Late into the night, well after the Astros had sealed their 5-2 win in game one of the American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, should-be Hall of Famer Pete Rose candidly admitted what Astros fans have openly wondered for years, "When are we going to stop criticizing the Astros?"
Rose, speaking to the in-studio team at Fox Sports 1 — a channel that undoubtedly had MLB fans scrambling to figure out if their cable provider actually carried such a thing — had picked KC to win game one (he remained steadfast they would win the series even after the loss), but now wanted to know when the guys on the set would stop talking about the Royals losing the game and admit the Astros were "a really good team."
It is a fair question, particularly listening to the difference between the way FS1's crew called big plays by the Royals and Astros. For each of Kendrya Morales's home runs for KC, there was a kind of frenzied, over-the-top response typically reserved for home announcers. And every strikeout from Royals reliever Chris Young, who was toasted as if his first name was Cy. Yet, when George Springer and Colby Rasmus went yard for the Astros or when starting pitcher and game winner Colin McHugh sat down batter after batter, the calls were almost routine.
Part of it could be attributed to the Fox B-Team crew of Matt Vasgersian, John Smoltz and A.J. Pierzynski, who made his debut in the booth, while the Rangers-Blue Jays matchup got veterans Kenny Albert, Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci. It also wasn't helped by the fact the game was in Kansas City, a raucous place where fans seem even more desperate for their team to win and earn respectability than ours — before last years remarkable playoff run that ended with a World Series loss to San Francisco, the Royals had not been to the postseason since 1985.
But the real culprit is likely expectations. As incredible as the fact that the Astros lost 111 games two seasons ago and now find themselves in the playoffs for the first time in ten years may be, one might think it was the most unbelievable feat in sports history judging from the number of times it has been trotted out by announcers and analysts. The simple fact is that no one, probably not even the Astros, thought they would be here, two wins away from going to the ALCS and five wins from the World Series.
When Sports Illustrated put them on the cover last year and anointed them future champions, the magazine predicted 2017, not 2015. Back in December, the Astros sent out a rather innocuous tweet letting fans know that the Taylor Swift show date, booked at Minute Maid Park for October 13, might be moved if the Astros reached the playoffs. It was met with a collective chuckle if not outright mocking from pretty much everyone who read it.
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Still, Swift's show was moved and the timeline has clearly been sped up on this young, talented Astros team.
We probably should allow announcers a little latitude with their skepticism even if the Astros led the AL West for a significant portion of the season and ended tied with Toronto for the best home record in the American League. They can be forgiven for their oversight even though it's their job to know we have the presumed AL Cy Young Award winner, the likely Rookie of the Year, a guy with back-to-back 200-hit seasons and five players with more than 20 home runs this year.
Seeing the Astros beat the Yankees in New York and then go to Kansas City to take the first game of the ALDS, both in rather routine fashion, must be a shock to the system for even seasoned baseball veterans given how far the 'Stros have had to travel just to get here. It certainly has been for Houstonians who probably couldn't name more than four or five players on the playoff roster if their lives depended on it.
The great thing about winning, however, is that everyone starts to take notice and, before long, you go from under the radar to the talk of baseball. As that bandwagon swells in size, so will respect for the team and we won't need Charlie Hustle to remind us.