Culture / Sporting Life

Gerrit Cole Brands Himself Team-less, Will Harris Fights the Tears, Springer Hurts For the Fans and A.J. Hinch is Exonerated — Scenes From a Game 7 Loss, Sports’ Cruelest Defeat

A Great Team Can Only Say Goodbye and Hug Some Lifelong Friends to Be After Shocking Ending

BY // 10.31.19

Will Harris’ eyes are red and the hurt comes through in his voice, the man who saved the Houston Astros from danger so many times dealing with the pain of not being able to do it one last time in Game 7. Gerrit Cole reminds everyone he is a free agent (as if the entire baseball world isn’t aware), shooting back “I’m not an employee of the team,” when first asked to talk after Game 7.

Jose Altuve takes a seat on the carpet in the clubhouse for a few minutes in full uniform to talk to some teammates. Closer Roberto Osuna seemingly hugs every teammate and clubhouse attendant he can grab.

This is how the most talented team in Houston Astros history will go out. Not with a championship, but with some quiet moments amid the misery of one of the most sudden and stunning Game 7 loses anyone will ever see.

There is no doubt that these 2019 Astros, they of 107 wins and dramatic playoff series victories over the Rays and Yankees, are more talented than the 2017 Houston team that won it all. But it is not always all about talent.

From eight outs away to a lost day.

“There’s not much to say,” Springer tells PaperCity. “Honestly, you just kind of sit here and start to reflect on our year and look back that we came up one game short. And it’s tough, but you just have to start to move on.”

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This is how quickly professional sports turn. One moment, you’re into the seventh inning with a 2-0 lead in Game 7 of the World Series, eight outs away from your second championship in three years. Just eight pitches later, everything’s flipped and Springer is dropping his head in shock as a Washington Nationals’ home run slams off the right field pole foul and caroms back onto the field near his feet.

That makes it 3-2 Nationals and Washington is on its way, rolling to a 6-2 win on sports’ ultimate do-or-don’t stage for D.C.’s first baseball championship since 1924.

“Seasons end really fast,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch says. “I don’t care if you get all the way to the seventh game of the World Series. It’s all of a sudden — boom, it’s over.”

Everyone who has even a basic understanding of baseball economics in 2019 knows that the end of this season likely means the end of Gerrit Cole’s run as an Astro. Still, give Cole credit for not trying to hide the reality of his situation. The peerless pitcher wears the hat of his agent Scott Boras’ corporation after the game. And he makes it clear he is no longer under contract with the Astros.

Cole follows his “I’m not an employee of the team” with agreeing to talk as “I guess as a representative of myself.”

“I’ve made that clear already,” Cole says when someone asks if he would like to remain an Astro. Still, he talks like a man who knows the odds are against it.

“I just think this group is just so unique,”  Cole says, reflecting on his beyond impactful two seasons in H-Town. “I said it earlier. I’m going to have some friends from this clubhouse probably for the rest of my life. So you don’t just take situations like that for granted.

“Winning a lot is fun… It was just a pleasure to play in the city of Houston.”

As Cole reflects on one likely ending, Harris deals with a more sudden jolt. One of the most standup and interesting guys in this Astros clubhouse gives up that home run off the foul pole to Howie Kendrick that changes everything in an instant.

“I mean, it’s every reliever’s nightmare,” Harris says, his red eyes showing how much it stings. “I think I’ll be better for it when I wake up tomorrow. Just today was a bad day.”

One that denies guys like Cole, professional hit machine Michael Brantley, seen-everything catcher Robinson Chirinos, 13-year reliever Joe Smith and Rookie of the Year to be Yordan Alvarez their first championship. And prevents that Springer, Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander core from getting their second ring.

Still, as the Nationals gleefully ruin the carpet in the visitors clubhouse down the hall, making it two straight Octobers that another team has celebrated in the Astros’ ballpark, the Astros players think of more regular human realities.

“This is an amazing team and an amazing group of guys,” Jake Marisnick tells PaperCity. “But you just know some of  your friends aren’t going to be here next season. That’s baseball.”

Great Team, Horrible Ending

The Astros stand eight outs away from a championship, holding a 2-0 lead with Zack Greinke seemingly in total command, pitching the game of his brief Astros life. Then, it all goes away in a span of eight pitches.

