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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Baseball

Astros embody Houston strength and resilience


With his clutch hitting, third baseman Alex Bregman placed the Astros in a position to win their first World Series in franchise history. | Courtesy of Alex Bierens de Haan of the Houston Astros

This is the best team in Astros history. There is no debate. But it is not for what most people might think. It’s not due to the 100-plus wins, all the home runs or just how close they are to winning a World Series title — closer than any Astros squad in the team’s 52 years.

The 2017 team is the greatest in Astros history because of what they have done for this city. These Astros have been a beacon for everyone in the city to gather around.

When Hurricane Harvey hit this city, it was hard for people to think about something as trivial as baseball. So many people had to think about losing their homes, and others were mourning the loss of loved ones. It felt like the whole world had stopped.

Once the waters receded and schools started up again, it was hard for people to forget the flooding and return to some semblance of a normal routine. The Astros made it possible for us to make the first step.

The players returned to Houston and took time out of their schedules to help those who had been displaced from their homes. They saw what happened to so many people and took it to heart.

Right after Harvey, I called for Houstonians to go out to the ballpark, noting an odd trend between disasters and success in professional sports. It looked like if people continued to support the Astros, something incredible might come out of it.

Now, we’re living in that reality. The Astros placed the Houston Strong patches on their jerseys and never looked back.

Their quest for a championship became about more than just the players; it became about the city. Manager A.J. Hinch’s squad took it upon themselves to bring a title to Houston to show the world that the fourth-largest city in the U.S. is still here and still strong.

When Harvey hit, the Astros were struggling. After the All-Star break, the team went 20-24 and at one point had lost 10 of 13 games in August. Some started to wonder if the Astros could recover from the devastation.

But owner Jim Crane understood what the Astros could do for Houston. There was just one piece missing on the roster, and Crane told general manager Jeff Luhnow to get it regardless of the cost. The result was acquiring starting pitcher Justin Verlander in a trade with the Detroit Tigers.

Verlander’s arrival in Houston sparked the team into a momentum from which they have never looked back. The team went 22-8 after Verlander’s arrival, clinching the American League West Division and entering the postseason with a bang, outscoring the Boston Red Sox 16-4 in the first two games of the AL Division Series.

Verlander has been the model for the Houston Strong movement ever since his arrival. Not only is he undefeated as an Astro at 9-0,  but he is donating his postseason salary to hurricane relief efforts in Houston. He has fully accepted that Houston is his home now and is doing whatever he can to help the city while also doing everything he can to make sure the Astros win.

The Astros may be notorious for trying to break the Sports Illustrated curse, but their success in the postseason has been more than just superstitious nonsense. This is a team of 25 players that has a fire in their stomachs because of the Houston Strong movement.

From Jose Altuve to George Springer and Alex Bregman, every single one of those guys wants to win a World Series title so the entire city can celebrate. Just look at what they have done in the World Series. In games 2 and 5, they could have given up and tried to win the next day, but they refused.

They kept playing, and the results were two games that sports writers are calling some of the best ever played. This team does not quit, and if they are going to be beaten, it will not be until the 45th inning of Game 7 at 2 a.m. on Thursday morning.

The players live and breathe Houston Strong. Regardless of result, loyal fans and bandwagoners alike need to appreciate the group of men wearing orange and white at Minute Maid Park.

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