No matter what happens now, the Astros have done themselves proud. They’ve done their sport proud, too.
Regardless of what you think of them and their sins -- and there’s sooo much there -- they’ve also given us plenty to admire.
For starters, heart and talent and guts. We throw words like that around because sometimes in the most difficult of times, athletes have the ability to reach deep within themselves and find a higher level that they don’t even know is there.
That’s where we are with the Astros after a 7-4 victory over the Rays on Friday forced this American League Championship Series to a deciding Game 7 on Saturday.
“We’re relentless,” shortstop Carlos Correa said. “When we said we didn't want to go home, we really meant that. We took care of these three games, and now we got to take care of one more. You know, if we don't win that game, then it's all meant nothing.”
Only one other team has won a best-of-seven postseason series after trailing 3-0. Wait, full stop. Only one other team has even gotten to a Game 7 after losing the first three in a best-of-seven series.
That would be the 2004 Red Sox, who overcame an 0-3 ALCS hole against the Yankees and ended up winning the World Series. On the other hand, we should have known the Astros weren’t going to fold.
“They battled back, they didn’t quit at all,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said, “and they're not gonna. I'm just grateful, and thankful to be in this position to have a Game 7.”
This group of players has accomplished too much. Won plenty. Competed like crazy. Dug deep time and again in getting to the ALCS four years in a row.
So down 3-0, they held a team meeting on Wednesday in which they encouraged one another not to give up, to trust their talent, to play until the last out.
“We never kept our heads down,” outfielder Kyle Tucker said. “Even after we went down the first three days, we never gave up.”
Suddenly, the Astros got their swagger back. George Springer’s two-run single in the top of the fifth on Friday was part of a four-run rally that gave them the lead for good.
Lefty Framber Valdez was solid for six innings, and Baker mixed and matched four relievers the rest of the way.
Now the Astros have Lance McCullers Jr. and a very tired bullpen for Game 7. He’ll be going against Tampa Bay starter Charlie Morton, a friend and former teammate.
“We’re not done writing history,” Baker said. “I'm hoping that we can have a happy ending to this. This team has battled back, big time.”
In Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS, Morton pitched five shutout innings and McCullers followed with four in the Astros' 4-0 defeat of the Yankees.
The Astros made it to the playoffs this year because an expanded playoff field gave a 29-31 team decimated by injuries a second chance.
They lost their No. 1 starting pitcher, Justin Verlander, to an elbow injury, and their designated hitter, Yordan Alvarez, to knee injuries.
The pitching staff was hit so hard that 10 pitchers made their Major League debut this season. They rolled out five rookie pitchers to open Game 5 of the ALCS, the one Correa ended with a walk-off homer.
In a season when pretty much everyone outside their own clubhouse and their own city hoped they would fail -- and fail badly -- the Astros have revealed plenty about themselves this week.
Yes, they’re talented, but didn’t we already know that? Look at that core group of players. Look at the track record of success.
For heaven’s sake, look at their manager, Baker, who was hired last winter to calm the waters and bring credibility and dignity to a franchise that needed a shot of both in the wake of a sign-stealing scandal that tarnished everything the Astros had accomplished.
Now here they are, one victory from a third trip to the World Series in four years. If they win Game 7, you’ll hear plenty about all that they did wrong. This week has revealed another side of them. Of this, they can be forever proud.
“You know, I think we've turned a lot of people, whether they like us or not, into baseball fans,” Baker said. “I think we've brought enough excitement for the people that were turned off by the events of this year. I think we helped, not only the city of Houston, but I think we helped bring back some fans.”