Carlos Correa was a lifeline of this Astros runs in many ways. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The Houston Astros have celebrated a lot over the years with Carlos Correa. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa knows what October means for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman will bring passion and another dangerous bat back to the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Talk about couples in baseball. Carlos Correa and his wife Daniella and Alex Bregman and his wife Reagan pose on the field after the Astros clinched the AL West title. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve is determined to lead the Astros deep into the playoffs. Again. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker always tries to keep his team steady — and focused on the big prize. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros pitching coach Brent Strom has seen Lance McCullers Jr. grow into a true No. 1 starter. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa is making the most of what could be his last season in Houston. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa enjoyed another postseason game, showing off the best arm in baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Carlos Correa's the face of the Astros in many ways. For at least now. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman knows the Astros can win with defense. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Yuli Gurriel is always ready to give Alex Bregman some love. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros catcher Martin Maldonado wants the best for very pitcher. Here, he gives Kendall Graveman some love. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
The Houston Astros defeated the Chicago White Sox 6-1 behind the pitching of Lance McCullers with a home runs from Yordan Alvarez during the opening game of the American League Division Series,Thursday October 7, 2021 at Minute Maid Park.
Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez hits balls that make everyone in the ballpark look up, (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jake Meyers is trying to establish himself as a starting Big Leaguer. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Lance McCullers Jr. just pounded the zone — and pitched like a true Astros ace. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Even as the Atlanta Braves continue to giddily jump around on the field he calls home, a field littered with piles of blue, silver and gold confetti at the moment, Carlos Correa gets up in front of his teammates and pours his heart out. And shows why he’s one of the best leaders in all of sports in the process.
“I told them in the clubhouse, never take for granted what we’ve built here,” Correa says of his address to the team. “Not many teams are like this. Not many teams are a family. Not many teams go out to work every single day and are successful.
“People expect greatness when you talk about the Houston Astros. They expect us to make the playoffs every year. They expect us to be in the World Series every year. That’s because of the atmosphere and chemistry that we built in this clubhouse. You’ve got to keep that up for years to come and this organization is going to be one of the greatest.”
Correa implores his teammates to keep it going even amid the heartbreak of another World Series loss. He wants the Astros to honor what he helped build. If you don’t think that sounds like a goodbye speech, you simply haven’t been paying attention. Or are living in complete denial.
This era of Houston Astros baseball is ending with this 7-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves in an elimination game with no drama and few signs of Astros fight. With Correa set to become a free agent and follow George Springer out the door for a likely $350 million plus contract elsewhere, the Astros as we know them will never be the same. Which does not mean the Astros cannot keep it going without Correa — as he implores them to do.
This particular near dynastic run — three World Series in five seasons, five straight American League Championship Series made, that forever 2017 world title — that never quite grew into a full dynasty is done.
Correa is talking like the honest, heart first realist he is. “My time here was amazing,” he says. “The seven greatest years of my life. I got here as a boy, turned into a man. Grew up in this city.”
Brent Strom, the 73-year-old Pitching Yoda who had plenty to do with this run of excellence, breaks into tears while revealing he’s leaving the Astros organization after this Game 6 World Series loss. Maybe Strom will join A.J. Hinch in Detroit, or maybe he’ll go on some long overdue vacations with his beloved wife Carrie. He won’t be helping the Astros promising young pitchers (Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia and Cristian Javier) any more.
It is also hard to imagine Zack Greinke, whose contract is also up at age 38, returning to the Astros. Though it’s not that hard to picture him pitching another season or two elsewhere.
This is what happens in sports. Even the best, most resilient and together teams change with the seasons. And these Astros are headed for some very dramatic change.
“Every year is special,” veteran outfielder Michael Brantley says. “It’s going to have different teammates, different coaches — however you want to look at it. We embraced what we did this year. It was a tremendous honor to play with everyone in that locker room.”
The man known as Uncle Mike will be back next season. The 34-year-0ld Brantley, who had three multiple hit games in this World Series, signed a two year contract last offseason just when the Blue Jays seemed poised to steal him away. But Brantley knows the dynamic of the 2022 Astros (whenever they start playing with baseball’s collective bargaining agreement up and a lockout seemingly looming) will be different.
Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker — the 24-year-old all-star worthy outfielders who still make Houston the envy of much of the rest of baseball — will be counted on to do even more. Alex Bregman could be moving to shortstop to help fill the Correa void. Bregman, who hasn’t had a good season since his near MVP run in 2019, could be the key to whether the Astros can start another near dynastic run. And he seems very aware of this.
“Honestly, I felt good enough to play and didn’t get the job down,” Bregman says of his injury hindered 2021 playoffs. “We’ll get everything fixed and come into camp ready to go. It’s a super important offseason to get fully healthy and get ready to play 162.
