HOUSTON -- While the Rangers hooted and hollered on the field and popped champagne bottles in a jubilant clubhouse, the sounds emanating from the Astros’ clubhouse were a stark contrast. The sound of pats on the back and the slaps of goodbye handshakes filled the otherwise quiet air, along with a strong sense of disappointment.
The crushing emotions stemmed from the Astros falling short of their goal of repeating as World Series champions, which is about the only accomplishment that’s eluded them during their incredible run of success over the past seven seasons. A repeat championship would have cemented the Astros’ place as one of baseball’s greatest dynasties of the last half-century.
The Rangers put an end to those dreams when they stormed into Minute Maid Park and dominated the Astros in the final two games of the American League Championship Series, including a runaway 11-4 win in Game 7 on Monday night that sent Texas to the World Series for the first time since 2011. The road team won all seven games.
“Definitely not what you want,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “When you set out in Spring Training, you set out to go win a championship. Unfortunately, we didn’t. You tip your hat to them. They played a heck of a series and they’ve got a heck of a ballclub over there.”
The Astros overcame devastating injuries to win their sixth AL West title in seven years before advancing to their seventh consecutive ALCS, but falling short of a World Series cast a pall over those accomplishments.
“I think for us to be a success is winning the World Series,” catcher Martín Maldonado said.
The most frustrating part for the Astros was their inability to protect their home turf. They lost 22 of their final 29 games at home, including the playoffs.
“I mean, we just didn’t play well enough at home,” outfielder Chas McCormick said. “That’s what finished our season. We didn’t win at home. Game 5, when we came back and won, I was like, ‘We have this. We’re going back to the World Series.’ It’s a different taste in the mouth just because I’ve been in the World Series my first two years in the big leagues, so it’s different.”
After the game, Astros manager Dusty Baker spoke to the club and told the players he appreciated their fight and their effort. The 74-year-old Baker isn’t expected to return as manager with his contract expiring.
“I just told the guys I loved them and I appreciate their effort and appreciate how they go about their business and how professional that they are,” he said.
After Jose Altuve hit a dramatic three-run homer in the ninth inning to win Game 5 of the ALCS in Arlington on Friday, the Astros came home needing one win for a third consecutive trip to the Fall Classic. Texas outscored the Astros, 20-6, in Games 6 and 7 in Houston as the Astros became the second team to lose four games at home in a playoff series. The other team to do that? The 2019 Astros in the World Series against Washington.
“It was frustrating,” Maldonado said. “At the same time, I feel like as a team we accomplished a lot of stuff. It wasn’t easy all year. We had a lot of injuries, and I’m really proud of this group of guys. They never gave up, and just to be able to make it seven in a row I think is pretty special. Overall, not the way we wanted to finish, but I think we learned a lot.”
The Rangers struck for three runs in the first inning against Astros starter Cristian Javier, a playoff hero from a year ago who recorded just one out in Game 7. Corey Seager homered with one out, and the next four batters reached against Javier, with two of them scoring. The Astros chipped away, cutting the Rangers’ lead to 4-2 with a Bregman homer in the third and chasing Texas starter Max Scherzer after 2 2/3 innings.
A battle of the bullpens appeared to be in favor of the Astros, but the Rangers rocked J.P. France for four runs in the fourth to take an 8-2 lead, including a two-run single by Adolis García. He had four hits and five RBIs, including two home runs, and was named ALCS Most Valuable Player. Nathaniel Lowe’s homer in the sixth made it 10-2.
And with that, the Astros’ reign as champion is over.
“It's not easy to accept or say, but we got beat,” Baker said. “We have been spoiled around here as far as winning and winning and winning. And heck, I've been here four years, and we've been to two World Series and [four] Championship Series. We have nothing to be ashamed of or nothing to hold our head down about. We're down, but we're not out. And every team in baseball would trade to have had the last four years that we've had.”