Mission Accomplished: Astros Complete Historic Run With 2022 World Series Title
HOUSTON — For the past six seasons, the Astros have been a dominant force like few others in baseball history.
The Astros reached six consecutive American League Championship Series, breaking a record held by the dynastic Athletics teams of the early 1970s. They won at least 95 games in every full season, and notched 100 wins in all but one.
Not since the Yankees of the late 1990s and early 2000s has a team represented its league in the World Series as often as the Astros have over these past six years. What’s more, the Astros did it in the era of the luxury tax, caps on draft and international bonuses, extra draft picks for low-revenue teams and an expanded postseason, all mechanisms designed to ensure competitive equity and make it harder for a single team to dominate.
The Astros were missing just one, critical thing during their run: a World Series championship unencumbered by the stain of a cheating scandal.
Now, they have one.
Yordan Alvarez, the greatest scouting find on a team full of them, launched a mammoth three-run homer in the sixth inning to give the Astros a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, and the Astros beat the Phillies 4-1 in Game 6 to win the World Series. The Astros won the series four games to two for their second title in franchise history, alongside their 2017 championship that was later revealed to have been aided by an elaborate sign-stealing scheme.
“I don't think we were out to prove anything to anyone,” said righthander Lance McCullers Jr., one of five players remaining from that 2017 team. “I think we wanted to prove we're the best team in baseball, and I think we did that.”
The Astros did it with 14 homegrown players on their roster, making them the most homegrown World Series champion since at least 2000. They found players everywhere, from top draft picks like McCullers, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker to second-day picks like shortstop Jeremy Peña to international bargains like Jose Altuve, Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier. They acquired players who were both established stars like Justin Verlander and unknowns yet to play a professional game like Alvarez. They hit on the draft, the international market and trades again and again, building a sustainable winner capable of withstanding any individual loss.
The Astros lost Gerrit Cole, George Springer and Carlos Correa in free agency in consecutive years and never missed a beat. They won 106 games this season, most in the American League, and went 11-2 in the postseason. While other top teams like the 111-win Dodgers and defending champion Braves faltered with the addition of an extra playoff round this year, the Astros steamrolled their way to a championship.
“I think that everyone in this clubhouse honestly just believed from day one that we would be able to come back to the World Series this year and get a win,” Bregman said. “I think everyone was motivated by not finishing it last year and losing and I think the guys worked extremely hard in the offseason, during the regular season.
“Many, many guys have come from different places, whether it's the minor leagues or via trade or free agency, but everyone that has come in here has one goal in mind and that's to win and that's what it's all about.”
Indeed, it was the players from some of the most unique places and backgrounds of all that secured the championship in the clincher.
Valdez, signed for just $10,000 as a 21-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, shut down the Phillies offense with six innings of one-run ball, Alvarez, the behemoth slugger acquired from the Dodgers for reliever Josh Fields before he ever played a professional game, belted a 450-foot home run that cleared the batter’s eye to give the Astros the lead and send Minute Maid Park into a frenzy. And Peña, a third-round pick in 2018 out of Maine—far from a college baseball power—went 2-for-4 with a run scored and became the first rookie position player to win the World Series MVP award.
“Since my first pro ball team in short season-A, the Tri-City ValleyCats, managed by Jason Bell, we had a winning culture since day one,” Peña said. “We won the championship that year and that was the expectation every single year. And I'd say that's the culture we built here in the organization. It doesn't matter what level. We expect to develop you and at the same time we're going to win games.”
The Astros have done plenty of both during their run, albeit not without controversy. The revelations that they stole signs electronically during the 2017 season and postseason rocked the sport and cast a pall over the franchise. The win-at-all costs mentality instilled by former general manager Jeff Luhnow raised concerns around the game, most notably when the team acquired closer Roberto Osuna while he was in the middle of serving a domestic violence suspension, and came to a head when the extent of the sign-stealing scheme was revealed in an MLB investigation.
Luhnow, the man responsible for building most of the Astros current roster, was fired alongside manager A.J. Hinch after MLB released the results of its investigation. It became incumbent on new general manager James Click and manager Dusty Baker to keep the franchise moving forward and prevent it from devolving into turmoil in the aftermath of the sign-stealing revelations.
