Culture / Sporting Life

Michael Brantley’s Too Cute Daughter, Carlos Correa’s Jeff Bagwell Love and Even George Springer on FaceTime Make the Astros World Series Party an Unforgettable Testament to the Power of Togetherness

New Stars Emerge in Houston's Most Improbable and Impressive American League Pennant Yet — Go Behind the Scenes

BY // 10.23.21

Carlos Correa changes his postgame celebration route and makes a detour to wrap Jeff Bagwell, the Houston Astros great who’s endured so much, in a long hug. Yordan Alvarez plants a kiss in the ALCS MVP trophy as his teammates roar. Alex Bregman chides his cowboy hat wearing character of a dad for. . . well, a little break in decorum. “Dad, Dad!” Bregman calls out. “You can’t be doing an interview with a beer.” Michael Brantley, the vet known as Uncle Mike to his teammates, holds his 8-year-old daughter Mariah in his arms as he answers reporters questions.

Wearing a sparkly navy Astros jacket with “Daddy 23” on the back and a big pair of aviator shades, little Mariah Brantley shows she may be able to compete with James Harden on a fashion walk one day. But on this night, she breaks hearts in a different way.

“I love my dad,” she says simply when someone asks what she thinks of the whole season. That earns her a big kiss on the cheek from her proud papa.

The Houston Astros are celebrating again, American League champions again, World Series bound, Again. And it never gets old. The team that much of the rest of America loves to hate just keeping taking Houston, an underdog city if there ever was one, on the sweetest wild rides ever.

This 2021 World Series run is arguably their most impressive one yet. Certainly their most improbable one. This is not a perfect team. Not close to as dominant a one as the 2019 World Series squad. Not as seemingly star-dusted as the post Hurricane Harvey 2017 world champions. In fact, just four days ago on a cold dreary night in Boston, these Astros looked all but dead.

Just three nights prior to this clinching victory, Jose Altuve and Co. stood six outs away from falling into a 3-1 series deficit to a red-hot Red Sox team. But they rallied to win that game — and outscored Boston 22-1 in the last 20 innings of this series overall. Including 5-0 in this Game 6 clincher. 22-1.

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That’s not just guts. That’s a last stand for the ages.

“It’s a real feeling, man,” Correa says amid the confetti and happy chaos of the on-field celebration. “We’re back in the World Series. After everything we’ve been through, man — it’s special. This group of guys, I love them forever.

“I care for every single one of them. We stuck together.”

In the end, the most together team, the one that spent the entire season getting screamed at and trash can ridiculed on the road, is the best team in the American League. After getting outscored a combined 21-8 in two lopsided losses to fall down in the series, the Astros leaned on each other. Veteran catcher Martin Maldonado led a closed door clubhouse meeting after a disastrous Game 3 and implored the Astros to keep fighting.

“It would have been real easy for the different groups to lose faith in each other,” Brent Strom, the Astros’ 73-year-old pitching Yoda, says. “The relievers could have been upset with the starters. The hitters could have felt let down by the pitchers. But there was none of that. This team never came close to splintering.”

Instead, the Astros refused to waver. There are submarine captains who are less resilient. When the rest of baseball is dying to see you fall apart, you lean on each other and become an even closer team. An almost impossible team to knock out.

“He FaceTimes Mike (Brantley) like every day. . . You know he’s still a big part of Houston even though he’s on a different team now.” — Kyle Tucker on George Springer

“Three World Series in five years — these guys are incredible,” Bagwell says. “It’s fun to watch.”

Bagwell knows how hard it really is to win in the playoffs. These Astros make it almost look routine.

The Core Astros and Yordan’s National Emergence

After the final out of Game 6, the Forever Core Astros infield of Altuve, Correa, Bregman and Yuli Gurriel huddles together in a celebratory circle, screaming in delight. The only four men on all three World Series rosters (Core Astro Lance McCullers Jr. missed the 2019 World Series with injuries and will likely miss this 2021 one with them too) have a special bond. And Gurriel, the most underrated bedrock of this run, is the first man to get the American League Championship trophy from Dusty Baker, holding it high in the sky.

But this clinching game is won by the next generation of Astros stars, the one that should keep the franchise’s near dynastic run going after Carlos Correa leaves for a $400 million contract elsewhere after this season. It’s won by 24-year-old outfielder Kyle Tucker’s three run shot into the Crawford Boxes in the eighth inning. It’s won by 24-year-old rookie pitcher Luis Garcia finding a new level of fastball speed in the biggest baseball moment of his life.

