The Houston Astros played at home Sunday for the final time this season, giving their fans and baseball fans a show to remember.
Whether the ball is juiced in the World Series, the 113th in MLB history, or if the pitchers from both clubs, especially the relievers, are worn out, the Astros’ 13-12 extra-innings Game 5 win was a smash.
The victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers left the Astros on the brink of their first world championship and the first in four tries by a team from Texas. And on Wednesday in Los Angeles, they finally reached the mountaintop with a 5-1 victory in Game 7.
They will come home as heroes in a city that needed a diversion and an inspiration after being ravaged in late August by Hurricane Harvey.
While the first responders and citizens who helped their fellow man are the true heroes in the aftermath of the storm, the bond between the city and the Astros strengthened while the franchise moved toward the cusp of greatness.
“It kind of became something that where we rallied around,” Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. said. “We still have pictures hanging in our lockers. It’s still something we think about, because people here are hard-working people, and they went through something that a lot of people can’t understand.
“A lot of people lost everything. So for us to be able to just play baseball for a couple of hours and for those people to be able to have a little bit of joy, to get away from what they were having to go through is pretty special, to be able to give that to them.”
The Astros aren’t under any false illusions of where they stand in the grand scheme of things. People have been displaced from homes that were flooded. Many had their cars swallowed by flood waters. More than 80 people died in Houston and coastal areas.
The families of many players, McCullers said, didn’t get out of the city before the storm and were forced to ride it out. The Astros were in Anaheim, Calif., playing the Angels and went to DFW ahead of a scheduled home series against the Texas Rangers.
That series was shifted to Tampa Bay after the Rangers declined an opportunity to swap the series with a home series in September and after the Astros declined the chance to play at Globe Life Park.
Astros president Reid Ryan, the former TCU baseball player and Nolan Ryan’s oldest son, had more pressing issues than where the series was played. Some 25 Astros employees were displaced from their homes, some with flood waters reaching the second floor, and the priority was getting them to safety.
The Astros finally played at home Sept. 2.
“It was a trying time because we had so many people who were displaced, and the baseball is really secondary to the immediate needs of everybody on our staff,” Ryan said. “Once we realized everyone was going to be OK, the focus went back to baseball.”
Players, though, could be found in the community offering their assistance. Money has poured in, including $4 million from Astros ownership, more than $1 million from the Rangers and $100,000 from Dodgers right-hander Yu Darvish.
More than a dozen Astros spent an off day Sept. 1 at the shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center spreading cheer and helping and talking to evacuees there.
Justin Verlander, acquired Aug. 31, donated $100,000. McCullers teamed with a local animal group to find homes for displaced pets. Dallas Keuchel spent time with local police officers.
The Astros’ rebuild from consecutive 100-loss seasons to World Series champion is complete. That process, long and difficult and filled with setbacks, has been part of the bond formed between the Astros and the people of Houston since Harvey hit.
“The rebuild here and its success is giving hope to a lot of that they can rebuild their lives, they rebuild their businesses and they can rebuild their homes,” Ryan said. “They just know it’s going to take some time.”
The Astros finished with the second-best record in the American League and topped the Boston Red Sox in the AL Division Series in four games and the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series in seven games.
Baseball, though on the front-burner now, was not the first thing on the minds of Astros players some two months ago.
“This being our home city and us being on the road at the time when all that tragedy went on was, it touched me, and you can ask everyone in the clubhouse in different ways,” reliever Chris Devenski said. “And all we wanted to do was get back and lend in a hand. When we did get back and we helped the way we could with the resources we had. It made us feel pretty special. And then to do this for them is going to be even more special.”