Harvey, the hurricane, beat up on Houston last week, but the Astros beat up on Harvey, the pitcher, this weekend. Matt Harvey, the New York Mets righthander, has never done anything to Houston or to Houstonians, but it felt like some kind of poetic justice. The Astros didn't just beat up on Harvey, though. The team beat up on the rest of the Mets pitching staff as the Astros swept a three-game series with New York (while winning their fourth straight game).
It was a difficult week for the Astros and for Houston. The city was devastated by a massive storm that just stuck around and refused to leave. The Astros, meanwhile, couldn't get home, eventually being forced to Tampa Bay to play a series with the Texas Rangers that saw the Astros get beat up in the first two games.
The storm moved out. The sun returned. Things have started to dry out and the first steps of recovery have begun. The Astros wondered whether the team should return home to play the Mets this weekend, or whether to play that series in Florida as well. The Astros knew that Minute Maid Park was in good shape, but the question was whether it was appropriate to play games in Houston this weekend with recovery efforts getting underway.
But Mayor Sylvester Turner had a different idea. He wanted the Astros playing at home this weekend. He wanted an escape for the people of the city. The Astros obliged.
“These games are not going to be us overcoming the storm,” team president Reid Ryan told the media last week. “They are going to be the beginning of what’s going to be a long rebuild and an acknowledgment that we will move on.”
The Astros moved on with the permission of the New York Mets, who went along with an Astros request to take Friday off so as to aid in recovery efforts, then play a doubleheader on Saturday and the final game Sunday. And not only did the Mets go along with the request, but they went out into Houston on Friday and helped at various places throughout the city, just like what the Astros were doing.
But before returning to Houston for the series, the Astros pulled off the team’s biggest trade since dealing for Carlos Beltran in 2004, acquiring Detroit Tigers ace and potential Hall of Fame pitcher Justin Verlander late on Thursday night. Verlander won’t actually pitch for the team until Tuesday, but he arrived Saturday and was seen goofing around in the dugout with his new teammates Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
“I [had] to pitch against this team,” Verlander told the media yesterday. “I know how good these guys are. The opportunity to come play for a championship-caliber team for not only this year but for the remainder of my contract is ultimately what it really came down to.”
With the addition of Verlander and outfielder Cameron Maybin, coupled with the return of All Star shortstop Carlos Correa and the pending return of Lance McCullers Jr., the Astros are poised to return to the best-team-in-baseball status they held before all the injuries. But now it’s not just about the playoffs. The Astros also feel like they’re playing for the citizens of a city devastated by Harvey.
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“There are thousands of people who don't have homes, don't have belongings, and they are rallying around us,” outfielder George Springer said Saturday. “And it's our job as the sports team to do anything we can...to provide anybody with some sense of relief, some sense of break.”
The Astros didn’t just play games. Owner Jim Crane pledged $4 million to recovery efforts. The team donated 5,000 tickets to first responders, volunteers and evacuees for each game this weekend. The Astros also collected items for the Food Bank and contributed promotional jerseys intended for this weekend’s games to area shelters. The players, meanwhile, visited shelters and helped stock items in supply depots, while the New York Mets spent Friday serving food to first responders.
“All we can do is help,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch told the Chronicle. “Some of it is financial, and some of it is time and energy. It doesn't go away after one day of volunteering. We are going to be there the whole time.”
The Astros are back on the road now, having stuck around for less time than Harvey. But maybe spirits are a bit brighter in Houston. It’s just baseball, but maybe that’s just what the city needs right now.