magic.

After Game 7, Altuve had a .400 batting average in 11 postseason games this season, and he was a pivotal part of the World Series berth after completely dominating in the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox with a .563 batting average. The Venezuela native continued his dominance into the ALCS and came away with key defensive plays in the series as well as a big home run in the fifth inning of Game 7.

“I’m not going to lie to you. There is a lot of emotions in that clubhouse after this crazy game,” Altuve said at a news conference after game six.I personally love the way we play this kind of game to wake everyone up. I believe in my team.”

Altuve isn’t the only star making the most out of the playoffs.

ALCS MVP Justin Verlander couldn’t have come to the team at a better time after the Astros traded with the Detroit Tigers to acquire the six-time All-Star in September.

Verlander was lights out in both his starts in the series. The right-hander struck out 13 and allowed one run in nine innings of work in Game 2, then followed that up with seven shutout innings and eight strikeouts in Game 6.

“He’s been everything that we could have hoped for and more. This guy prepares. He rises to the moment,” Hinch, the Astros’ manager, said at a news conference. “I’m so proud of him because I know how much it means to him. I know how much he puts into these outings. He chose to come here for games like this and beyond.”

Although the Dodgers will come into the game with the best record in baseball and a bullpen that has recorded a 0.94 ERA this month, the Astros still have a chance to win the trophy for the first time in franchise history.

“I have a great appreciation for what it takes to get to the World Series,” Hinch said. “We won a hundred-plus games in the regular season and a lot of games in the postseason so far, but it’s not easy. This is a grind, and it’s awesome when you get rewarded by getting to go for a world championship.”

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