First, a little perspective. The Astros rewarded their fans with 107 wins this season. They will hang another AL pennant in Minute Maid by beating the New York Yankees in the ALCS.
Yes, they were beat in the World Series in seven games to the Washington Nationals.
But let us not underestimate the mettle of the opponent. They started the season 19-31, but since that time have had one of the best records in baseball. It is treacherous to discount a team with pitchers like Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, or bats like Anthony Rendon, or Juan Soto.
The Nats reached the playoffs through the Wild Card path, and came from behind to win six games while facing elimination. Along the way they beat pitchers named Hader and Kershaw and Hill and Carpenter. And yes, they beat Gerrit Cole, the only team to do so since May, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke. In the World Series they scored 15 runs with two outs. They won all four World Series games while facing maximum pressure on the road, something never done before.
When you underestimate the quality of the opponent the Astros faced, you lose sight of what a great team the Astros are as well.
With that said, the Astros could have taken this, their second World Championship in three years. For the first six innings, this was an amazing story of the craft, guile and guts of Zack Greinke, who held the Nats scoreless for 6.1 innings. But with one out in the seventh Greinke made his only mistake of the game, a change up in the middle of the plate that got tenderized by Anthony Rendon for a solo homer. Greinke walked Juan Soto, and Manager A.J. Hinch decided to lift Greinke after 80 pitches.
The Astros’ most reliable reliever, but perhaps overused in the playoffs, Will Harris, promptly gave up a homer to Howie Kendrick, and the rest is prologue.
The Nats added a run in the eighth against Roberto Osuna, and two more in the ninth against Joe Smith and Jose Urquidy.
Basically, the strength of the Astros bullpen failed tonight with the game still under control, Will Harris, Roberto Osuna, and Joe Smith. Ryan Pressly was used to get one out in the eighth.
All of which wasted what would have been a historic performance by Zack Greinke, if only the pen could have held the lead he so masterfully handed them. He would have been the Verlander of 2019, the late acquisition that gave a crown to Houston. It was really very close.
But to win in baseball you have to score runs.
The Astros scored a few. In the second inning they scored one on a Yuli Gurriel solo homer, and gave Greinke a 2-0 lead when Carlos Correa singled home Gurriel in the fifth.
However, a major cause of the Astros demise was a familiar story; not hitting in base runners. I have written most of the game recaps this year, and if I got paid for all the times that I bemoaned the lack of clutch hitting by the Astros this year, I would be pretty rich. Tonight, same old same old. The Astros were 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position, and left 10 runners on base.
There will be lasting controversy about the managerial decisions by one A.J. Hinch, as is inevitable after a World Series loss. Did he take Greinke out too soon? Did he overuse Will Harris, especially since he had surrendered a home run the night before? If he was going to give up on Greinke so soon, why didn’t he turn to Gerrit Cole? When Robinson Chirinos, who struck out twice, came up in the eighth inning, why wasn’t he pinch-hit for.
When players don’t execute in big games, the manager always gets blamed. No doubt this will be an off-season of discontent. There will be an orgy of irrational recriminations I fear, and as a Puritanical sort of person, I hate orgies.
Here’s what it comes down to to me. In a seven game series another team won four games. They were a hot team, their spirits were high. The Astros came into the post-season slumping a bit, and one of the pillars of the team, Justin Verlander, had spent himself before the World Series began.
Maybe the best team lost, but for seven games in October, the Washington Nationals were the best team in baseball, and sadly to us Astros fans, they’ve earned the World Series trophy.
Someone has to lose. This year it was the Astros’ turn. This is still a great team, a team with great players and wonderful people. I remain proud of them.