The Houston Astros celebrated another MLS title

Street. PETERSBURG, FL – Dusty Baker was on the lookout. His eyes, unprotected by the usual ski goggles, flickered back and forth, looking for danger as corks burst and drops flooded the tarp-covered visitor club at Tropicana Field. The Astros manager stopped talking mid-sentence when he spotted Jordan Alvarez lurking with a golden bottle in his hand.

“Hey Grande, no!” Baker warned his hero. The manager pointed to his bare eyes and said in Spanish, “No glasses” or “No glasses.”

It was clear that many inside and outside the Astros saw the club might re-emerge as MLS champions, but what seemed to be an inevitable outcome for many remains surprisingly dominant.

Monday allowed a 4-0 win over Rice Astros to seal fifth division title in six yearsa remarkable feat of consistency that Becker was in the midst of describing when he was finally doused with champagne and beer by Alvarez, Aldames Diaz, and Lance McCullers Jr.

“We didn’t know what we got in spring training,” said Baker, who has won nine titles in his coaching career, the last two with Houston. “We expected to win it, but we didn’t know we were going to win it that much. But they were just crunching and crunching and crunching. That’s the key. They were consistent every month, and these guys love each other. That’s what I love.”

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The Astros’ 15th-place win kept the second-placed Mariners at the top of the All West standings, a region so wide that no opponents have come close in 10 games since mid-July.

“Only the players in this dressing room bring everything together,” said James Click, Astros general manager, when asked about the key to the team’s success. “We had high hopes for this roster, but you never know – 162 games can do strange things to teams, and the best laid plans can be blown up by the end of April. The players in this dressing room know what they have to do in order to win, they went out and they did. that “.

They did so despite losing, over the past several years, a group of All-Star players who were an embarrassment of fortunes. The departures of Gerrit Cole, George Springer and Carlos Correa after each of the past three seasons didn’t stop the Astros from winning another league title and their sixth straight berth after the season.

“We left some good players, but we brought in some good players as well,” said Jose Altove, second base officer. “We are really happy here. Obviously George, Cole and Carlos are really good players, but like I said, we have to keep playing, and we are happy with the guys who are here.”

Altuve, the longest-serving member of the current Astros, is now an expert at staying mostly dry during boisterous festivities. He stayed away from the fight on Monday, content to soak it all up without literally getting soaked.

The same cannot be said about Framber Valdez, newly minted MLB record holderwho, one day after showing his 25th quality in a row, gleefully danced under showers of champagne with a green bag protecting his delicately woven locks.

Soccer player Mauricio Dupont, first-ranking officer Yuli Gouriel and hitting coach Alex Cintron pose for photos, wearing T-shirts handed out on the field, emblazoned with the words “The West is ours.”

When the champagne was running out, captain Christian Javier and Hector Neres took ice cubes out of the coolers and tossed them in the air like shimmering confetti.

Neres signed a two-year deal with the Astros last winter after spending eight seasons with Velez. The veteran director secured the last three games against the Rays and was at the center of nearly every festive champagne splash in the post-game club.

“I am very happy today,” Neres said. “Thank you, Houston, for supporting me here, and I’ll be staying here for a long time. Champion!…I came for it, and now I feel the decision I made was the right one.”

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Alvarez, a salad hitter whose looming presence in the batter box can’t be ignored, stealthily poured champagne down the spine of anyone foolish enough to turn his back. Among his victims was Baker and, on two separate occasions, ace Justin Verlander – who managed to keep his face when Alvarez overwhelmed him while talking to reporters.

The 39-year-old Verlander’s return from Tommy John surgery was one of the best story lines of the season, and his results are just the tip of the iceberg for the start of the Astros’ run that ended Monday in leading the MLS in the ERA, whip and middle-batting opponent.

“It’s really special to be here and to experience this again,” Verlander said. “It could have been taken from me with surgery. Regardless of personal things, to be able to experience this with your teammates is something I don’t take for granted. I’ve been a part of many teams that went to playoffs. I’ve been here a lot, But you know, I’ll never forget: In one of our first years in the playoffs with the Tigers came Sean Casey, who spent 10 years in the league and didn’t play in the playoffs. And that perspective that these guys bring, saying how special, you don’t take it for granted, that’s Something always stuck with me.”

Verlander, Altuff, Gurrell, McCullers and third baseman Alex Bregman are the last remaining members of the 2017 Astros squad, and thus are the only players to have attended all of the last five division titles. They are well aware of the rarefied air they breathe in Houston.

“You never get old, but there are players who have been in the game for a long time who haven’t been before,” Bregman said. “Then you have guys that debuted a few weeks ago. So it never gets old. It’s always fun. That’s why we play the game. We play the game to win.”

Tre Mancini was dealt from the Orioles to the Astros on the July trading deadline after facing five consecutive underdog seasons in the playoffs in Baltimore. Before Monday, his only champagne celebration during the junior season came in 2016, when the Orioles snuck into the AL wild card game on the last day of the regular season.

“At the time, I remember thinking it would be common and that’s what happens every year, but that’s not the case,” Mancini said. “I’ve been kind of waiting for this moment for a long time. Like I said, you know, unfortunately we had a few tough years in Baltimore, and things started to change this year, but at the same time, I remember two teams that snatched against us and they thought it would be really cool to be on the The other side. So it’s good to be there.”

Jeremy Peña, who was on the Astros taxi squad but didn’t actually play when the team clinched the division in 2021, celebrated this year as the franchise’s brief starting point and the cornerstone of its future.

Hunter Brown, who contributed three points-free frames to Monday’s victory, emptied a can of beer on top of fellow rookie David Hensley. A month ago, they were both still on Triple-A.

“It’s great,” Brown said. “These guys have worked hard all season, and I joined recently, but I am really happy to be here and to be a part of it. I would rather not be anywhere else.”

The Astros have won 10 of their last 12 matches, and their 13-4 record in September is the best in the major tournaments. The magic number for the Astros to seal their field throughout the MLS after the season is over is seven over the Yankees.

The final touches to Houston’s season are yet to come, including securing the top seed in the MLS playoffs and dealing with the rigors of an actual postseason run.

But Monday was the satisfactory culmination of what Baker described as a “comprehensive team effort”.

“Everyone worked together as music,” Baker said. “That’s what it takes, especially in modern baseball.”