Bayou City

Astros Barely Shake Off the Curse of Taylor Swift

Baseball has enjoyed some great curses over its century and a half of organized play. The Curse of the Bambino created an entire culture of martyrdom in New England for eight and a half decades until, in a tale worthy of Stephen King himself, the Red Sox finally vanquished Babe Ruth’s ghost in the 2004 World Series. Chicagoland and WGN viewers everywhere are on edge wondering whether the Billy Goat will finally release its hex on the Cubs’ postseason fortunes this year. Even the minor curses, like the one involving the New York Mets and their bobblehead dolls, are pretty entertaining.

Because the Internet exists to both amuse and torture us, last week something known as “The Curse of Taylor Swift” merged into the trending lane and spawned more “shake it off” puns than anyone should be subjected to in one lifetime. As reported by SportsCenter and a bunch of media outlets in Toronto, including an amusing video that suddenly makes a hard left into Jennifer Lawrence’s disdain for Donald Trump, a suspicious number of major league teams’ fortunes went south this year after Swift’s “1989” tour temporarily took over their ballparks. The story wound up getting picked up by some pretty highbrow sites (Time, The Atlantic, even Consequence of Sound), and the Astros were more or less exhibit A because until Swift came to Toronto’s Rogers Center this past weekend, Houston was the only time the supposed curse had hit a contending ballclub. The Blue Jays had already clinched their division title anyway.

The Astros have never really had much use for curses; mediocre ballclubs, short-sighted ownership and a handful of thrilling but ultimately heartbreaking playoff runs have taken care of that. But until the team backed into its first postseason berth in a decade Sunday when AL West nemeses the Texas Rangers — of all teams — did us a backhanded favor by eliminating the ‘Stros’ lone remaining wild-card rivals, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Astros were about to be saddled with the one of the most confounding, and perhaps the sexiest, curses in baseball history. Kind of.
But first came the Washington Nationals. The power went out at Nationals Park during the defending NL East champions’ first game after the All-Star Break, over which Swift performed two concerts at the stadium. Pitcher Max Scherzer blamed the pop star on Twitter and, jokingly or not, the Nats’ season never recovered. The Padres got snakebit hard, too, losing 11 of 18 games after Swift played PetCo Park in early August, but poor San Diego wasn’t much of a factor in the NL West before the concert either.

But in Houston, the team was leading the AL West in late July, when the Astros announced that Swift’s concert was moving up to September 9 from October 13, in case the 'Stros needed the field to host a playoff game. After she played, the team hit the skids with seven losses in its next ten games, including a devastating sweep at the hands of those damn Rangers that ultimately cost the Astros the division title. Frankly, it wouldn’t be that surprising if their slump weren't some kind of karmic payback — fans’ cars were broken into right and left during the concert, and the stadium’s fire alarm even went off after the show, leading to the berobed Swift’s hasty evacuation from the building. Plus, her special guest turned out to be the disappointing Wiz Khalifa instead of somebody cool and local, like J.J. Watt, Nolan Ryan or Slim Thug.

Ironically, this year’s American League playoff schedule was drawn up in such a way that October 13 is an off day. True, the logistics of loading Swift’s U2-worthy stage production in and out probably would have made Minute Maid off-limits for at least a day or two on either side of the concert, but it's still worth a chuckle or two.
Also allergic to joy: Houston sports fans.

But regardless of what happens on Tuesday (and beyond), this year’s Astros have a lot to be proud of. Two years ago, the team lost 111 games, their third consecutive season to surpass the 100-loss mark; this year, they won 16 more games than in 2014. These past few months have already been a great ride for Astros fans, a hell of a lot better than anyone had any right to expect in April. The only downside about the season now ending is that the only way the Astros are going to surprise anyone next year is if they don’t contend, and perhaps don’t go deep into the playoffs to boot. But for now, the whole city is rooting for them to shock the baseball world.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays get to test that Swift-curse theory against none other than the Rangers in their division series, which begins on Thursday. The Astros actually match up pretty well against their opponent in tomorrow night’s AL wild-card game, the New York Yankees, against whom they took two out of three in convincing fashion at Yankee Stadium in August. Winner goes on to play the Kansas City Royals, another team that Houston handled pretty well this season. But Houstonians know that the sports gods love messing with our city’s teams to no end, and so in order for any of them to enjoy even a little postseason success, first they must go about it the hardest way they possibly can.

Pissing off pop stars included.
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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray