HOUSTON -- The sound had been brewing and building in the throats of orange-clad Astros fans for years. Five years ago, they had watched their beloved ballclub win a World Series from afar. Then they had seen that title turn from outright triumph to contentious talking point, and they had watched two other teams claim and celebrate Series crowns of their own right here in Minute Maid Park.
But when Yordan Alvarez connected on José Alvarado’s sinker in the bottom of the sixth inning Saturday night, the sound was finally unleashed. It was a mighty roar of celebration, unencumbered by the weight of what had been and in anticipation of what those fans now knew was coming -- a 4-1 Game 6 victory over the Phillies, and a World Series clincher under their own roof.
Powered by Alvarez’s game-changing 450-foot homer to dead center, the Astros are World Series champions for the second time in six seasons. And given the attention and condemnation the 2017 club brought upon itself, the sting of having to host the ’19 Nationals’ and ’21 Braves’ bottle-popping parties and the famous frustrations Dusty Baker had endured in a 25-season pursuit of a ring as a skipper, there was cleansing catharsis as the champagne flowed freely.
“I think that's what drove this team,” said Baker, who had been the winningest manager (2,093 wins and 11 previous postseason appearances) without a World Series title. “That's what motivated them. The boos and the jeers that we got all over the country, it bothered these guys, but it also motivated them at the same time. And it wasn't an us against the world thing. It was more of a ‘come together even closer’ type of thing.”
They came together to become the first team to clinch the World Series on its home field since the 2013 Red Sox. The home drought (which does not include the Dodgers’ “home” win in Arlington, Texas, in the ’20 pandemic-affected postseason) was the longest in history.
They also cemented this Astros era as a modern dynasty. Given the difficulty of reaching six consecutive League Championship Series and winning four pennants and two titles in a six-season span in a sport with such random October (and November) outcomes, plus persistent player movement and low Draft positioning for successful squads, the Astros’ achievement is a marvel, even if it won’t silence the harshest critics of the egregious methods the 2017 and ’18 teams used to steal and relay signs.
“I don’t think we have to validate anything,” catcher Martín Maldonado said. “We did it for the city, for the fans, for all those guys supporting us. We’re still the best team in baseball.”
To prove it, the Astros had to take down a surprising 87-win Phillies team that entered the postseason as the National League’s sixth seed, then stunned the NL Central champion Cardinals in the Wild Card Series and defending World Series champion Braves in the NL Division Series before ousting the Padres in the NL Championship Series to advance to their first Fall Classic since 2009.
“They came to the ballpark every day and worked hard and played hard and played as a team, had a lot of fun,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “They grinded through a lot of obstacles. I'm just so proud of all of 'em. I really am.”
Ultimately, though, the Astros had too many answers, and that was definitely the case in Game 6’s momentous sixth inning.
Kyle Schwarber’s solo shot off an otherwise untouchable Framber Valdez in the top of the sixth had given Philly a 1-0 edge. But after Jose Altuve hustled to beat out a double play and Jeremy Peña singled, en route to becoming the first rookie position player to be named World Series MVP, Alvarez was due up. That threat loomed large enough that Thomson pulled starter Zack Wheeler to bring in the lefty Alvarado.
It was a bold yet unsurprising move by Thomson, who managed this entire World Series with a clear appreciation for the urgency of the stage.
“Going into the Series, it was always kind of Alvarado on Álvarez,” Thomson said. “It was the sixth inning, and I felt like the normal back end of the bullpen guys could get through it.”
It had been Alvarez whose walk-off heroics against the Mariners’ Robbie Ray in Game 1 of the American League Division Series got Houston’s postseason party started. Alvarez went deep again the next game, but then fell into a funk that lasted into Game 6 of the World Series. He worked overtime in the batting cage, tinkering and figuring it out, only to go back to the drawing board after another round of fruitless, frustrating at-bats.
Alvarez, though, proved ready for his close-up. The man who came over from Cuba in 2016 having never hit a home run over the wall has morphed into one of the game’s most feared power hitters, and he showed why with the biggest swing of his life. The count was 2-1 when Alvarado tried to sneak a 98.9 mph sinker past the 6-foot-5, 225-pound left fielder.
“If I make a good pitch,” Alvarado said later, “maybe it's a ground ball, double play, inning over. [But] when he hit the ball, the sound, you say, ‘OK, that’s gone.’”
Yep. When Alvarez connected, there was no question about the conclusion. He stood for a moment and watched as the ball sailed into the standing area atop the batter’s eye greenery to make it 3-1.
“I didn’t look for anything, I didn’t look at the iPad,” Alvarez said through a translator. “I waited for my at-bat, I didn’t go looking at anything. I knew that was my moment. I had this peace of mind that I knew that was my moment. And it happened.”
It was a good thing the roof was closed, because the sound from Minute Maid Park could have woken up sleeping babies anywhere from Aldine to Pearland.
Two innings later, Ryan Pressly, fresh off his finishing touch in the Astros’ combined no-hitter in Game 4 and his five-out save in Game 5, put a proper stamp on the party with a scoreless ninth. Fireworks exploded, orange and silver garland rained down from the upper deck, and mascot Orbit circled the field with a giant flag honoring the 2022 champs.
The Astros, their fans and Baker had taken a lot of heat and endured some awful endings. But this was a moment and a house party they could call their own.
“What happened before, it doesn't ever pass over completely,” Baker said. “But we have turned the page, and hopefully, we'll continue this run. … I like this feeling a lot.”