“You know, it felt kind of like I really wasn’t there for a lot of (this season). Obviously take responsibility for that. You obviously take pride in being healthy and I wasn’t able to do that for the last two years.”
This is the cruelty of professional sports at the highest level. One moment, you’re fighting for a championship, convinced you can find a way to beat the Braves and force a Game 7. Three hours and 22 minutes later — in what seemed like the fastest game of this entire postseason for the Astros — another team is celebrating on your field. And you’re saying your goodbyes — and already thinking of next season.
“I think you get over it,” Dusty Baker says after the second excruciating World Series loss of his long managerial career. “Other people don’t let you get over it. And other people don’t get over it. To me, we did all we could to get to this point.”
Carlos Correa implores his teammates to keep it going even amid the heartbreak of another World Series loss. He wants the Astros to honor what he helped build. If you don’t think that sounds like a goodbye speech, you simply haven’t been paying attention.
Jose Altuve Refuses to Say Goodbye to Carlos Correa
Of course, not everyone is ready to let go. Jose Altuve, the heartbeat and conscience of these often dominant Astros teams of the last five years, seems to be particularly struggling with it. Especially when it comes to Carlos Correa’s likely departure.
“I’d be sad,” Altuve says of the distinct probability he just played his last game with Correa as his teammate. “But like I said, he’s not a free agent yet. (Technically, Correa cannot negotiate with other teams until this Sunday night). I know we’re going to try and re-sign him. Like I told you last time, I haven’t lost my hopes.”
It’s kind of startlingly — and kind of refreshing — to think that someone who is represented by Scott Boras, like Altuve is, could be naive to the financial realities of Correa’s future and the Astros’ stance towards long mega contracts under Jim Crane. But maybe, Altuve just does not want to acknowledge his friend is already all but gone.
These Astros, despised by so much of America for their electronic sign stealing while other franchises are given a pass, are a very human bunch. You can see how much this team feels, how much this group cares for each other. But that’s not going to keep them together.
“You hear us talk about it a lot, but we’re family,” Kyle Tucker says in the largely quiet hallway outside the Astros clubhouse.
None maybe more so than Altuve and Correa.
“My relationship with Jose is obviously really special,” Correa says. “He’s more than just a friend and a teammate. He’s my brother for life. I’m forever grateful for everything I learned from him.
“So yeah. . . all I can say I did everything in my power to make this team a better ball club. This organization. To keep training in the right way. And I’m proud of my time here.”
Proud of his time here. Carlos Correa already opened up his heart to his teammates in the clubhouse, asked them to do their best to keep it going. What else is there to say?
Some things are stronger than words anyways. These Astros players will be forever linked, forever bonded. Even when they’re no longer on the same team. When World Series MVP Jorge Soler — a slugger the hapless Royals gave up on — hits that home run over the train tracks in the third inning to give Atlanta a 3-0 lead, the Astros breakup is already speeding towards reality. Baseball may be a slow game, but it waits for no one.
Even the most special teams are not spared. And make no mistake these Astros of Altuve, Correa, Bregman and Yuli Gurriel were beyond special. To cast this run as any kind of failure — as many are trying to do today — is absurd and does not take it account how hard it is to win a World Series. Let alone a second one.
“Winning championships are really hard in this sport,” Correa says in the hallway, a relatively short walk away and a world apart from where the Braves are celebrating. “We fell short twice, but brought a lot of memories to this city.”
The best kind of memories. Houstonians who lived through the utter devastation of Hurricane Harvey and experienced real loss from it, know how much that 2017 world title means. How the rest of America, particularly sneering New York and Los Angeles, will never be able to understand that. Their “cheaters” are Houston’s darkest hour saviors. And nothing can ever take away what they did for this city, how they helped heal it and bring it back together, that unexpected October.
But there is a reason there have been eight different World Series champs in the last eight seasons. These Astros teams of the last five years will be teams that Houston fans talk about 50 years from now. For good reason.
One figure who likely will be back for at least another season, even though he does not have a contract right now, is Baker, the 72-year-old baseball lifer who’s so overtly beloved by the national media that the admiration sometimes obscures the actual good job he did.
“I don’t know how to quit,” Baker tells Fox’s Tom Verducci in an on-air interview outside the Astros clubhouse.
This is a night of goodbyes though. Some more permanent than others. When Correa emerges from the clubhouse doors, wearing a white sweatshirt, basketball shorts and flip flops, he hugs the attendant who helms the door. The woman checks the players off a list as they leave. After Correa starts his walk down the hallway alone, there are three players left.
Still, much of the spark is leaving the stadium. His flip flops slap against the concrete floor. Carlos Correa is going, going. . .