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Houston Strong in face of tragedies

Astros have aided hurricane relief in Texas, Puerto Rico during title run
MLB.com @RichardJustice

HOUSTON -- George Springer believed his home might have been destroyed. Only his teammates knew his level of worry, and if you had watched Springer play baseball for those few days, you would not have known.

Teammates had their own worries. Wives and children appeared to be safe and dry, but some had been inside their homes for days, trapped by Hurricane Harvey's ravenous flood waters.

HOUSTON -- George Springer believed his home might have been destroyed. Only his teammates knew his level of worry, and if you had watched Springer play baseball for those few days, you would not have known.

Teammates had their own worries. Wives and children appeared to be safe and dry, but some had been inside their homes for days, trapped by Hurricane Harvey's ravenous flood waters.

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And even those things do not fully explain why the Astros were so anxious to return home in the days after Harvey ripped through America's fourth-largest city in August, killing 77 and leaving thousands picking through the debris of crushed homes and wrecked lives.

"Our guys felt a sense of responsibility to get back here and be part of their community," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "They'd seen their friends and neighbors helping one another, and they wanted to do something."

Sadly, that wasn't the end of the suffering. As Houston was cleaning up from Harvey, another hurricane, Maria, tore through Puerto Rico, devastating the island.

For a long list of Astros, this was personal. Shortstop Carlos Correa, outfielder Carlos Beltran, bench coach Alex Cora and others have heard horror stories of the death and devastation from their homeland.

All have assisted in ferrying relief supplies to the island. With an assist from Astros owner Jim Crane, dozens of family members and hospital patients have been brought to the mainland.

"My mom did not really understand how bad things were until she got here and saw it on television," Cora said. "I'm not even sure it's getting better. Some days yes, some no."

Video: Carlos Beltran on $1M donation to Hurricane relief

On Friday, he heard of a hospital in Puerto Rico losing power in the operating room during a surgery.

When the Astros landed back in Houston late on Aug. 30, players informed team president Reid Ryan that they wanted to do something. Whether it was serving food or playing with homeless kids did not matter.

"They wanted to roll up their sleeves and go to work," Ryan said, "and that's what they did. I don't think we as a franchise or Houston as a city could ever be more proud of a group of guys."

Maybe the most important thing the 2017 Astros did was play baseball. This they did spectacularly well, with joy and energy, playing it so well that it was almost impossible not to be caught up in their quest.

Against this backdrop, the Astros won the American League pennant with a 4-0 victory over the Yankees on Saturday in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series presented by Camping World.

Now there's just one step remaining, and the Astros will begin that quest when they play the Dodgers on Tuesday in Game 1 of the World Series presented by YouTube TV.

However this thing ends, these Astros will be forever linked with Hurricane Harvey. At a time when Houston needed something positive, the Astros delivered again and again.

These are complicated dots to connect, because nothing the Astros did on the baseball field saved one home or cleaned up one neighborhood or drained one teaspoon of flood water. On the other hand, it mattered. For a few hours each day, the Astros gave their city something to cheer for and focus on. In the end, that's going to be an important footnote.

No one spoke more eloquently of Harvey than Hinch, who said the right thing every single time he was asked. His players were singularly focused there, too. They understood that baseball did not matter in the larger scheme of things.

But baseball did matter because the Astros could rally a city, raise money and do good deeds. The Astros could also show the world a different face. Instead of pain and devastation, Houston could also be seen as Jose Altuve's energy and Springer's smile and Justin Verlander's greatness.

Looking back on it, the Astros may someday see Harvey as a kind of turning spot or a spark. They'd played a home series against the Rangers in St. Petersburg on Aug. 29-31 and believed they would remain there to play the Mets the following weekend (Sept. 1-3) as Houston's cleanup commenced.

Video: NYM@HOU: Astros on first home game after hurricane

But Ryan reached out to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner for guidance. You bring those guys home, the mayor said.

"I want ballgames," Turner said. "This city needs ballgames. Why don't you come home, and we'll consider this the start of our rebuilding?"

The Astros flew home, spent a day working on an assortment of hurricane-relief efforts, and then on a day when joy mixed with sadness, when resolve met the challenge of a massive cleanup, they swept a doubleheader from the Mets.

They will tell you that the cheers were a little louder that day, a little more proud and defiant. Thus began the final sprint to the postseason. In a matter of 24 hours, the Astros traded for Verlander and got Correa and right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. back from the disabled list.

They won 22 of 30 games to finish the regular season and have won seven of 11 postseason games to qualify for the World Series, the club's second Fall Classic appearance in franchise history. But the devastation in Houston and Puerto Rico lingers in the hearts of every player and coach.

When Hinch was asked right after Harvey if he'd say anything to help his players clear their heads, he said, "I don't want them to forget. I want them to know what our city is going through. I want us to keep helping others. And we will."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

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