The Houston Astros buried the glove of Carlos Beltran on July 17, a tongue-in-cheek joke about Beltran, the team's designated hitter, rarely playing the field anymore. The team was 62-30 at the time, the best record in the American League, and seemingly cruised to victory every night.
The pregame burial of the glove was just another sign of the team's looseness. There was not a care in the world. Baseball was great, and these guys were expressing for all to see just how much joy was involved in the game.
The Astros lost to the Seattle Mariners 9-7 that night. The team lost All Star shortstop Carlos Correa to an injury the next night. In quick succession, Colin Moran (the replacement for Correa) suffered a freak injury that sent him to the disabled list. Then George Springer, the All Star outfielder and one of the leaders of the glove burial ceremony, was injured and sent to the disabled list. Brian McCann, the team's primary catcher (and another leader of the glove burial), went on the DL, where he was quickly joined by backup catcher Evan Gattis.
The Astros also saw multiple starting pitchers enter and exit the DL during this time. And then a trade deadline deal with the Baltimore Orioles for Orioles closer Zach Britton fell apart at the last minute. The lack of a big deadline deal then angered some of the players who thought the team should have done more to improve.
The Astros slumped through August. There was never a doubt the team would make the playoffs, since the rest of the A.L. was struggling, but it was evident that the team was dragging and that carefree team that held a burial ceremonial for a player's glove seemed to have changed.
Then came Hurricane Harvey and the team's forced separation from the city — exacerbated by the refusal of the Texas Rangers to swap out homestands and thus forcing the Astros to play a three-game series against the Rangers in Florida. The Astros dropped two of those games, and on August 31, the team's record was 80-53, the Astros having gone 18-23 since the glove burial.
Baseball is a game of superstitions, and it could be argued that the Astros were cursed by the burial of Carlos Beltran's glove. Just look at all that happened after that event. Injury after injury after injury. Loss after loss after loss. Sure, the starting rotation had been rife with injuries prior to that date, and yes, the bullpen had likely been overtaxed by heavy usage. And the offense was bound to go into a slump and struggle to score runs. But the coincidences are just too much to ignore.
Then arrived Justin Verlander, a Cy Young Award winner, former Rookie of the Year, A.L. MVP and six-time All Star who has tossed two no-hitters and is a potential Hall of Famer. The Astros acquired Verlander at the deadline at the end of August, making him eligible for the playoff roster. And just like that, a starting rotation that was routinely getting beat up by opposing teams had an anchor with lots of playoff experience and the ability to pitch deep into games.
Verlander arrived in Houston the Saturday after Harvey had hit. The Astros were playing the New York Mets in a doubleheader after the originally scheduled game for Friday night was postponed. The postponement allowed both the Astros and the Mets to assist in recovery efforts throughout Houston. The Astros came out that weekend and beat up on the Mets, energizing the fans who came out to Minute Maid Park in search of something or someone to cheer on.
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Observers also noted a new energy with the Astros that day. The playfulness seemed to return with Verlander's arrival, and it was as if a huge burden had been lifted from the collective shoulders of the players. It was like before the glove burial — a team having fun playing baseball.
The Astros clinched a playoff spot last weekend. Despite Thursday night’s 3-1 loss to the White Sox, the Astros, with a 93-59 record, are still in position to win 100 games, just the second time in team history that would happen. Though the August slump and an incredibly hot Cleveland Indians team mean it’s nearly impossible for the Astros to finish with the best record in the American League.
Carlos Correa is healthy. George Springer is healthy. Brian McCann and Evan Gattis are healthy. Dallas Keuchel is healthy. The Astros have primed the rotation to have Verlander and Keuchel start the first two games of the playoffs, which is what every team wants: two Cy Young winners pitching on consecutive days.
It's an exaggeration to say that Justin Verlander cured the curse of Carlos Beltran's glove, just as it's an exaggeration to say there was even a curse. But things sure do seem different now that Verlander's here. The gloom and doom of August is gone and the fun and games of the first half of the season are back.