Culture / Sporting Life

Alex Bregman Smacks the Astros Haters With the Perfect Post Clinch Speech — Banishing the Rangers, Houston Flexes a Championship Will

How a Forever Team Stayed Together to Grab Another Division Title and Perfectly Set Up Another Long Playoff Run

BY // 10.02.23

When it is over, when another division title is theirs, when their long presumed American League West usurper Texas Rangers have been banished to an endless flight to St. Petersburg, Alex Bregman puts a voice to what many of his Houston Astros teammates are feeling.

“A lot of people were wondering what it’s like gonna to be like if the ‘Stros didn’t win the division,” Bregman says, open champagne bottle in hand, protective goggles pushed up on his forehead. “I guess we’ll never know.”

With that, Bregman throws his arms up and his teammates start giddily spraying him with enough champagne to fill up Elvis’ all-time biggest bathtub. This is clip that will be most replayed from the Astros’ sixth division title winning celebration in the last seven seasons. The moment that encapsulates just how many doubts and haters — these modern dynasty Astros always have more haters — got rolled right over on the way to another crown.

Doubted. Discounted. Vilified (again). And still the class of the West.

It took a 5-1 road run in the season’s final week, with the first five of those games played at a near playoff fever pitch. It took two wins (and 13 innings of one run baseball) from Justin Verlander, the recalibrating big-game ace who Astros owner Jim Crane demanded be brought back from New York, in that last week. It took huge swings from much maligned free agent addition Jose Abreu in the Arizona dessert. It took a defensive gem for the ages from Jeremy Peña, the sophomore shortstop who morphed into such a rookie postseason revelation last October.

It took Jose Altuve, the engine that still drives this dynasty, and Alex Bregman setting the tone from the jump in game 162. And yes, it took Dusty Baker, the 74-year-old baseball lifer of a manager, refusing to let all the negativity inside the clubhouse door.

“It wasn’t easy,” Peña tells Julia Morales, the beloved sideline reporter who now works for the redubbed Space City Home Network, in the bubbly-battered clinching clubhouse in Phoenix. “But we never gave up. We stuck together. We pulled for each other.

“And we’re in. Now the real fun begins.”

These Astros aren’t just in. They’re suddenly, somehow, some championship mettle way, perfectly set up for a chance at another long playoff run. By yanking the division title away from the Rangers on the final day of the season, Bregman and Co. get one of the American League’s coveted two first round byes. The defending world champions get five glorious days off to relax, gear themselves back up and set up their pitching rotation for the winner of the wildcard round series between the Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins.

With that division series set to start Saturday in Minute Maid Park.

Meanwhile, the Rangers are left to fly from Seattle to the Florida coast in a hurry, forced to play the 99-win dangerous, playoff proven Tampa Bay Rays in a fraught best-of-three series that starts early Tuesday afternoon in downtown St. Petersburgh (and ends there too). In truth, these Bruce Bochy, Marcus Semien and Corey Seager Rangers deserve better than this fate. But postseason baseball is cruel to those who don’t seize the moment.

And needing only to split a four game set in Seattle to win the West for themselves, the Rangers manage a scant lone win, fall meekly in a 1-0 game in the season finale.

An entertaining Rangers team, forever doomed by the loss of true A1 ace Jacob DeGrom, faces an uphill fight to even get back to Globe Life Field for even one playoff home game now. (At least the Rangers get to play all their games on ABC for this first series.) Baseball isn’t always fair.

You must grab the moment and tilt the odds in your favor. The Astros do with another championship worthy last week of the season.

Doubted. Discounted. Vilified (again). And still the class of the West.

“We deserve it,” Astros wise man veteran Michael Brantley tells Morales in remarks broadcast back to Houston.

They certainly earned it. The hard way. Through injuries to Altuve and future league MVP Yordan Alvarez, despite a GM-less start to the offseason that could have crippled lesser teams, despite the unavoidable championship hangover, fighting unexpected pitching regressions. . .

These Astros just picked themselves up and kept coming, battling all the way through Game 162. Like Altuve, Bregman, Verlander and Co. always do.

“A lot of people were wondering what it’s like gonna to be like if the ‘Stros didn’t win the division. I guess we’ll never know.” — Alex Bregman post division title clinch

Justin Verlander knows there is nothing sweeter than breaking out the cigars after another Astros clinch. (@HoustonAstros)
Justin Verlander knows there is nothing sweeter than breaking out the cigars after another Astros clinch. (@HoustonAstros)

The champagne party, another joyfully messy clubhouse scene seized, the cigars and those orange American League West champs T-shirts are a blast. But it’s the camaraderie, the having come together to do it together (again), that really gets this group going.

“We’re here to help each other,” is how Peña put it to me earlier this season. “If I see something, I’m going to try and help you out. Hopefully they do the same with me.

“When they see something, come help me out. That’s what makes us a great ball club. We root for each other.”

Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Co. Make It About Each Other

When all of baseball seems to band against you — with Seattle reinforcing that notion by lustily cheering for Jose Altuve getting drilled with a fastball six long years after that electronic sign stealing scandal — coming together is the only way to make it work. It turns out that togetherness is what all the truly great championship teams are made of.

New York Mets Justin Verlander faced off against his former Houston Astros teammates and Framber Valdez at Minute Maid Park
What worry? Astros Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Mauricio Dubon still know baseball is supposed to be fun. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

And make no mistake, these two-time titlist Astros certainly qualify for pulling for one of baseball’s very best runs in the last 30 years as truly great champions. And they’re coming back for more. With the bye, all that rest and the chance to go with Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez on the mound in the first two games of a best-of-five American League Divisional Series, the Astros loom as many’s favorite again in the AL.

Doubted. Discounted. Vilified (again). And still the class of the West.

Are you really surprised?

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