Culture / Sporting Life

Inside the Astros’ Wild World Series Party — Justin Verlander’s Crazy Cool, Kate Upton’s Vow and Alex Bregman’s Beer Games

These American League Champs are Just Getting Started

BY // 10.22.17

The place smells like champagne, cigar smoke, beer, sweat and… well, dreams. Smashed down corks and bottle caps litter the carpet, making every step a potential crunchy one. One TV guy has even brought his own goggles — and he’s still soaked through his suit jacket. Someone sticks an upside-down bottle of Budweiser in the back of Alex Bregman’s shirt. Dallas Keuchel double fists two bottles of bubbly.

Then, Justin Verlander emerges from a back room, smoking a stogie, but perfectly dry, still looking like a million bucks. This guy could step out of a tornado with his hair perfectly in place, flashing those pearly whites with a I-know-something-you-don’t grin.

“Everybody wants to be here,” Verlander says, gesturing around at the chaos of the Houston Astros’ home clubhouse.

This is what a World Series looks like. This is what a World Series smells like. The Astros are there because they took the most storied franchise in baseball’s best shot — and turned right back around and delivered a better counter of their own. No, the New York Yankees aren’t going to the World Series for the 41st time. Houston is going for the second time ever.

“Look around this room,” center fielder George Springer, who turned himself into some wall-climbing Spider-Man these last two elimination games,  says. “This is amazing. This is what you play for.”

The Astros punch their ticket to the Fall Classic with an emphatic 4-0 Game 7 win that almost seems a little too efficiently easy. This Game 7 is not a classic. It’s a coronation.

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With everything on the line, and after the drama of a Game 6 that’s a white-knuckle affair until the top of the eighth, the Astros play just about a perfect game.

They need only two pitchers — and not their best two pitchers, no Charlie Morton and still-ace-to-be Lance McCullers are more than enough on this night. They stun the Yankees with precise, gutsy defense. There is Alex Bregman, the 23-year-old third baseman with only 204 regular season games of Major League experience under his belt, never hesitating and gunning another New York player out at home. There’s Springer jumping over his own teammate to track down another ball at the wall. There’s Jose Altuve hitting his second home run in two nights, coming up clutch in a way that no Yankee can.

This is how you throw a World Series party.

When it’s over — and the Minute Maid Park field turns into a mosh pit of happy people (wait is that Nolan Ryan in there?), Verlander’s supermodel wife-to-be Kate Upton finds her ace and jumps into his arms. “Oh my God, it’s amazing,” Upton screams as Verlander just holds on and grins. “We’re doing this.”

Of course, Verlander emerges untussled from this embrace too. The American League Championship Series MVP almost didn’t make it to this party though. The Midnight Ace only agreed to the trade that brought him to Houston a minute before the 12 a.m. league deadline on Aug. 31. “I got to say, it came down to the wire,” Verlander laughs.

Across the field, Astros utility star Marwin Gonzalez holds up his baby and a few teammates come over and give her a high five.

“We’re going to the World Series!” Astros manager A.J. Hinch screams from the celebration platform hastily erected right in the middle of center field for the trophy ceremony.

Cutting Down the Yankees

Just when it looks like the Yankees are poised to break through, with two on and one out in the top of the fifth, they get yet another runner thrown out at home. This time, it’s Bregman gunning down Greg Bird after a soft roller is hit to him at third. Bird and the Yankees almost seem to think that the Astros will concede the run rather than risk not getting an out. But this Houston team concedes nothing.

Not with Hinch having yelled at Bregman for taking the safe approach late in the season during a seemingly inconsequential regular season game.

“I told him we’re not conceding any runs in the playoffs,” Hinch says, standing to the side in the clubhouse, his hair matted down from the run-by champagne showers several of his players give him. “I told him he’d better throw the ball home.”

Bregman goes home, Bird’s out and the Yankees never recover. They’re outscored 11-1 in these last two games at Minute Minute, sweet, sweet payback for the way the Astros and their families were treated in New York.

The home team wins all four games in this series — and the better team clearly wins the series. Now, the 104-win Los Angeles Dodgers await Tuesday night in L.A.

But first the Astros party long into the Houston night, with just the clubhouse portion going long after midnight.

“We have the right amount of fun,” Hinch says. “And we’re the right amount of serious.”

Jose Altuve Won’t Be Denied

Altuve plays with more obvious, uncontainable fire and emotion in these last two elimination games at Minute Maid than he’s ever played with before. The desire practically spills out of him. He turns and screams at his own dugout after almost every big moment, never lets any of his teammates think they’re going to lose. He easily could have won the ALCS MVP trophy that Verlander corrals and starts passing around.

These Astros arrive together — and Houston is there too. On the biggest stage of all.

“Let’s win a World Series for the city of Houston,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow says. “Houston’s never won a World Series game and that’s about to change.”

Yes, the only other time the Astros made the World Series in 2005, they were swept right away by the Chicago White Sox. This Astros team is more talented than that one. This is a team that always answers the bell.

You know it’s the Astros night when Springer jumps over Gonzalez to make another wall-defying catch to rob Bird to open the seventh. It’s not quite as spectacular as the Springer catch that swings the series in Game 6, but it’s not all that far from it.

The Astros are defying the pinstriped empire with defense.

When Brian McCann, the former Yankee who’d done little at the plate before Game 6, doubles into the right field corner with two strikes and two outs to drive in two runs and make it 4-0 Astros in the bottom of the fifth, the World Series anticipation has already started. Minute Maid Park is a swaying, dancing, chanting sea of orange — and the entire city of Houston can feel it. It’s almost like an English soccer match has broken out, complete with rhythmic chants.

Time to party in the stands.

The Yankees helped pay for their own demise. Literally. New York is kicking in $5.5 million of McCann’s $17 million salary this season. That’s how eager they were to move on from him and open up playing time for emerging star slugger (and suspect defensive catcher) Gary Sanchez. Ouch.

“We all love that guy,” Bregman says of McCann.

Alex Bregman delivered the biggest Astros blow against Chris Sale, the ace everyone wanted to trade him for before the season.

These Astros are quite the mix, in the World Series only four years removed from an 111-loss season. The idea of McCann or Verlander willingly coming to Houston would have been laughable not long ago. Now, it just seems right.

The Astros announce themselves as the champions of the American League — for 2017 and more years to come — on a near perfect night. In many ways, this Astros team looks like it’s only getting started.

They took the most storied franchise in baseball’s best shot and shrugged it off. “We’re the best hitting team in baseball,” Bregman says. “We’re knew we were going to hit and come back.”

Bregman reaches behind his back and pulls the red Budweiser bottle out of his shirt. It’s empty. In another minute, Bregman is off, looking for more. Just like all the rest of these Astros.

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