Astros don’t want to talk about cheating or the 2017 World Series, just this one
By this point, the Houston Astros are as adept at avoiding questions about stealing signs as they were at actually doing it.
World Series media day on Monday was no different.
Ahead of their first appearance in the Fall Classic since their 2017 trash-can-banging scandal became public almost two years ago, the topic was raised repeatedly to Astros players and coaches during a series of news conferences at Minute Maid Park.
Each time, however, their shields went up.
Each one insisted there are different motivations behind the club’s latest October run.
Said shortstop Carlos Correa: “I don’t think we’re playing here in the World Series because we’re motivated to prove people wrong.”
Third baseman Alex Bregman: “I’m not worried about narratives. I’m not worried about any of that.”
Manager Dusty Baker: “You can only be driven by negative motivation so far. I think this team is way, way past that.”
The Astros might be, but much of baseball clearly is not.
The team was heckled and harangued in almost every city it visited, the target of boos and chants and, on more than a few occasions, trash cans that came raining down from opposing fans.
The Dodgers never got the chance to properly celebrate their 2020 World Series championship. And now their 2021 season is over short of another title.
They were reminded at every turn about their past transgressions, by media members and social media and, during this year’s American League Division Series, even by Chicago White Sox reliever Ryan Tepera.
And for as successful as they’ve remained since that 2017 season, for as much as their roster has turned over since then — Correa, Bregman, José Altuve and Yuli Gurriel are the only four hitters from the sign-stealing team that remain — the story continues to hang over their heads.
“I don’t think about that,” Altuve insisted. “I think we have the same mind-set we always have, which is go out there and win.”
That mindset led the Astros to break the rules four years ago, when they developed a sign-stealing system that included the prohibited use of live video feeds to alert hitters to the coming pitch via loud bangs against a dugout trash can.
Two years after they beat the Dodgers for the 2017 title, the story began to leak.
Last season the team was largely spared from fans’ fury because the pandemic kept them from attending games. But this year there’s been no escaping it.
“We get it everywhere we go,” said outfielder Michael Brantley, who signed with the Astros before the 2019 season. “But what makes this team so special is we’ve been here, done that. We’ve been through all of it. There’s no stage that’s big enough, there’s nothing that a crowd is going to do that’s going to get us off our game.”
A World Series triumph over the Atlanta Braves might go a long way toward silencing critics. A loss, however, would leave them with only the one tainted World Series title hanging above their left-field stands.
And yet ...
“I don’t think that’s their main source of motivation,” said Baker, who was hired before the 2020 season after A.J. Hinch was suspended and fired in the aftermath of an MLB investigation.
“I think that’s what people are trying to make it. But that doesn’t motivate you nearly as much as just driving to win, driving for excellence. … This is what you have to dwell on, versus a me-against-the-world. Because after a while, it’s like, how long can you have that mantra?”
Indeed, the Astros on Monday cited other inspirations for their third World Series appearance in five years.
Altuve has enjoyed that his oldest child, 4-year-old Melanie, is beginning to understand her dad’s job — even if she still doesn’t fully grasp the stakes of playoff baseball.
“Last game, when we won [to go] to the World Series, she thought we went to the field because of fireworks,” he said with a laugh. “But she’s a big Astros fan.”
For Correa, a pending free agent, this could be his last series as an Astro. “It’s really special to be here once again with this group of guys,” he said. “I don’t take any single second of this year for granted.”
This team also was led by a wave of young stars seeking their first championship. A rotation once anchored by Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander is now headlined by Framber Valdez, a late-blooming prospect out of the Dominican Republic who will start Tuesday’s Game 1, and Luis Garcia, a 24-year-old rookie who had a 3.30 earned-run average this season.
Dave Roberts has another year left on his contract, but the Dodgers manager is hoping and expecting to work out an extension with the team.
Correa, Altuve, Gurriel and Bregman remain premier offensive threats, but 24-year-old sluggers Kyle Tucker and Yordan Álvarez were the team leaders in RBIs, slugging percentage and the all-encompassing OPS+ metric.
“Being with these guys everyday, we’ve earned the chance to be here,” said Astros co-hitting coach Troy Snitker, whose dad, Braves manager Brian Snitker, will be in the opposite dugout. “We’re good enough to do it.”
The 2017 Astros might have been too, even without their tactics. But that team always will be shrouded in questions.
“I don’t think the outside noise motivates us at all,” Correa said. “The guys inside there, we motivate ourselves to just be better every single day, and you see the results on the field.”
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