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Houston Astros Win World Series

HOUSTON — For five years, wherever the Houston Astros traveled, they felt the fury behind the booing and jeers from opposing fans, and withstood charges that their 2017 World Series championship was tainted by allegations of cheating.

Amid the outcry, the Astros never went away. They kept striving to legitimize their success, reaching the postseason each subsequent year while advancing to the World Series three times. But as close as they came in that half decade, they never managed to prove unequivocally that, yes, they could win a title without illegally stealing opponents’ signs. Now they can.

Playing at home, where the scandal is rarely highlighted, the Astros beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-1, in Game 6 on Saturday to win the World Series, rewarding their loyal fans with an unimpeachable championship to pair with their tarnished title in 2017.

That was the year the Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers for Houston’s first World Series crown. But they were later forced to admit to using technology and banging on trash cans to steal and relay signs. In the wake of the scandal, they were shunned by the baseball world, with fans in opposing stadiums demonstrating their outrage by booing and flashing signs that vilified them as cheaters.

Winning this year does not change history, but it helps isolate the cheating scandal as a one-time event, not a crutch on which Houston rested its only title.

“It goes away forever,” John Smoltz, the Hall of Fame pitcher who was broadcasting the Series for Fox, said after Game 5. “To win this one would be the greatest relief in the world.”

Houston’s fans found instant relief in the sixth inning when Yordan Alvarez, the Astros’ powerful left fielder, hit a three-run blast to center field that wiped away a one-run deficit. The fans, growing anxious as their team was being shut out and trailed by a run, exploded as the ball sailed through the air and Astros players poured out of the dugout and danced in foul territory to celebrate along with them.

“Amazing,” Alvarez said through a translator when asked about his emotions after his home run. “When I was rounding second base I felt the whole stadium moving.”

The Astros added another run in the inning when Alex Bregman walked and scored on a single by Christian Vázquez. Houston’s talented bullpen, one of the keys to the team’s success, shut the Phillies down for the remaining three innings, leading to the ultimate celebration on the field.

The victory provided special joy and perhaps some vindication, as well, for Dusty Baker, the Astros’ manager who had never won a World Series, despite leading five teams to the playoffs, a record. At 73, Baker became the oldest manager to win a World Series.

The Astros hired Baker after firing A.J. Hinch, the manager of the 2017 team who was blamed for not putting a halt to the cheating operation. With an impeccable reputation and affable persona, Baker not only stabilized the team, but was able to deflect some of the ire aimed at the organization.

Now, as two-time champions, the Astros also avoided the fate of other excellent teams that made repeated visits to the World Series but only managed to win one championship. Smoltz’s Braves won the Series in 1995, which helped soothe the pain from losses in four other Fall Classics. He said it was like having a thousand-pound weight lifted off their shoulders, and said the same held for the Astros because of the circumstances surrounding their only other title.

“You’ve got to give them their due,” Smoltz said. “The only way you make up for something that is a big, huge cloud over you, is to show them that you can win without it.”

In 2019, the Astros lost to the Washington Nationals in seven games. Last year they lost to the Atlanta Braves, both times in Houston, as the home fans were forced to watch the jubilant visitors celebrate on their home turf. In between, Houston lost the American League Championship Series to the Red Sox in 2018 and the Tampa Bay Rays in 2020.

They had five straight trips to the A.L.C.S. since 2017, but previously no untainted title to show for it.

“We put ourselves in that situation,” Lance McCullers Jr., the Astros pitcher, said before the Series. “All we can do is keep winning.”

They have done that by reaching baseball’s semifinal stage in each of the last six years and three of the last four World Series. This year, they won their first seven postseason games before dropping Game 1 and Game 3 of the World Series.

But starting Wednesday in Philadelphia, they fought back, when four of their pitchers combined to throw a no-hitter, only the second in World Series history, and then won a tight Game 5 as Justin Verlander won his first World Series game in nine starts, with the help of some superb defense.

Game 6 started with more excellent defense and both pitchers carried shutouts through the first five innings, with Zack Wheeler, the Phillies starter and former Met, throwing with power and precision, limiting Houston to two singles and a walk in those frames.

Framber Valdez matched his efficiency for Houston, but Kyle Schwarber led off the sixth with a home run, driving a two-seam fastball into the stands in right field. It was the Phillies’ third time through the batting order, but Valdez got the next three batters to get out of the inning.

In the bottom of the sixth Wheeler hit a batter and gave up a one-out single before he was replaced by Jose Alvarado. He fell behind, 2-1, to Alvarez, but then grooved a 2-1 sinker and Alvarez destroyed it.

Houston’s postseason began with Alvarez hitting a walk-off three-run home run against the Seattle Mariners in Game 1 of their division series and another go-ahead blast in Game 2 of that series. But he had not homered again until Saturday.

Houston cruised through the postseason with 11-2 record, helping to establish them as one of the best teams of their era. Fans may never completely forgive the Astros, but they cannot attach any known dishonor to this most recent title, even if they try.

“I don’t think the booing will stop,” McCullers said. “It’s like Reggie Jackson said, ