Alex Bregman will bring passion to the shortened season. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke's addition pushed Houston Astros excitement to a whole new level in 2019. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve is still the straw that stirs the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
George Springer is a game changer who recognizes Jose Altuve's unique gift. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Justin Verlander (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Justin Verlander may be the smartest pitcher in baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke is a pitcher's pitcher, a craftsman who does not rely on speed. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke knows the Astros give him a real World Series shot. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke is a different type of ace. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
With their World Series dreams on life support and even getting to play another game in Minute Maid Park this season in serious doubt, the Houston Astros players turned to each other. Like they have so many times before. The Astros held a closed door players-only meeting in the wake of the Washington Nationals’ 12-3 Game 2 romp.
The theme of the meeting? Essentially — we’re not going down like this.
The Astros’ main leaders (Justin Verlander and Jose Altuve chief among them) did most of the talking — as the Astros steeled each other for the daunting task ahead. They need to win at least two of the three games that will be played at Nationals Park to ensure that the series even gets to Game 6 back in Houston.
“We already talked as a team,” Carlos Correa says in the Astros clubhouse when reporters are let in. “We’ve got to go out there and keep our heads up. ”
The players-only meeting at a crucial juncture in the playoffs brings back memories of that magical 2017 postseason when Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann led a team meeting after the Astros went 0-3 in New York to drop into a sudden 3-2 hole in the American League Championship Series. Of course, all Astros fans know how that turned out — with a parade.
In some ways, the Astros face an even more momentous challenge this time, having dropped the first two games of the World Series at home. Including a Game 2 that dissolved into one big Nationals’ dugout party with Juan Soto and Co. thoroughly enjoying scoring 10 runs combined in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
Still, these Astros are an intensely proud group, one that’s come through when doubted and tested before.
“It’s tough,” Verlander says, surrounded by a fleet of cameras and reporters. “Obviously, we don’t want to be down two games to none, but here we are.
“… We don’t have time to feel bad for ourselves.”
Verlander did not address the players-only meeting himself, but his messaging came through very clear.
Don’t whine or bemoan the current reality. Just go out there, prepare and play like you can play, starting in Game 3 Friday night.
“I don’t think we need to go home tonight and feel bad for ourselves,” Verlander says. “We don’t have time for that.”
The talk about sleeping with bats is gone (even if it clearly did work for Alex Bregman). There are no jokes made in an intense Astros clubhouse. These are the Astros at their most 107-win serious.
“Not a lot of teams win 107 games,” Correa says. “So this is a special team. This is not just another team. If there’s a team out there that can do it, it’s us.”
Several of the Astros bring up the comeback against the Yankees in 2017 as something this group can look to as it tries to spoil the biggest and rowdiest baseball party that Washington D.C. has ever seen.
“I remember when we lost three in a row in New York and the world was coming to an end and the next thing you know we’re in the World Series in ‘17,” Bregman says. “We’ve been here before.”
The Astros have played two games in this series with their two best pitchers on the mound — and have lost both. Now, they’ll turn to Zack Greinke — the would be third ace that general manager Jeff Luhnow traded for, ratcheting up the buzz on baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors — in Game 3.
But first, the Houston players cleared the air and talked to themselves in an otherwise empty clubhouse. It is a scene that has happened before — one that should worry the Nats at least a little.