LOS ANGELES -- No team has been woven into the fabric of Houston sports longer than the Astros, who were founded in 1962 as the expansion Colt .45s and grew up with a city on the rise. Through heartbreak and triumph, unforgettable highs and crushing lows, the Astros persevered.
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So when second baseman Jose Altuve fielded a grounder off the bat of Corey Seager and calmly threw the ball across the Dodger Stadium diamond to teammate Yuli Gurriel at first base for the final out of the 113th World Series, it was a moment 56 seasons in the making.
"We all put it on the line for seven months, and now we get to celebrate," veteran catcher Brian McCann said.
The Astros completed their decades-long odyssey to a championship. The final out was recorded at 10:58 p.m. CT Wednesday night, before 54,124 fans at Dodger Stadium. The Astros beat the Dodgers, 5-1, in Game 7 of the World Series, setting off a celebration that could be felt all the way to Houston.
"We were at the bottom," said pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who endured a 111-loss season in 2013 that was the low point of the team's rebuild. "Nobody wanted to come here. It was an open tryout, and now it's a destination for players to come. We've got MVPs wanting to come here, we've got Cy Youngs wanting to come here. We're on top of the world ... literally."
The Astros mobbed one another on the field in a scrum of orange in an ending fit for Hollywood. Back home in Houston, the moment generations of fans had waited years to see brought unprecedented outbursts of emotion.
The Astros are World Series champions.
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"It's unbelievable," World Series Most Valuable Player George Springer said. "It's indescribable. When you get to [Spring Training], you know who you have, you see what you have, and there's always the thought of 'We could do it,' but the 162-plus games is a lot of games. And lot of things have to go right in order to get here."
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A city that only a couple of months ago was devastated by Hurricane Harvey rallied around its baseball team and held on tight.
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"You know what, Houston? We're a championship city," manager A.J. Hinch said. "This team loves playing in Houston, and we're going to love bringing this World Series trophy back to Houston.
"We take great pride in being there for Houston at that time. Obviously, they responded by falling in love with this team. Our September was incredible, October was even better. And November, we're pretty good."
The Astros, who struggled through August, acquired Justin Verlander at the end of the month and zoomed to the American League West title. They took down the mighty Red Sox in the AL Division Series and the mightier Yankees in the AL Championship Series before meeting another iconic franchise -- the Dodgers, who haven't won a World Series since 1988. Those teams featured the three highest payrolls in baseball in 2017.
In a Fall Classic full of heart-stopping moments, the Astros rallied to win Game 2 in dramatic fashion in Los Angeles and walked off to win an epic Game 5 in Houston, 13-12, in a game started by two Cy Young Award winners. The Dodgers' Game 6 victory set the stage for the biggest win in Astros franchise history in Game 7.
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"They put a lot of fight in the whole series, and we need to tip our cap to the Dodgers," Hinch said. "That's going to go down as one of the more remarkable World Series of all time, and that takes two teams to do that. That team across the way equally could have been champions. We just outlasted them."
How this team reached the pinnacle of baseball is in itself a remarkable story.
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When an ownership group led by Jim Crane hired a forward-thinking general manager in Jeff Luhnow late in 2011, the Astros traded veteran players and began stockpiling Draft picks and young talent. Altuve was already in the fold, as were Springer and Keuchel. They were soon joined by Marwin Gonzalez, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.
After three consecutive seasons of at least 100 losses, the Astros made a postseason run in 2015, but they fell short in 2016. With a young core in place, management added veterans Carlos Beltran, McCann and Josh Reddick a year ago. Verlander, who came over in a trade from the Tigers, was the final piece. A championship team was built. Astros legends were made.
"This team was special from the get-go, even before we got the guys we acquired from the Deadline," Reddick said. "We knew this was a team that could get us to the stage we wanted to be. We all realized that from Spring Training with the moves we made, trading for Brian, getting Carlos Beltran, getting Charlie Morton and trading for Verlander and [Francisco Liriano] and Cameron Maybin, everybody contributed. There's not really many guys you can point out and say, 'They're the reason we're here.' You look around this whole clubhouse, and everybody participated."
After the early days of Judge Hofheinz and the magical Astrodome, to the rainbow uniforms and the Killer B's, the Astros' rich history now includes a championship. Four years removed from their third consecutive 100-loss season, the Astros delivered Houston's third major sports title -- and the first in 22 years -- led by a relentless offense and a pitching staff with grit and heart.
"It won't hit us until we get home in front of our whole city and we celebrate and we bring the trophy home," Hinch said.
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For lifelong Astros fans, a World Series title means so much more.
It was a win for Bob Aspromonte, Jimmy Wynn and Bob Watson. It was for Joe Niekro, Art Howe and Cesar Cedeno. It was for Shane Reynolds, Brad Ausmus and Larry Dierker. It was for Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell -- both of whom were in attendance on Wednesday. And it was for the Astros who left too soon -- Ken Caminiti, Darryl Kile and Jose Lima.
It was for every Astros fan who endured the playoff heartbreaks of 1980 and 1986, who left the Astrodome in frustration in the late 1990s when their team couldn't get past the Braves and who cringed when Jose Pujols' homer off Brad Lidge won Game 5 of the 2005 National League Championship Series -- a series the Astros won two days later for their first World Series appearance.
The ups and downs, they all make sense now. The Astros are champions.
"I think that winning the World Series is hard, especially in this day and age, and for our guys to be able to get it done, especially with what they went through," Biggio said, "is pretty amazing, for sure."