WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- You can start here with Brian McCann: He is younger than you think and much better than you think.McCann, whose current job is catcher of the defending World Series champion Astros, just turned 34 in February. So there's that. Then there's this: He has been
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- You can start here with Brian McCann: He is younger than you think and much better than you think.
McCann, whose current job is catcher of the defending World Series champion Astros, just turned 34 in February. So there's that. Then there's this: He has been an All-Star seven times already in his career and across the 12 full seasons he has played in the big leagues, he has hit more than 20 home runs 10 times, and never hit fewer than the 18 he hit last season for the Astros.
McCann has been that good, built that kind of resume and is also built to last. He was having a great career with the Braves and the Yankees before he even got to Houston. But with all that, with what is a long, classy and honorable career, there were never any guarantees, because there never are in sports, that McCann would ever win it all; that he would ever play on a team as good and deep and talented as the one on which he is playing right now.
There was never any guarantee for someone like McCann, a catcher who has hit as many home runs as he has and caught as many games as he had, that he would ever be in the right place at the right time, until he finally was. Until all the champagne had been sprayed in Los Angeles after Game 7 of the World Series, the trophies had been presented, Carlos Correa had proposed to his fiancée on the field and on television, he sat in front of his locker in the visitors' clubhouse at Dodger Stadium and it sunk in that it hadn't just happened to his teammates.
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It had finally happened to him.
McCann smiled on Thursday afternoon, sitting at his locker right before the shower room in the Astros' clubhouse at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, an hour or so before one of the last games his team would play there in the spring.
"We were all so exhausted by the time Game 7 was over," he said, "I honestly think it took a while to take a step back, or two, or three, and fully appreciate what we'd done."
Then, McCann said, "But we did appreciate it in the moment. I know I did. I know how many players in this game might play their whole careers and never even make it to the postseason, much less play in a World Series and win one."
He shook his head. He was still smiling.
"There's 30 teams," McCann said. "That's as good a place to start as any. And then out of those 30, you have to end up on the right team. And then even after you end up on the right team, you still need to have all phases of the game covered. I mean, I look back on everything that happened to us in the playoffs, a Game 7 against the Yanks and then another one against the Dodgers. And when I do look back, then I start thinking about how this hit went our way, or that play went our way, but how they could have gone the other way. All it does is make you appreciate and understand just how hard it is to win in this game."
Say it again: McCann is better than you think, and putting up awfully big, borderline Hall of Fame numbers, for a catcher. He has now averaged 22 home runs a season for the past 12 seasons. But even with everything McCann has done, even on a team last season that had Jose Altuve, Correa, George Springer, Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers, he saw how fragile October and November can so often be in baseball. The Astros were behind the Yankees three games to two in the American League Championship Series. McCann had just played for the Yanks after leaving Atlanta. So maybe he was going to be in the right place -- Houston, with a team loaded the way the '17 Astros were -- at the wrong time.
"But then it turned out," McCann said on Thursday, "that we really were the ones having a magic season."
The ALCS went back to Minute Maid Park, and the Yankees, riding high after sweeping the three games at Yankee Stadium, were only able to score a single run in Games 6 and 7. Then came the World Series, one of the best and most memorable and, yes, most magical in all of baseball history. The Astros and Dodgers finally played a Game 5 that will be remembered as long as the World Series was played, coming from 4-0 behind against Clayton Kershaw and finally winning 15-14 in the bottom of the 10th.
Going into that game, McCann was only hitting .181 for the postseason. It meant he hadn't been doing a whole lot with any kind of pitching, particularly left-handed pitching. But in the bottom of the eighth, with left-hander Tony Cingrani pitching for the Dodgers, McCann hit a home run that made it 12-9 for Houston, before Los Angeles tied the game again in the top of the ninth.
And before that, of course, in Game 7 against his old team in the Yanks, it was McCann who knocked in the last two runs for the Astros, his double scoring Correa and Yuli Gurriel and making it 4-0 for Houston that night.
"It was as if everybody did something," he said Thursday. "Everybody had at least one moment, and sometimes more than that. And now I actually think that we've gotten better. I think we have to be better for the experience that we had in the postseason, for going through the fire the way we did. It's not just the talent in here, and the chemistry we so obviously have. It's also the fun we all have being a part of something like this."
McCann smiled again. He does that a lot.
"In 10 years, I really think that people will look back on this team, guys like Jose [Altuve] and Carlos [Correa] and George [Springer] and Alex [Bregman] and say, 'Wait a second, those guys were all on the same team at the same time?'" McCann said.
Those guys are right here in this room. But so is Brian McCann. Right place, right time. Right guy behind the plate, too.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com and the New York Daily News, and is a best-selling author.