Culture / Sporting Life

Last Call for the Core Astros, Forever Friends — How Houston’s Champs are Coming to Grips With the Impending Potential Loss of George Springer, Brantley, Reddick

Game 7 Loss Leaves Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and Co. Facing a Very Different (If Still Bright) Future Without Their Buddies

BY // 10.18.20

Storybooks are called that for a reason. Because they so seldom happen in real life. The 2020 Houston Astros — and the core that redefined an entire franchise — fought to their last out to get their storybook ending. But professional sports, like life, rarely works that way.

After crawling all the way back from a 3-0 series deficit to force Game 7, the Astros still lost while once again reminding the only city that still believes in them just how much damn fun they are to watch. These Astros took Houston sports fans on another wonderful ride. But all rides eventually end. The Astros’ does one win short of another World Series with a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays and old friend Charlie Morton.

Now, these Astros will really never be quite the same again. The Core Astros, those seven players who’ve been together for this entire run of four straight league championship series and two World Series in four years (George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick and Lance McCullers Jr.), will likely lose a few members.

Springer will be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market and it’s very unlikely he’ll stay with the Astros on any kind of discount. Astros owner Jim Crane would need to give Springer the type of $100 million plus contract he’s already handed Altuve and Bregman. Reddick, another free agent, has admitted he’s played all season assuming it’s his last in Houston. Michael Brantley, the 2018 addition who’s fit in so wonderfully with the Astros, is also a free agent at age 33.

All that hovers in the background as the Astros bats once again go largely silent and their season ends in San Diego.

“You want to do it for the guys like Brant,” McCullers says afterwards. “Maybe the last time you share a jersey with guys you love. It sucks man. But that’s how it goes.”

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The rest of the sports world — and all the Twitter haters — may be rejoicing that they will not have to hate the Astros in the World Series, too. But baseball is also losing its most thrilling, unpredictable show. These derided, beaten up and diminished 2020 Astros have nothing to be ashamed of. Becoming only the second team in baseball history to force a Game 7 after being down 0-3 is no small feat. Even if you can’t stick the happy ending.

“I’m just f****** proud of this team,” Correa says in his own postgame Zoom. “We didn’t give up. We didn’t fold.”

They just came up one game short. McCullers gives up two home runs for the second time in the series. Bregman swings and misses at a 100 MPH outside fastball to end the Astros last great chance in the eighth inning. And Morton, the ever-calm force who won Game 7 for the Astros in the 2017 World Series, and the Rays are partying.

“We’re heading to Dallas,” Rays catcher Mike Zunino tells the TBS cameras.

Yes, that adds a little extra dimension to Astros fans’ pain. Houston was one win from playing a neutral site World Series in the Texas Rangers’ new $1.2 billion ballpark. With fans in the stands.

Astros celebration
The Astros outfield is one of the best in baseball. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Instead, the Astros head into what looms as one of their most transformative offseason ever. They’re almost certain to emerge forever changed. The Core Astros will lose members. A club that only championship heart and mettle will grant you access to will further dwindle.

“Definitely guys that if they don’t come back we’re going to miss a lot,” Correa says. “It’s going to be weird seeing them in another uniform.”

In professional sports today, the shelf life of teams is shorter than ever.

This current run of unprecedented Astros success will forever change, but it does not necessarily have to end. The Astros do still have other emerging stars. Like 23-year-0ld Kyle Tucker, the true MVP of Houston’s regular season, who Bregman says is “going to be a superstar.” And wonder slugger Yordan Alvarez, who is already working hard to rehab from knee surgery. Then there is Framber Valdez, one of the true pitching revelations in all of baseball this season. McCullers is only going to get better after getting through this first post Tommy John surgery season. And it’s already easy to imagine Bregman using this series as motivation to work harder than ever in the offseason.

“You want to do it for the guys like Brant. Maybe the last time you share a jersey with guys you love. It sucks man. But that’s how it goes.” — Lance McCullers.

Houston’s baseball team is still strong. This group just endured one of the most trying sports seasons of all time, with the hate of the sporting world fixated on them because of that 2017 electronic sign stealing scandal (maybe rightly so), and still somehow came within a few hits of playing in the Fall Classic.

“We weren’t on a revenge tour,” McCullers says. “That’s not what this was. This was a bunch of guys that came together, and just wanted to play damn good baseball and go to and win another World Series. And at the end of the day, that’s what this was. We fell short of our goal.

“. . . Being able to share this last year with George and Redd was awesome.”

A Ray of Strength

These Tampa Bay Rays have dreams, too. And plenty of fight – and talent. When Randy Arozarena —  the young Cuban sensation of these playoffs and new ALCS MVP — takes McCullers deep into then bottom of the first, the best team in the American League all season seems to reappear.

Zunino absolutely crushes another McCullers curve in the bottom of the second, hitting it 430 feet. The never-die Astros suddenly trail 3-0. This time, it’s a 0-3 deficit they cannot come back from.

The Astros show more grit and fight and resolve than anyone could rightly expect. If Houston is the only place where they’re loved these days. . . well, they did the city proud.

“That’s a resilient group over there,” Zunino says of the Astros.

It’s a group that is used to fighting together. A group that grew up together in many ways.

“Some guys that we love very much and that we’ve been playing with forever,” Correa says of the Astros impending free agents. “And hopefully they come back. But we’re going to miss them for sure.”

The Astros leave San Diego, already hearing the gears of change. With his season less than a hour gone, Springer is already facing questions about his future. Time does not wait for any team, even the most special and together ones.

“I loved every second of playing with those guys,” Bregman says. “They left it all on the field every single time they took the field. Learned a lot from all of them.

“We’ll be friends for life.”

Storybook endings don’t really happen. But that doesn’t mean life still can’t be sweet. These Astros will be forever together, forever grateful for the run they went on, even as they’re inevitably pulled apart.

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