By Arnie Leshin
Can you remember when New York Giant Bobby Thomson hit the shot heard round the world against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951 to win the National League pennant?
Or when the Pirates’ Bill Mazorozski hit the ball over the centerfield fence in Pittsburgh to win the 1960 World Series over the New York Yankees?
And how about when the Yanks’ Chris Chambliss’ home run in 1976 won the AL championship series over the Kansas City Royals?
And more recently when the Yankees’ Aaron Boone’s home run into the left field stands versus the Boston Red Sox in 2003 sent them into the World Series.
This time, Boone, as the New York manager, had to watch the home run that decided the AL championship series for the Houston Astros over his Yankees.
It came Saturday night at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, and off the bat of 5-foot-5, 155-pound Jose Altuve in game six, and it was the clincher as his team won four times in the seven-game series.
All that was missing was a game seven on Sunday.But the heroics fell upon the popular pint-sizedAltuve rather then a fourth-straight game on Sunday, as he drove an Arodlis Chapman sliderdeep over the centerfield fence to get the Houston Astros to their second World Series in three years.
Before that, the die-hard, fanatic Astros fans went from waiting to cheer the Yankees final out in the top of the ninth into a different tone, going from a 4-2 lead to a 4-4 deadlock when the Bronx Bombers’ DJ Mahleu followed up a single by Gio Urshela and hit a 2-run home run off Roberto Osuma that landed just beyond right-fielder George Springer’s raised glove and into the first row.
But it didn’t take long before Altuve’s heroics revived the celebration a half-inning later, and the packed house erupted as it did when its Yuli Gurriel clouted a first-inning 3-run home run.
Now the National League champion Washington Nationals have a date with Houston on the biggest stage of our national pastime, the first for the team from our nation’s capital since 1933, and the third for Houston since it arrived as the then-Colt 45ers expansion team (with the New York Mets) in 1962.
After years of frustration, it finally made it to the World Series in 2004, lost, but then hoisted its championship trophy for the first time over the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017. Last season Houston lost in the AL championship series to the Boston Red Sox.
The Astros were fortunate to finish one game ahead of the Yankees in the regular season and gain home field for this series. So after losing game one at home, they won game two, and then won 2-of-3 at Yankee Stadium, although the men in pinstripes survived by winning game five in the Bronx, 4-1, and forcing this Saturday night thriller.
Of course, the Yankees have won 27 World Series, the most by far of any franchise, but this time it was a satisfying flight back to Houston for them that ended with a disappointing ride home.
Washington, which surprisingly swept the reeling Central Division champion St. Louis Cardinals, whose 11 World Series championships are the most of any NL franchise, and then rested until finding out where it would play game one on Tuesday. it was going to be in New York or Houston, but now the Astros can stay home and host game one.
No doubt Washington, which finished second in its division behind the Atlanta Braves, was not expected to get this far, but Houston was among the pre-season favorites, and the odds-on choice to get to the big show again.
This best-of-seven series had a World Series atmosphere because of games played in Yankee Stadium along with the Astros fans who are now familiar with this scene. But now the Yanks have lost four-straight AL championship series, the last two against Houston.
Now to the final two.
Both the Nationals and Astros have strong pitching, but Houston has the better bullpen. For starters, Washington can match up with any team. Both have quality defense, the Nationals steal more bases, and both have balanced lineups, with the long-ball included.
But it’s safe to make Houston the favorite. Washington finished at a red-hot pace while Houston had a better regular season. The Nationals might have the advantage of the layoff after sitting by for over a week while the Astros and Yanks toiled.
Then again, it’s not always an advantage. It depends on how each team performs. The pitching, hitting, fielding, plus the ball takes funny bounces. It’s a new experience for the D.C. team, while Houston hasn’t been there much, but it’s what it has done lately when it comes to the post-season.
Aside from the actual games, nothing will replace“Take me out to the ball game.” being heard, as well as “The Star Spangled Banner” before the first pitch, and “God Bless America” in the 7thinning at both ballparks.