Even a broken country, to tweak a timeworn phrase, is right twice a year.
Correct outcome number one finally arrived Saturday night at Petco Park.
With apologies to the deservedly beloved Dusty Baker, Major League Baseball and the United States of America benefit from holding a World Series without the Houston Astros. Both MLB and the USA have suffered enough in 2020, right?
By holding off the ’Stros, 4-2, Saturday night at San Diego’s Petco Park in the loser-goes-home American League Championship Series Game 7, the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t merely avoid infamy by avoiding the fate that befell the 2004 Yankees, who of course collapsed against their rival Red Sox after prevailing in the first three contests. No, by rebounding just in time following that identical “win three, lose three” pattern — the only club besides the ’04 Yankees to do even that — the Rays spared the world from these Astros, their owner and long-time players historic scoundrels, getting the last laugh.
“I’m just f—ing proud of this team, man,” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said. “It’s been an unbelievable ride. I’ve never had so much fun. From the pandemic to spring training 2.0 we didn’t give up. We didn’t fold.”
For sure, this Houston club deserves props for putting a scare into baseball after a playoff invitation arrived in its mailbox thanks only to the expanded format, its 29-31 record under first-year manager Baker impressing no one. The Astros then proceeded to upset the Twins in the wild-card round and the A’s in the ALDS before climbing out of their 0-3 hole against the Rays.
Alas, there’s the scandal that launched their “unbelievable ride,” their sign-stealing scheme from 2017 and 2018 that became part of baseball’s record last January with a report by Rob Manfred. That will continue to trump any admiration they drew from their resilience of these past few weeks.
The Astros became loathed not only for the gall of their operation, by which they set up a strategically placed TV monitor to convey the opponents’ pitch selection in real time by banging on a trash can, and riding that all the way to a 2017 championship, but for the near-complete lack of accountability they displayed once they got caught and convicted.
Their owner Jim Crane led the way in downplaying the severity of his club’s wrongdoing — even after dismissing president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, both of thom received season-long suspensions for 2020 — and flat-out dismissing commissioner Rob Manfred’s written conclusion that the organization, which also butchered an incident between a club official and a reporter during last year’s postseason, faced a serious culture crisis. His players, nearly all of whom offered grudging apologies at best, avoided their day in the court of public opinion when the novel coronavirus locked fans out of the ballpark.
Ugly, ugly, ugly.
“When we take the field, that’s our playground,” Correa said. “We’re just kids having fun and trying to win ball games.”
Kids with a (baseball) criminal record, many of them. Ironically, it was a 2017 Astro, Rays starting pitcher Charlie Morton, who stopped the bleeding for his team and averted the crisis for his planet while super rookie Carlos Arozarena earned series Most Valuable Player honors with a two-run, first-inning homer — his fourth against Houston this week.
It would’ve been great to see Baker, 71, to take another shot at his first ring in 23 years of managing, and the sage skipper spoke with pride about his team’s comeback and perspective about the many recent losses he has suffered in his life, including former MLB executive Jimmie Lee Solomon (whose funeral was Saturday).
“Those are far greater losses than losing a ballgame,” Baker said.
The manager added, “One thing for sure, we’ll be back in this position next year.”
We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. For now, though? Thanks for finally getting something right, 2020. You owe us one more. Anyone have any suggestions?