World Series Champions: A look back on the Astros’ postseason journey


Dawson Chang

On Nov. 5, the Houston Astros won the World Series title for the second time ever, five years after their first.

The mood was tense when Astros slugger Yordan Álvarez came up to bat in the sixth inning of the decisive Game 6 of the World Series.

Up to that point, the Phillies starter Zack Wheeler and Astros starter Framber Valdez had been locked in a scoreless pitchers’ duel through five innings. But, in the top of the sixth, outfielder Kyle Schwarber, the NL home run champ, sent a laser to right field to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead.

Leading off the bottom of the inning, catcher Martín Maldonado, who had been playing with a broken hand and sports hernia since August, got on base after being hit by a pitch.

Next up was the beating heart of the Astros, José Altuve, who went 0-for-25 to begin the playoffs before returning to form in the World Series. Altuve hit into a fielder’s choice, replacing the slow-footed Maldonado at first.

When rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña came to the plate, fans dared to dream of the first championship since the tainted 2017 title, which made the Astros the object of harassment wherever they played. World Series losses to the underdog Washington Nationals (2019) and Atlanta Braves (2021) did not help. Despite six consecutive American League Championship Series appearances, the legacy of the Astros was in the balance.

Peña, who replaced fan-favorite Carlos Correa, exceeded all expectations, playing well in the regular season before exploding in the postseason. Peña sent the Astros to an ALCS rematch against the Yankees by ending the longest scoreless game in Major League history in Game 3 of the ALDS, a six-hour marathon.

Peña also became the first rookie shortstop to win a Gold Glove and was the ALCS MVP in the sweep of the Yankees.

Wheeler gave up a single up the middle to Peña, and Altuve sprinted to third, representing the tying run. Altuve sprained his hamstring on the play, although no one knew until after the game. As they did in Game 5, Phillies manager Rob Thomson replaced his starter with his best reliever, José Alvarado. In Game 5, Alvarado plunked Álvarez with the bases loaded.

Álvarez began the postseason with a stunning 3-run walk-off home run in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Seattle Mariners but struggled afterward.

Fans erupted when Kyle Tucker made the final out of the game and secured the Astros’ second World Series title. (Dawson Chang)

With runners on first and third, Álvarez worked the count to 2-1. Fans hoped for at least a fly ball deep enough to score Altuve from third. They got much more.

Taking a powerful swing, Álvarez sent a missile to dead center, high above the ivy-covered batter’s eye, 450 feet away.

Even though there were three innings left to play, it felt like they had already won.

The Astros tacked on an insurance run on a Christian Vázquez single, and the stellar bullpen trio of Hector Neris, Bryan Abreu and closer Ryan Pressley shut out a powerful Phillies lineup that had hit a record five home runs in Game 3.

When Kyle Tucker ran into foul territory to catch the final out of the game, the party officially began. The Astros secured their second World Series title.

Dusty Baker, after 25 seasons as a manager, earned his first World Series title. Baker made his Major League debut as a player in 1968 and managed for nearly thirty years before becoming the oldest manager to ever win the World Series at age 73. Baker is known for wholeheartedly supporting his players and emphasizing sportsmanship.

“I just hope I can influence a few young men’s lives,” Baker said after Game 6. “I want to teach them about good character and perseverance like my parents taught me.”

Peña, who quickly gained favor in the hearts of Astros fans, especially young female fans, was named World Series MVP.

Within half an hour of the final out, lines stretched out the door of Academy sporting goods stores across Houston as fans purchased new championship merchandise.

The series started inauspiciously, with the Phillies taking Game 1 after presumptive AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander coughed up an early 5-0 lead fueled by two Kyle Tucker home runs. Behind their No. 2 starter Valdez, the Astros evened the series, which shifted to the Phillies’ ballpark.

Then came the 7-0 beatdown in Game 3 off 2017 hero Lance McCullers, who came back from an injury during the 2021 postseason only to surrender a record-breaking five home runs. The Game 4 no-hitter was the first since Don Larsen pitched a perfect game for the Yankees in 1956.

Game Five would prove to be the turning point for the Astros. Peña drove in two runs on a single and a go-ahead solo homer, Verlander finally notched his first World Series victory in nine career starts, and the bullpen held on for a tense 3-2 victory, made possible thanks to a gravity-defying catch by outfielder Chas McCormick in the ninth inning.

“Their bullpen has been extraordinary,” junior Ryan Wu texted. “Game 5 could have gone to either team.”

Heading back to Minute Maid Park, the Astros had a golden opportunity to become the first team since 2013 to clinch a World Series in front of their home fans.

I just hope I can influence a few young men’s lives.

— Dusty Baker

Framber Valdez started Game 6, tossing six innings while giving up just two hits, one of which was Schwarber’s solo homer. During the regular season, Valdez, who finished the regular season with a 2.82 ERA, set a Major League record for throwing 25 consecutive quality starts. He is also known by fans and teammates as “Mr. Swag” for his tasteful outfits, hair extensions and gold chains.

The Astros proved that they earned their 106 regular season wins. Coming into the World Series as heavy favorites over the NL’s No. 6 seed, the Astros maintained a significant advantage in pitching depth, having so much talent that mainstays like José Urquidy and Ryne Stanek only threw 3 postseason innings each. Aside from Verlander, most of the starting rotation is signed to team-friendly contracts of less than $1 million.

As good as the starters were in the Series, the bullpen was even better, posting the lowest ERA (0.83) and lowest opponent’s batting average (.126) among other records.

“Ryan Pressley is the standout pitcher of our staff,” Wu said .“He’s an absolute dawg on the mound.”

Since bottoming out with 111 losses in 2013, their first year after moving to the American League, the Astros have been contenders since 2015, appearing in the ALCS six consecutive times and playing in the World Series four times since 2017.

Back in 2017, the Astros won the World Series seven weeks after Hurricane Harvey made landfall. They revitalized the community and worked with those affected by massive flooding. Houston Strong became their rallying cry.

“They gave us something everyone could cheer for together,” Wu said. “It brought everyone together through a rough time.”

After the infamous trash can sign-stealing scandal broke in December 2019, Astros players and fans have received non-stop booing, even though players on other teams have admitted that the Astros were not the only ones looking for an advantage.

Despite the brutal treatment from opposing fans, Astros players have basked in the limelight, coining the phrase “Houston vs. All Y’all.”

In Philadelphia, both Justin Verlander and his wife Kate Upton were spotted giving a traditional Philadelphia hand signal to hecklers.

To junior Willow Zerr, whose family is from Philadelphia, the “Philadelphia attitude” is “iconic,” but she herself tries to maintain civility when aggression arises between baseball fans. Zerr took a mostly neutral stance during the World Series, but she admits to rooting for the Astros a little more.

“It was a win-win situation for me,” Zerr said. “But I wanted the Astros to win so people wouldn’t bother me.”

They gave us something everyone could cheer for together.

— Ryan Wu

For one St. John’s parent, the victory was especially sweet—team owner Jim Crane.

“This means a lot to every single one of us,” said Crane, who bought the club in 2011.

In the midst of the clubhouse celebrations, Jeremy Peña had a short message to the fans:

“Houston! We did it. We did it! We are World Series champions, baby! We love you! Let’s go!”

As the offseason begins, the Astros will have to negotiate contracts with some major parts of the team. Verlander will be back for his 18th season but is a free agent, as is veteran outfielder Michael Brantley and first baseman Yuli Gurriel. Gold Glove-winning outfielder Kyle Tucker is eligible for arbitration if he does not sign a long-term contract.

In just three months, spring training will begin, and once again the Houston Astros will be the defending World Series Champions.