The Houston Astros, who have been present in the final four for every season since 2017, have gotten back to the top of the mountain, with their first title since that ‘17 campaign. Dusty Baker finally has his ring as a World Series-winning skipper, with Houston beating the Phillies in six games.
They say that history repeats itself. Last year, the Astros faced the Braves in the World Series, and here we were again, a year later, with the same Astros facing another surprise NL team that defied all the odds by getting hot at the right time. This time around, that team was the Philadelphia Phillies, who had a dream postseason in returning to their first Fall Classic since that fateful matchup against the Yankees in 2009.
No one ever really takes a World Series matchup lightly, regardless of opponent, and that’s all well and good. Still, the Astros didn’t want to repeat history and lose another championship in which they were quite clearly the better team.
How it happened
Narratives are often built in advance in these playoff games, and they’re simply waiting for the result to sell them. The Astros got off to a fast start by taking a five-run lead with the likely AL Cy Young, Justin Verlander, on the mound, and everyone was ready to sell the: “Phillies had a nice run, but can’t hang with the Astros” narrative.
However, there is always room for the unpredictable in a baseball game, and the Phillies actually came back to win that game by rallying off Verlander and taking the lead with a go-ahead solo shot by J.T. Realmuto in the top of the 10th. Because baseball loves its little generation-spanning rhymes, that was the first time a team coughed up a five-run lead in a World Series game since the Giants did so in Game 6 of the 2002 Fall Classic against the Angels, with, you guessed it, Dusty Baker on the bench.
In the end, that fact turned out to be more of a curiosity rather than anything else. A lot has to go wrong beyond simply a manager’s perceived bad decisions for a team to give away such a sizeable lead, but it certainly fuels the narrative.
Throughout this run that began in the middle of the last decade, the Astros have been notorious for their power-hitting, and the likes of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and so many others carrying potent lineups. It’s easy to think of hitting first when thinking about the Houston Astros (particularly with rookie Jeremy Peña shining as the ALCS and World Series MVP), but the truth is that the 2022 Houston Astros won it all with their pitching.
A rotation that always sends out a starter capable of shutting down any lineup on any given day, and a bullpen that seems to throw in reliever after reliever with a sub 3.00 ERA and superb ratios. That is the Houston Astros, perfectly embodied by their combined no-no on the road in Game 4, when their theoretical fourth starter, Cristian Javier, tossed six hitless frames, and was complemented by Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero, and Ryan Pressly.
In the blink of an eye, the memories of the Phillies’ five-homer outburst in Game 3 had vanished, and the World Series was tied. That’s what overpowering pitching can do for a ballclub. Indeed, from Game 4 onward, the Phillies scored just 3 runs in 27 innings.
There was virtually never any point in which any offense truly felt comfortable about holding a big edge on the Astros, simply because every arm they threw out there was a quality arm, and apart from the rare hiccup, everyone performed according to their level.
The second thing that stands out about this Houston Astros team can be summed up in one word: Resiliency. There is no team as resilient as the Astros in baseball today, and it’s not even close. The Astros are the one elite team that remains unfazed even through the toughest of blows that any team is susceptible to, in postseason play:
Your Cy Young pitcher gets rocked by a division rival in Game 1 of the ALDS.
Yordan Alvarez goes out there and hits a three-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with the Astros down by two runs.
Your team loses Game 1 by becoming the first in 20 years to blow a five-run lead in a World Series game.
You go out there and pound your opponent’s ace (Wheeler) in Game 2, with an emphatic win to tie up the series.
Your ballclub gets ambushed on the first World Series game on the road, and loses a blowout Game 3
You come right back around and win the following two on the road, including a combined no-no.
Your All-Star pitcher puts you behind in the potential Game 6 clincher on a home run in the sixth
You find a way to knock the dominant opposing starter out before torching the bullpen on a titanic three-run shot by Alvarez.
Every World Series-winning team will probably lose multiple playoff games along the way, but even with that in mind, the Astros had more than one loss with enough crushing ingredients to be catastrophic blows to teams without their mental fortitude.
Altuve had a rather poor postseason, Alvarez was held in check against the Yankees, and Justin Verlander got his doors blown off more often than he pitched well in this postseason, but 1 through 26, the Houston Astros showed how you stand out in the playoffs, and what it takes to win a championship.