Rice product Anthony Rendon sends a 88 MPH Greinke change-up soaring into the left field stands. After Juan Soto walks on five pitches, Kendrick greets Harris by slamming his second pitch off that right field foul pole.

From 2-0 Astros to 3-2 Nationals. In eight pitches flat.

Zack Greinke Astros
Zack Greinke’s addition pushed Houston Astros excitement to a whole new level. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

“Anthony hitting a big home run, I think that was, to me, that was the key,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez says. “I mean, he really opened it up right there. I saw the guys, they felt they had life.”

In an instant.

“I thought he was going to pitch a complete game,” Chirinos says of Greinke, who needs only 67 pitches to get through six innings.

This is one of the most stunning turnarounds in World Series history — and the ultimate sucker punch, right to where it hurts most. Smack dab in the middle of the Astros’ dreams.

From eight outs away to a lost day.

“I don’t know, man,” Correa says when a cameraman asks how long this pain is likely to linger. “I guess it lasted a couple of days last year (after the loss to the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series).

“But that wasn’t Game 7 of the World Series… It hurts to lose. It’s difficult. We were so close.”

Wearing pink tennis shoes and long athletic socks, Carlos Correa looks like he is ready for summer escape. Or a starring role in a Wes Anderson movie. But Correa does not feel much like vacationing.

A.J. Hinch is Not Guilty in This Loss

The vocal horde of Astros fans eager to blame A.J. Hinch for this one — charging that the Astros manager should have struck with Greinke or went to Cole rather than Harris — are two steps from reality. Greinke had not made it out of the fifth inning in any of his other postseason starts. To suddenly try to equate him to someone who should be treated like a Verlander or a Cole workhorse is absurd.

Greinke gave Hinch and the Astros more than they ever could have hoped for in this Game 7. Then, he gave up the home run to Rendon and walked Soto on only five pitches. The reasonable move, the move that got Astros here, is to pull him. And there is no way you can bring Cole, a starter who has never pitched on short rest in his life, into the middle of an inning.

Cole would have needed to start the seventh inning to be used there. Harris is the guy who gets the Astros out of trouble with runners on base. He did all October until the last two days.

Hinch’s plan all along was to use Cole as his closer and pitch Osuna earlier. The plan’s on track too. Until those eight pitches in the seventh.

“It was just a pleasure to play in the city of Houston.” — Gerrit Cole

The Astros are never even in Game 7 without Hinch’s steadying hand.

Sometimes, sports are just cruel. Even to the best of teams. A 73-win Golden State Warriors team lost in Game 7 of a championship series, too.

There are no guarantees. Titles are not given away. You have to earn every single moment.

From eight outs away to a lost day.

“It is pretty painful,” Chirinos, the 35-year-old vet who worked so long to get to the Big Leagues and then waited even longer to get on a team as good as these Astros. “It’s going to take a long time to swallow this kind of loss.”

When it’s over, it’s just over. Even switching to their orange uniforms from the usual home whites cannot help the Astros in this Game 7. The other guys are spraying the champagne — and digging up some dirt from the Minute Maid Park pitcher’s mound as a souvenir. The Nationals won all four games in the Astros’ stadium in this Bizarro World Series in which the home fans never went home happy once.

No one ever anticipates that.

Back in the Astros clubhouse, Chirinos hugs Aledmys Diaz, Then, Chirinos’ teenage son David hugs Diaz too. This is not how the Astros imagined saying goodbye. But it is their reality. The dynasty talk is done for now, even if a world title, another World Series berth, three straight American League Championship Series appearances and 311 regular season wins still represent an incredible three year run.

These Astros have given Houston so much, pulled the city together through the horrors of Hurricane Harvey and more. But they couldn’t give one more championship.

From eight outs away to a lost day.

“Our fans mean the world to us,” Springer says. “This city means the world to us.

“It’s kind of a let down that we weren’t able to bring this one home.”

By now, Gerrit Cole is long gone from the clubhouse. The moving on has already begun. There are no parades for coming closer than close. There is no real chance to even linger.

The goodbyes have already started. The most talented team in Houston Astros history didn’t win a championship. Don’t expect the spinning to stop anytime soon. Everything’s already changing.

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