They did just that. Click re-hired scouts to help rehabilitate the Astros image and wisely chose to keep the talent the organization had in place rather than try to put his stamp on the team.
Only seven players of the 26 players on the Astros World Series roster were brought into the organization during Click’s tenure. That was intentional on the 44-year-old GM’s part.
“If it ain't broke don't fix it,” Click said. “People come up to me and said ‘Hey, you haven't made a signature move' or 'Hey, you haven't done anything big,’ but the job is to win. And there was a tremendous foundation in place. Big moves weren't needed here. Some tweaks around the edges, some small things to make sure that we stayed on the right path and that we could survive some departures of some key players, but other than that, it was just trying to keep the train on the tracks.”
To that end, Baker was the perfect fit. A decorated veteran with a long track record of winning and effectively managing players, he provided a steady hand and kept the Astros on the winning track while they became baseball’s biggest pariahs.
The one thing Baker lacked was a World Series ring as a manager. He took the Giants to the World Series in 2002 and watched his team blow a five-run lead in Game 6 to lose the game and eventually the series. He led the Cubs to the NLCS in 2003, where they too suffered an epic Game 6 collapse facilitated by Steve Bartman’s attempt to catch a foul ball down the left field line. Baker again reached the World Series with the Astros in 2021, and again Game 6 proved his team’s undoing as they were walloped by the Braves at home.
This time, thanks to Valdez, Alvarez and the rest of the Astros in-house development successes, he finally came out on the winning side of a Game 6, and won his first World Series title as a manager after managing in four different decades.
“I thought about it a lot,” Baker said. “I tried not to dwell on it, but tried to have faith and perseverance and knowing that with the right team and the right personnel and right everything that this is going to happen.
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“Had this happened years ago, I might not even be here. So maybe it wasn't supposed to happen so that I could hopefully influence a few young men's lives and their families and a number of people in the country through showing what perseverance and character can do for you in the long run.”
Perseverance and character came to define the Astros during their 2022 postseason run. They fell behind in their first two games of the Division Series before rallying for late wins, then outlasted the Mariners in an epic, 18-inning contest to clinch it. They again came from behind twice in the ALCS to sweep the Yankees and punch their ticket to the World Series. After blowing a five-run lead in Game 1 and serving up five home runs in Game 3 to fall behind in the series two games to one, they responded by throwing just the second no-hitter in World Series history in Game 4, hung on for a tense win in Game 5 and came from behind to win the clincher in Game 6.
Alvarez’s monster homer gave the Astros a 3-1 lead after they had fallen behind, and an RBI single by Christian Vazquez in the seventh made it 4-1.
The was all the Astros bullpen needed. When Ryan Pressly got Nick Castellanos to fly out in foul ground to right for the final out, the sellout crowd of 42,958 fans at Minute Maid Park exploded in an exhortation of joy, pride and satisfaction.
“The whole time we were confident we were gonna get this done,” said Tucker, who caught the final out. “I mean, we know how good of team we have. Our pitching staff did a phenomenal job all year and, in the postseason, obviously. But I mean, we knew how good of a team we are, and we really wanted to win this.”
The Astros title doesn’t offer redemption for their past indiscretions. Even owner Jim Crane was straightforward in acknowledging that following the team’s win.
But with 21 of the 26 players on the current roster having not been with the Astros when the sign-stealing occurred, it does represent a justification of the franchise’s talent, and a chance for it to turn the page.
“It was upsetting to everybody and we got beat up over it, rightfully so,” Crane said. “So it's just hard work that we kind of worked our way through it and kept our head down. I told the guys, I said, ‘You know, this is gonna be with us for a while. The only way we can fix it is we gotta beat everybody.’
“I don't think it's ever fixed … You can't undo history. So you just do try to put your best foot forward and make sure it doesn't happen again.”
Now, the Astros will prepare for a parade. Both Click’s and Baker’s contracts expire after the season, and Crane has not publicly committed to retaining them. He did offer that he planned to discuss their futures after the parade and said he felt both had “done a good job.”
Regardless of what the future holds, the Astros cemented their place as one of the most dominant and successful teams in modern baseball history on Saturday night. After years of coming up short, they finally have a World Series championship without a caveat attached.
“I think that we've proven that we are an extremely dominant force in this era of baseball,” McCullers said. “And you know, that's all you can really judge yourself on.”