For the second time in three years, the Astros lost the last game of the season. For a team that aimed to win it all, there is no consolation prize, only heartache. Winning three pennants in five years is remarkable. Appearing in five straight League Championship Series is historic. And yet, coming away with a single World Series title feels disappointing.
I walked out of Minute Maid Park Tuesday night with the same numbness I felt when I watched Nationals reliever Daniel Hudson strike out Michael Brantley to end the 2019 World Series. There are repercussions to being emotionally invested in a team’s success. Such is the nature of fandom.
The Astros making as many deep playoff runs as they have since 2017 has perhaps normalized the October experience for some people, myself included. But the reality is there is nothing ordinary about this five-year stretch. Numerous fan bases across all sports cannot relate to what Astros fans have been fortunate enough to experience the past several years. It is a privilege to support a club that not only consistently reaches the postseason, but routinely plays deep into it.
Last night’s loss strangely invoked memories of players from a different time: 3-hole hitter Jason Michaels, cleanup man Pedro Feliz, and, who could forget, designated hitter Ronny Cedeño. The Astros of the early-2010s were a nightmare to watch. They played the same sport as other teams but were utterly outmatched. It was a brutal rebuild to go through. The hope wasn’t that they would win games, but that young players would develop. Winning meant nothing, because it would amount to nothing.
Experiencing 2017 made all those years worth it to me. Of course, in hindsight, it’s difficult not to view that title run without at least a slightly altered perspective, but at the time, it was bliss. Appearing in the World Series was enough for me. Justin Verlander’s complete ownage of the Yankees, José Altuve’s brilliance at the plate and in the field, as well as the spectacular, pennant-clinching relief appearance from Lance McCullers Jr. in an epic Game 7... such triumph was an unfamiliar feeling as a fan, and it was all more than enough for me.
Now, four years later, anything less than the World Series trophy feels fairly disappointing. But it shouldn’t be. I understand the World Series-or-bust mindset, and I admittedly used to subscribe to it, but it’d be foolish not to fully appreciate this era of Astros baseball, however unfulfilling it may seem. Though watching the visiting team celebrate in Minute Maid Park twice in three years can elicit that exact sentiment, I think it’s important to concurrently employ another perspective, one of gratitude.
I will undoubtedly have a feeling of emptiness for the next few days, and that’s OK. It’s a common reaction to a crushing loss. But you know what isn’t common? Being a fan of a team that makes it to the LCS five years in a row. And I’m grateful for that.