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Marwin Gonzalez will Always be Houston Strong

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MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A guy who hit .221 with four homers in his second season in the Majors doesn’t sound like someone who would eventually become a fan favorite. But that’s the case for Marwin Gonzalez, who went from barely relevant to household name by adapting his game to help the team.

Marwin showed flashes early in his career, forever endearing himself to Astros fans when he broke up Yu Darvish’s no-hitter with two outs in the ninth.

But his struggles at the plate kept him from getting much playing time his first two seasons in the Big Leagues. So, he became a more valuable asset to the team by learning to play all around the diamond. After serving strictly as an infielder in 2012 and 2013, Marwin played six different fielding positions for the Astros in 2014. And in 2015, his versatility helped the Astros get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros workout Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t easy not knowing where, or even if, he would play each day, but Marwin was already showing what it meant to be strong for Houston, as reported by Astros beat writer Brian McTaggart.

“I won’t say it’s easy, but I will take it like another position on the infield and I played a few games in Spring Training and I felt comfortable,” he said. “I’m just going to go out there and try to do the same today.”

In 2017, Marwin adapted his game again. This time, his change was at the plate, where he adopted a more patient approach that included offering at fewer curveballs and seeing more pitches. Though he was more disciplined, Marwin still wanted to attack, and that he did.

Marwin ranked inside the American League’s Top 10 across ten different offensive categories that season and finished 19th in MVP voting. Marwin was already becoming the stuff of legend in Houston, prompting Astros skipper AJ Hinch to dub him “an absolute dream for a manager.”

And that was before the postseason began.

In Game 1 of the 2017 ALDS, Marwin laced a two-run double off Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale to break a tie ballgame and give the Astros a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

He also threw out Mitch Moreland at home to keep the Astros ahead in Game 4 against the Red Sox and eventually scored what proved to be the series-winning run.

It only got better.

In Game 1 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees, Marwin showed yet again that his value extends beyond the batter’s box. Although Marwin went hitless, he had the biggest play of Game 1, throwing out Greg Bird at the plate to preserve a shutout and two-run Astros lead.

On a play in which the Yankees had a base-hit with two runners on, the Astros win probability increased five percent, and that’s because of Marwin—who always seemed to come through when the Astros needed it most. Let’s watch that again with some Statcast metrics.

You just don’t run on Marwin.

And afterward, Marwin was by his wife’s side welcoming the couple’s third child. Houston Strong as a rock.

It all led to Marwin’s defining moment.

In the ninth inning of Game 2 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, when the Astros were facing the best closer in the game and it felt like all hope was lost, Marwin came through with arguably the biggest swing in club history.

A brief recap of Marwin’s Game 2 heroics, a “turning point” in the Series, courtesy of ESPN:

“Jansen is trying to close it out. He’d blown one save all season, and the Dodgers were 98-0 when leading after eight innings. Marwin Gonzalez leads off and homers on an 0-2 pitch -- only the third home run Jansen has allowed in his career on an 0-2 pitch. It was also the first game-tying home run in the ninth inning by a road team in the World Series since Dwight Evans hit one for the Red Sox in 1975.

Gonzalez: “It was a mistake. He doesn’t usually make a mistake.”

Hinch: “Marwin Gonzalez kicked it all off. We’re not here if Marwin Gonzalez doesn’t hit a ball to center field against the best closer in baseball.”

Dallas Keuchel: “I was thinking we just need to score a run somehow. I wasn’t expecting a home run, so that was impressive, but Marwin has been doing that all season.”

Gonzalez: “The momentum completely changed in the dugout. We knew we could win this game. The next inning, everybody woke up and [Jose] Altuve and Correa homered.”

George Springer: “Believe it or not, I was actually in the tunnel. And I heard everyone start going crazy. And the ball -- I heard them scream.”

Carlos Correa: “We give a belt to the best player of the game. We gave it to Marwin. Without that home run, the rest of it doesn’t happen.”

I’m not gonna lie, I was too shredded after the Corey Seager homer off Verlander to stomach the seventh and eighth inning. I turned away, resigned to the feeling the Astros would never win a World Series game, let alone a championship. I came back just in time for the top of the ninth. As I tuned in, Marwin was down 0-2 and the pitch was being delivered. Off the bat, it looked like a flyout to center, but man that thing just kept drifting and carrying until it was gone. I don’t remember exactly how I reacted because there were so many stirring moments after that in Game 2, but I will always remember Marwin pointing to the patch over his heart.

Houston Strong. He reminded me, he reminded the whole world.

It’s pretty clear Marwin’s value goes beyond just his numbers. There are a lot of guys in baseball that can hit; there aren’t a lot of guys that can hit from both sides of the plate, and there’s even fewer that can switch-hit and basically play anywhere in the field. Marwin is one of the few.

USA Today reporter Jorge Ortiz noted Marwin is the only player in the modern era (since 1901) to hit a home run in four consecutive starts while playing a different position in each game. Marwin also became one of a few players ever to post a .900-plus OPS while playing six positions, which he did in 2017.

Whenever Hinch entertained a question about what he should do with the lineup, it was pretty much rhetorical because he already knew the answer: “Marwin can do it.”

Marwin was clutch for the Astros in 2018, too. He had a big homer against the San Francisco Giants in the ninth inning, on the road, with two outs against a guy who hadn’t allowed a longball all season. The blast gave the Astros a win, and kept a good stretch going for the club. He had a fantastic performance in the 2018 ALDS against the Cleveland Indians and provided timely hitting for the Astros in the ALCS as well.

The Astros’ acquisition of utilityman Aledmys Diaz makes it unlikely Marwin will return to Houston next season. Marwin’s departure will sting, but his heroics when Houston, as a city, was in desperate need of a lift will never be forgotten. The legend of Marwin will always be told; he will always be an Astro and he will always be a reminder of what it means to be Houston Strong.