World Series 2017: The Inside Story Of How The Houston Astros Won The American League
“When you’re playing Game 7 of the ALCS, you need to play aggressive,” Bregman said. “I was playing to win. I wasn’t playing not to lose. That’s the difference since we got home. And I guarantee you one thing. When we go to L.A., we’re playing to [expletive] win.”
Everything started with the little guy. The only player remaining from the 2011 Astros is Jose Altuve. He arrived that season as something of a novelty, a pint-sized second baseman who had done nothing but hit in the minor leagues. Still, baseball history does not teem with 5-foot-5 superstars. And when the Astros hired general manager Jeff Luhnow that winter and he brought to Houston a desire to turn the Astros into a baseball think tank, his algorithms didn’t exactly foresee Altuve turning into the player he has become, either.
Which made the scene following Game 7 all the more surreal for Altuve. He tends to eschew the bawdy, boozy celebrations that accompany series wins, avoiding champagne like it’s water and he’s the Wicked Witch. He stood alone outside the Astros’ clubhouse as his teammates got the clubhouse carpet drunk and polluted the air with cigar smoke. He scrolled through WhatsApp messages that never seemed to end. He nodded, smiled, hugged, rolling his eyes when a particularly sopping-wet member of the Astros organization embraced him and sullied his dry shirt.
One message sprang Altuve to life. He scurried into a backroom and grabbed five hats. He exited the clubhouse and descended the steps toward the field two at a time. As he poked his head out of the dugout, the bellows from the fans above started. “Jose!” they called. “Jose!”
All series – all postseason – they’d feted him similarly. Altuve is the favorite to win the AL Most Valuable Player, and he has played like one this October after disappearing in 2015, his only other playoff appearance, where Houston bowed out in the division series. His opposite-field home run in the fifth inning of Game 7 handed the Astros a 2-0 cushion, and Altuve carried the bat halfway down the first-base line before he flipped it high into the dome’s conditioned air. The “M-V-P” chants rained down from the 43,201 who filled Minute Maid Park and could appreciate Altuve not just because of how he plays but that he lived through the 106-loss season of 2011, the 107-loss campaign of 2012 and the 111-loss horror of 2013.
He was the face of this franchise then, the best thing about it, one of the only good things. He believed in Luhnow because the approach to revitalizing a proud franchise was right, of course, but he believed, too, because what other choice did he have? Losing gnaws at self-confidence, erodes hope. The prospect of endless losing is something not even the strongest-willed can oblige.
“When I got here no one talked about winning,” said Hinch, who was hired before the 2015 season. “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.”
So as much as anyone, this was Altuve’s win, Altuve’s triumph. He delivered the hats to his family. He held his daughter Melanie above his head, her feet dancing on his beard. She turns 1 on Nov. 1, the day of the seventh game of a World Series in which the Astros will play.