Depending on perspective, the Astros either put up a valiant stand in their search for redemption or met their rightful fate at the end of a shame tour. Regardless of vantage point, however, those from the outside looking in cannot but acknowledge that, given their talent level, they made the most of their circumstances. Their collective effort in the season of the pandemic will not serve to change the minds of supporters or detractors either way; if anything, it figures to fortify preconceived notions even more. That said, they couldn’t care less; they did battle for themselves, and despite the baggage, proved their capacity to carry the weight of expectations with nothing to hide.
Needless to say, the Astros would not have had the opportunity to move on from their past transgressions had extraordinary turns of events not contrived to help their cause. At any other time, they would have been unable to make the postseason; their underwhelming .483 regular-season win percentage should have pegged them for an extended vacation. Instead, it allowed them to squeeze into the playoffs, with the expanded field working in their favor. And to their credit, they promptly took advantage.
Did the Astros simply hit their unique equivalent of lightning in a bottle? Or did they happen to perform up to potential in the face of an overriding motivation to do so? Again, biases fill the answers. What cannot be disputed: They made short work of the snakebitten Twins in the wild card series, and then limited the supposedly superior A’s to a single triumph in the division series. And after being blanked in the first three contests of the American League Championship Series, they managed to force a do-or-die Game Seven on the strength of resolve and heady play under pressure.
The Astros would go on to succumb to the heavily favored Rays in yesterday’s rubber match, but not without a fight. They may have fallen short of their ultimate goal, but they have ample reason to look back to their body of work with pride. They didn’t cut corners, didn’t cheat, didn’t disrespect the sport. In other words, they held up, and under intense scrutiny. And for them to have done so even with Dusty Baker — quintessentially old school — as a first-year manager, even with Jose Altuve — poster boy of their can-banging escapade — suffering from a bout of the yips, even with everybody and his mother regarding their every move with suspicion, speaks volumes of their constitution.
All things considered, it’s fair to argue that the Astros will never live down the ignominy of their transgressions. It’s also fair to contend that, in the face of their continued defiance, they don’t deserve an iota of sympathy. If there’s anything their 2020 campaign underscored, however, it’s that they still don’t much care for what others think. They’re playing for themselves, just as they always have been, and just as they always will be. Which makes them perennially dangerous. How, to whom, with the ball in play or not, for good or otherwise — all these, again, depend on frame of reference.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.