Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
HOUSTON — History summoned on a muggy Saturday night, and it wasn't the mighty New York Yankees it was calling.
Instead, it crooked a finger at Evan Gattis, and the burly designated hitter responded by depositing a CC Sabathia slider high over the left field wall.
It waved at Brian McCann, and the veteran catcher received a pea just above ground level from third baseman Alex Bregman, seconds ahead of a sliding cleat, to tag Greg Bird in as pretty a defensive play as you will ever see.
It hollered toward Jose Altuve, and the 5'6" second baseman carried his bat damn near all the way to first base after punching an opposite-field homer, then emotionally flung the bat, which landed just outside the first base coaches' box.
It motioned to Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr. and the rest of the gang, and in their 56th season, the Houston Astros won a Game 7 for the first time, swatting away the proud Yankees 4-0 to win the American League pennant.
The World Series opens Tuesday in Los Angeles, and the Astros will be there for only the second time in club history.
"We've got a lot of history up there in that light tower, but to go to the World Series for a second time…" Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio said, motioning up toward the retired numbers on display.
"These guys worked hard and played well together. And if you understand what we went through with [Hurricane] Harvey, to be able to give back to the fans, it's incredible.
"The people here needed this. Harvey didn't care what your address was."
Minute Maid Park swayed, roared and approved of this epic, command performance. My goodness, did it approve. The Yankees' half of the ninth was deafening, and the crowd counted down the final three outs.
"Crazy," Altuve said. "Since the first pitch, it was very loud.
"It was the loudest game I ever played."David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Houston's lone World Series appearance was so long ago, the team was a National League club. That was in 2005, and the Astros ran into a buzz-saw pitching staff employed by the Chicago White Sox. The next World Series game these Astros win will be the first in franchise history.
Steps away from Biggio on the raucous field postgame as Verlander was accepting the American League Championship Most Valuable Player trophy, Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Famer and executive advisor to Astros owner Jim Crane, teared up.
"It's very special to see this team come together like it did and see the way they played," said Ryan, eyes glistening.
Over 27 years and 816 post- and regular-season games, Ryan was able to pitch in just one World Series contest, in relief—2.1 innings for the New York Mets against the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. From then until his retirement in 1993, he kept on chasing another, without ever catching up.
It's why, from different ends of the spectrum, Verlander and manager A.J. Hinch were emotional on one of the most memorable baseball Saturday nights this area has ever seen.
"This is why you play the game," Verlander said, supermodel fiancee Kate Upton by his side. "You can never expect this."Elsa/Getty Images
Said Hinch: "I never knew what it felt like to get to the World Series in any job I've had in 20 years. And now I do. And I have a great appreciation for what it takes to run this journey. We won 100-plus games in the regular season. We won a lot of games in the postseason so far. But it's not easy. This is a grind, and getting through so many ups and downs regardless of how the season goes is awesome when you get rewarded with a chance to win a world championship."
This is an Astros organization that stripped itself down to the studs, losing between 106 and 111 games over three seasons from 2011 to 2013, and then another 92 in 2014 as it was rebuilding around young, would-be stars such as Altuve and Correa.
"When I got here, no one talked about winning," said Hinch, who replaced Bo Porter as manager in '15. "And that was one of the first things that Altuve told me in my office, that he wanted to win. And that represented what the next step was for this organization."
The new Astros' unveiling came in 2015, when they rose up and won an AL wild-card spot, but they slipped last year, failing to make the playoffs before roaring back to win 101 games this year with a total that was second-most in club history behind Biggio's '98 team (102).
"The standards that have been established here, the work that's been put in, the synergy that goes on from the front office to the clubhouse, from ownership … we are really connected because we all have a common goal, and that's to win.
"And I don't care if you're old-school, new-school, analytical, traditional. It's about winning at this level."
Those wins, though, receded into the background briefly when Harvey struck in late August. Thousands were left homeless, powerless, car-less. Even weeks later, you can see displaced locals walking their leashed dogs through lobbies of hotels that have been good enough to extend a helping hand to them.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
"Our fans have been through a lot with Hurricane Harvey," Correa said. "I'm just glad we can bring them joy."
One day earlier, with the Astros reeling and one game away from what would have been a stunning elimination after seizing a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series, it was Verlander who dominated over seven innings in winning his second game of this series.
Saturday, Morton, a 33-year-old journeyman who signed a modest two-year, $14 million deal with Houston last November, was spectacular over five shutout innings. Working with a fastball ranging up to 97 mph and a devastating curve checking in around 81 mph, he pumped in 14 strikes out of his 16 first-inning pitches. He threw just six balls over 34 pitches through three innings and a mere eight balls over four innings.
The crowd chanted his name as he pitched ("I was very aware of it," he said). They greeted him warmly out near the right field bullpen when he went to warm up before the game.
"To that degree, this moment is so special to me," Morton said. "I feel in my career like I've let a lot of people down. I feel like I've let a lot of fans down.
"To have people on their feet, it gave me so much energy."
Regarding the strikes he kept pouring into the zone, he said "I honestly felt just aggressive. With everything on the line, you can either ease your way into it, feel around the situation and try to make perfect pitches, or go after guys."
If his pitches weren't perfect in befuddling a Yankees team that finished with just three hits, erstwhile starter McCullers' four innings of one-hit relief were the next-best thing. His curveball is one of the most dominating wipeout pitches in the game. McCullers threw 41 of those babies over his 54-pitch outing. All 10 Yankees swings and misses with him on the mound came against the curve, and all 10 of his 1-2-3, ninth-inning pitches were curves.
"You know, he really does love the moment," Hinch said, and now McCullers and the Astros will have several more days' worth.David J. Phillip/Associated Press
For starters, this will be the first World Series that features matching 100-win teams since 1970. Then, Baltimore (108-54) blitzed Cincinnati (102-60) in five games. Along with Houston's 101-61 record this year, the Dodgers went 104-58.
The Astros will wind up playing three of the game's jewel franchises this fall: They knocked out Boston in the Division Series, eliminated the Yankees in the ALCS and hope to prevent the Dodgers from winning their first World Series since 1988 over the next seven to 10 days.
"They're a great team," Altuve said. "It's going to be a fun World Series."
Added Carlos Beltran: "We've got a lot of similarities. They've got a lot of talent, like we do, and they seem to enjoy themselves and have great chemistry."
Just like the Astros. But on Saturday night…well, Los Angeles was still much further away than Harvey, and the sheer heartache of the down-and-out times of the is past receding, ever so slowly.
"I've touched on this before about having the experience of playing into a World Series with a city that kind of needed a boost and something to cheer for," said Verlander, referring to his 2006 and 2010 World Series appearances with Detroit.
"There are a lot of people who are really hurting right now in this city. And it gives the city something to rally around. It gives people something to cheer for that otherwise may not have a lot to be hopeful for.
"And to be a part of that, no matter how big or small it is, whether you're the MVP or the last pitcher in the bullpen, that's something you will never forget."
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.
Source : https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2740045-astros-huge-game-7-win-dedicated-to-houston-after-hurricane-harveys-terror