And most of all, it’s won by 24-year-old Yordan Alvarez continuing his monumental announcing himself on the national stage party. Alvarez drives in the first run of the game with a booming double to deep center off the glove of Red Sox outfielder Kiki Hernandez. He scores the second run after lacing a triple into the right field corner, showing off a speed that most big men do not have in the process. He finishes with four hits on the night and .522 average for the series, the highest ever in an ALCS. Oh, and he hits a foul ball off one of the Minute Maid Park roof supports the pitch before that triple, bringing awe all around.

Baseball has a new superstar — and his name is Yordan.

“I’ve played with Yordan for a couple of years and I personally know what he can do,” Kyle Tucker tells PaperCity. “. . . He’s such a good hitter. Great person. He’s been locked in. ”

Dusty Baker is also locked in one another chance to win the one championship that’s long eluded him. Houston’s 72-year-old baseball lifer of a manager — the hippest grandpa in any room — helps keep these proud, tough Astros believing.

And afterwards, as Astros like Bregman, Chas McCormick and Ryne Stanek take turns guzzling beer out of American League championship trophy, Baker is right there, near the center of the fun.

This run will likely guarantee Baker, owner Jim Crane’s choice to lead the Astros out of the sign stealing scandal, another two seasons at the helm of this special team.

“Dusty’s a great guy,” Crane says. “He’s a smart guy. He works hard. He knows baseball. I sat and talked to him for two hours (in their first meeting), I thought he was my best friend. And I made my decision right there on the spot.”

Yordan Alvarez Astros
Yordan Alvarez takes a long look at ALCS MVP trophy as Dusty Baker and Carlos Correa look on. (@astros)

This Astros team is more than talented enough to beat the Braves or the Dodgers in the World Series and give Baker his first world title after a lifetime of baseball. In his 10th year as Astros owner, Jim Crane helms an organization that’s in its third World Series in five years. The last baseball team to pull off that feat is the already legendary New York Yankees of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Joe Torre, who made five of six World Series and six of eight in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“We’ve got a few now,” Crane says of the team’s third AL pennant. “One more flag up there so that’s good.”

Yes, there will be at the very least be a 2021 AL title flag getting unveiled at Minute Maid Park in next season’s home opener. But the Astros want another golden one to go with that 2017 world title flag.

“We feel like we deserve this,” Altuve says. “And we’re together in this.”

None of the 42,718 souls lucky enough to be in Minute Maid for this Game 6 are going to argue with that.

“This group of guys, I love them forever. I care for every single one of them. We stuck together.” — Carlos Correa on his teammates.

The nuns are back, a whole flock of them cheering on the Astros from up in the upper deck. Sister Mary Catherine Do — who teaches at a Catholic School in Shiner, Texas — even gets to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. She taps her wrist — Carlos Correa “It’s my time” style — to draw a giant roar.

It never hurts to have a little divine influence on your side.

When the Red Sox’s best chance — runners on the corners with one out and a seemingly buckling Kendall Graveman on the mound in the top of the seventh — ends with pinch hitter Travis Shaw striking out on a 3-2 count and Alex Verdugo being gunned down by Maldonado at second, inexplicably trying to steal, for an unexpected double play, it looks like it’s working too.

Rally Nuns, Young Aces and a George Springer Callback

Minute Maid Park is louder than it’s been all season, with the packed house roaring, standing up and waving those orange towels with all gusto from Luis Garcia’s very first pitch.

One game after Framber Valdez throws the game of his life in Fenway Park, Luis Garcia throws the game of his life in raucous Minute Maid. It’s an unbelievable flex by the Astros’ young pitchers, a testament to the idea that this golden age of Astros baseball could only be at its midpoint rather than nearing any end.

Luis Garcia Astros
Luis Garcia pitched the game of his life one game after Framber Valdez pitched the game of his life for the Astros. (@Astros)

When the celebration dies down a little on the field, a group of the Astros players’ kids are still building piles of confetti on the pitching mound. It’s a sweet scene, another championship scene for the team that just keeps delivering them for Houston.

It turns out that even George Springer, who will forever remain a Core Astro even as he plays in Toronto now, is coming along for this run. Virtually.

“He FaceTimes Mike (Brantley) like every day.” Tucker says of Springer. “And Mike’s like right next to me in the locker room. So I’ll always chime in and stuff. And talk to him a little bit. You know he’s still a big part of Houston even though he’s on a different team now.

“He still has an impact even though he’s not here.”

This special team does not forget. No Astro is left behind. Carlos Correa seeks out Jeff Bagwell. Michael Brantley FaceTimes in George Springer. New stars emerge. And the championship beat goes on.

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