For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: July 22, 2024 4:12 am PDT

Let’s hear it for the Astros.

Yes, those cheatin’ Astros who turned baseball upside down in 2017.

Hear me out.

While the Yankees and many of their fans are still whining about 2017 and ‘18, and it certainly was something to whine about, the Astros have turned the page as they just keep trouncing American League opponents.

They certainly can’t be cheating like they once were, MLB is all over that now, checking for spying at every camera angle, no, the Astros are just kicking ass.

And here at Baseball or Bust, there is total respect for a team that comes in and says, call us every cheating name in the book if you like, we are just going to whomp you.

When it comes to competitiveness these Astros are right up there with the 1986 Mets who are revered in baseball for being outlaws, who cared only about winning.

Thirty-five years from now there will be a 30 for 30 on these Astros.

The Astros are heading to their fifth straight ALCS. Imagine that, and this is a juicy one because Alex Cora, who missed a year because of the shenanigans that occurred when he was the Astros bench coach in 2017, will be managing the Red Sox in the other dugout.

The Astros are good. They know they are good. And they want to crush you.

This is what baseball used to be about no matter how many Nerds crossed into the game. The Nerds certainly played a role in the cheating scandal but in the end, this was on the players. They went along with it. Now the Astros have turned that whole situation around.

“We want to beat you and we don’t care what you think.’’

That’s their mantra now. I respect that.

The Astros mash and here is what shortstop Carlos Correa – always one of my favorites because he is never afraid to answer a question – said after the Astros dispatched the White Sox, three games to one in the ALDS with a 10-1 thrashing at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago on Tuesday.

This was a guaranteed beating after White Sox reliever Ryan Tepera agitated the Astros with more cheating talk after Astros wins in Games 1 and 2 in Houston and a loss in Game 3 on the road in Chicago. The White Sox were then squashed by nine runs and Correa, who got the big hit, a two-run double off a chest-high fastball from Carlos Rodon, said quite succinctly, “You don’t poke the bear, man. We took it personally. We wanted to go for the head, today and we put up what, 10? We did it on the road, that is pretty special.’’

That is classic, none of that boring, “I was looking for a pitch I could drive and put a good swing on it’’ BS that most postgame interviews entail, it was no, we wanted to kick their ass from here to Wrigley Field. For the record in the four-game series the Astros scored 15 runs in the two games at home and 16 runs in the two games in Chicago.

This is home and road bashing.

Now, to be sure, I am not condoning cheating, what the Astros did was terrible, and I completely understand why everyone hates the Astros.

I am condoning having the will and the sense of purpose to keep winning no matter what others accuse you of doing or what obstacles are in your way. We have become a land of obstacles in what used to be the land of opportunity, so in all walks of life you must be able to overcome.

Carlos Correa is leading the charge for the Astros' fifth straight trip to the ALCS. (Photo: Troy Taormina / USA TODAY Sports)

There is one other important layer to this story.

Making the Astros so much more human is their human touch manager Dusty Baker.

I praised the hiring when it happened in January of 2020, and I was there that first day when Dusty took over in West Palm Beach in spring training when the stink of 2017 was hanging heavy over the Astros.

Dusty brought heart and soul to cheaters and that has helped the Astros rise above all those obstacles in their way.

After the win Tuesday, Baker, 72, said it perfectly when asked why the Astros continue to roll and have made it to five straight American League Championship Series. And this group is no longer managed by AJ Hinch, GM Jeff Luhnow is long gone too and they even lost their leadoff hitter George Springer as a free agent to Blue Jays and their ace Justin Verlander to Tommy John.

Oh, Ace II, Gerrit Cole went to the Yankees a couple years ago and couldn’t wait to take off his Astros cap once his last game as an Astro took place.

Could you imagine some of the excuses the Yankees would cook up if this all had happened to them? Cole is right there in the middle with all the Pinstriped excuse makers.

How about just winning.

And now that is what the Astros have boiled everything down to: just win, baby.

“We’ve been constantly bombarded by negatives, especially on the road,’’ Baker said. “They come to play, and they love each other and I remember talking to Bill Russell a few years ago and I asked him, ‘How did all you guys win all those championships in Boston?’ I thought he was going to say Red Auerbach, a lot of hard work, but he told me they loved each other. These guys love each other. Love can take you to heights that you never thought you could get to and they feed off each other and they pull for each other on a daily basis. One guy falls down and the next guy picks him up … The other night we got beat pretty badly but on a daily basis they don’t take one day into the next unless it was good. I love this team. And the city loves them. That’s what counts.’’

For the Astros, that’s all that counts.

The wit and wisdom of Dusty Baker is a real thing and it is always why I have been a big Baker fan. He’s fun to be around and he makes you feel good about yourself. Plus, he’s been there. He’s been in big moments throughout his playing career. He has had conversations with some of the greatest sports legends and people in America and the world. He listens and has a way of putting words together that strengthen those around him.

That is a special brand of managing.

Dusty is a doer and has a way of putting it in perspective and his ability to communicate to his players is something other managers only wish they could do – and here’s something else. Management appears to get out of Dusty’s way and lets him do his thing and when you have great players like Correa, Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Yuli Gurriel … the machine rolls on.

Add a little motivation to the mix, “Us against the world,’’ and the cheering of their totally devoted fans and that is the ultimate formula for success.

The Astros are good. They know they are good. And they want to crush you.

The Astros are second with an .803 OPS this postseason. The Red Sox are No, 1 at .919. The Rays finished .688, the Giants are at .524, the Dodgers are .676 just for comparison. But here is the real number that shows the strength of the Astros and the fact they have been here before.

With runners in scoring position this postseason the Astros are hitting .378. The next closest team is the Red Sox at .314. The Braves are .133, the Giants are .150, the Dodgers are .225 and the Brewers were .087. The White Sox batted .306 with RISP so the Astros were challenged, but the Astros really came through with two outs and RISP, hitting a whopping .429 against the White Sox.

Perhaps the pitching is better in the NL, but these numbers are pretty telling.

Which brings us back to Baker. He is an excellent hitting coach as well as manager even though he doesn’t carry that hitting coach title. His teams hit.

Listen to what one top talent evaluator told BallNine, “I think the players all respect Dusty because he has always been a good position players’ manager. These other guys that played at NAIA colleges that never hit over .100 in Independent Ball, when they tell you something are you really supposed to listen?’’

Dusty played with Hank Aaron.

He batted .279 over his 19-year career. He had 8,022 plate appearances, 7,117 at bats. He produced 242 home runs, 1,981 hits, 320 doubles, 1,013 RBIs. He batted .280 vs right-handed pitchers and .276 vs. left-handed pitchers. With runners in scoring position he hit .281.

That sure is better than a lot of these instructors.

Been there, done that. The man still puts on wrist bands for every game he manages. He has the heart and soul of a hitter. He knows how tough it is to hit in the majors and he knows how important it is to be in the right frame of mind as a hitter.

He doesn’t get in the way.

It is a bit ironic that after Dusty was fired by Washington after the 2017 season, he was available when the Yankees hired Aaron Boone. He also was available when the Mets hired Luis Rojas in 2020. He was available when the Mets hired Mickey Callaway in 2017 and was available when the Mets hired Carlos Beltran after the 2019 season. Now the Mets are getting ready to hire yet another manager while Baker is getting the Astros ready for the Red Sox in the ALCS.

The Mets should just do what the Red Sox did. The Red Sox brought back Cora. The Mets should just bring back Beltran, who actually never managed a game for the Mets when he was caught up in the Astros electronic sign-stealing, garbage can bashing scandal.

Baker proved to be the perfect choice for the Astros in many ways.

The three-time manager of the year won the World Series as a player in 1981 with the Dodgers but he has never won it as a manager. He came so close with the Giants in 2002, losing a Game 7 to the Angels. He also was the ill-fated manager of the Cubs when Steve Bartman elected to try to catch a foul ball back in 2003 and the Cubs shortstop forgot how to play shortstop. The Cubs lost the NLCS to the Marlins in seven games.

Fundamentals. The Astros have 'em. (Photo: Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle)

Clearly, Baker knows all about the baseball gods and never taking anything for granted in the game. Since LCS play has started, the only other teams to make it to five straight LCS are the Braves (1995-99) and the A’s (1971-75).

Baker has managed 24 years in the big leagues. He is blessed to have even-keel veterans like Jose Altuve, who hit his 19th postseason home run in the finale against the White Sox and took his sweet time rounding the bases. By the way, that home run moved Altuve one ahead of Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle and one behind Derek Jeter on the all-time postseason home run list, just to further irritate Yankee fans out there.

Manny Ramirez is No, 1 on the list with 29, Bernie Williams is next at 22, then Jeter with Altuve on his tail. George Springer and Albert Pujols also have 19 postseason home runs. Mantle, of course, never got the layers upon layers of postseason play, as it was win the pennant and go right to the World Series in his day.

Also on the all-time postseason list, Correa is at 54 RBIs, sixth best. Bernie Williams is No. 1 with 80. Correa is a free agent after the season, so the clock is ticking on this Astros core.

You can hate the Astros all you want for being cheaters, but they continue to put up the numbers with Luhnow, Hinch, Cora and Beltran nowhere near them. Cora was emotional on the field at Fenway Park after his Red Sox dispatched the dangerous Rays in Game 4. Redemption is a strong theme in this 2021 postseason and I am all for it because penalties were given to the cheating Astros.

The Astros, though, got to keep their 2017 World Series trophy. That championship still belongs to them and you can be sure the Dodgers who lost that crazy World Series in seven games will be looking for their own form of payback – if they manage to get past the Giants and then get past the Braves in NLCS and the Astros beat the Red Sox.

If the Astros and Dodgers meet again in the World Series, that will be a true classic.

Baker, the old Dodger, will be returning to Dodger Stadium to try to win his first World Series as a manager. The Dodgers will be looking for revenge for 2017. They feel they were cheated out of World Series victory.

The Astros will be looking to show the world they are true honest champions when the entire baseball world will be pulling for the Dodgers, except for those devoted Astro fans in Houston.

When owner Jim Crane fired Hinch and Luhnow he said that day, “We need to move forward with a clean slate and the Astros will become a stronger organization because of this today.’’

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said about that time, “It’s really frustrating, you look at what could have been.’’

The Astros will forever be looked upon as villains and they have accepted that role.

Just don’t dare poke the bear.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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