Astros Clinch AL West for Fifth Time in Six Years

Hector Neris helped close out the game that will get him to the postseason for the first time.
Hector Neris helped close out the game that will get him to the postseason for the first time. Photo by Jack Gorman
“Let’s f***ing enjoy this f***ing moment.” - Justin Verlander

The Astros beat Tampa Bay 4-0 on Monday night to clinch the American League West Division for the fifth time in six years — the only exception being COVID-shortened 2020. As we have seen from this team repeatedly this year, it was timely hitting from their best players mixed with brilliant pitching the helped them do what was nearly inevitable weeks ago.

Luis Garcia, who would probably be the second or third best pitcher on most rosters, but remarkably could be left off the postseason roster thanks to the embarrassment of riches the team has in the rotation, went five strong innings giving up no runs on just two hits. He was followed by rookie phenom Hunter Brown who had more strikeouts (three) than hits (two) in three innings.

Reliever Hector Neris, who has never been to the postseason after eight years in the majors, capped it in the ninth and apparently became the life of the afterparty in the clubhouse.

Much like this entire season, the Astros took care of business when needed. Jose Altuve hit leadoff home run number 32 for his career, No. 11 on the season, which leads the majors. Rays pitcher Drew Rasmussen lived up to his billing only allowing that one run through five innings, but the Astros got to him in the sixth with three runs, one on a Yordan Alvarez hit and a second on a broken bat two-run double from Alex Bregman.

Verlander was asked by manager Dusty Baker to say some words before champagne was uncorked in the clubhouse and, setting aside the expletives, helped to remind everyone there what they already know: Enjoy the moment and go back to work tomorrow.

This has really been the story of the Astros. Fans often like to nitpick Baker's lineup choices or slumps hitters go through, but this team has the second best record in baseball and is likely to have the best record in the American League when all is said and done. In fact, they are on pace to reach or exceed 107 wins, the franchise record.

It is that slow, steady and relentless pace that makes them so difficult to beat both in the everyday and in the whole of a season. This was the first step to getting back to the World Series. There will be another after that and another. For now, they are going to enjoy this moment, and deservedly so.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke