HOUSTON -- The feeling will burn inside Astros reliever Will Harris for a long time, maybe forever. He’ll probably replay the 0-1 cutter he threw to Howie Kendrick in his mind throughout the winter, along with the shattered feeling when Kendrick’s fly ball clanked off the right-field foul pole in the seventh inning for a homer that put the Nationals ahead.
If there was any doubt how much Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to the Nationals in Game 7 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park bothered Harris, it was evident in his red eyes and the hushed tones with which he spoke while the Nats were still celebrating on the field. One of the Astros’ most consistent relievers all season, the steady Harris took the loss.
“I’m not going to make excuses for poor performance,” Harris said. “I was more than able to throw the baseball today, and it just didn’t work out.”
As Harris has done for all of his Astros career, he answered reporters candidly, but in the most difficult of circumstances in which to do so. Some teammates were sitting at lockers and staring into nothingness. Others were shuffling around a quiet clubhouse and hugging each other.
Harris turned to face reporters and didn’t shy away from questions after allowing a late-inning World Series homer for the second game in a row.
“It’s every reliever’s nightmare,” Harris said. “I get a chance to live, and I think I’ll be better for it tomorrow when I wake up. I needed one more good day, and today wasn’t that day for me. I know I’ll learn from it. I’ve been through a lot in my life, and I’m still here. I think, hopefully, I can learn something from it.”
Harris, a former waiver claim-turned-All-Star who posted a career-best 1.50 ERA with 62 strikeouts in a career-high-tying 68 games in the regular season, began the postseason with 10 consecutive scoreless outings, allowing only five hits in nine innings. That ended when Anthony Rendon took him deep in Houston’s 7-2 loss on Tuesday night in Game 6 of the World Series.
Astros manager AJ Hinch went right back to Harris in the seventh inning of Game 7. Rendon’s homer off starter Zack Greinke had cut Houston’s lead to 2-1, and Hinch pulled Greinke after the right-hander walked Juan Soto. Harris came in and watched Kendrick hit a 336-foot homer down the right-field line to put Washington ahead, 3-2. He then walked Asdrubal Cabrera, and his season was over.
“It was pretty obvious I think I made a pretty good pitch [to Kendrick],” said Harris, who will be a free agent for the first time at age 35. “He just made a championship play for a championship team. Yeah, I tip my hat to them for beating me today. I think I did everything I could do, but it wasn’t enough.”
Harris struck out Kendrick in a huge spot earlier in the series, retiring him to end the sixth inning of the Astros’ 8-1 win in Game 4 to strand runners at second and third. Harris appeared to yell in elation toward the Nationals' dugout before walking off the mound, which was something Washington players didn’t forget.
“This guy [Harris] punched out Howie at home, screamed and stared in our dugout, and Howie never forgot that,” Nats catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “I said, ‘Boys, Howie remembers this, just watch.’ And then he ends up going oppo right there. You couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
Throughout the World Series, Hinch talked about the trust he has in Harris, the longest-tenured member of Houston's bullpen. He was thrilled to see Harris ushered into the postgame press conference room after one of the wins in the middle of the series in Washington. Hinch wanted Harris to get credit on a national stage.
That’s what made the sight of Harris sitting alone, dejected in the dugout, so hard for Hinch to swallow after the Game 7 loss.
“I'll try to find some time to spend with him, because I hate that for him and for us that his last feeling this season is about as low as you can feel coming out of Game 7 of the World Series,” Hinch said. “He's answered the bell so many times, he's gotten us out of so many jams. He's been a go-to guy. He's a stand-up guy. He's somebody that you can certainly be proud of.
“If you ever want to wear his jersey, you ever want to collect his baseball card, you ever want to go somewhere where he's doing something good in the community, then you're absolutely on the right track.”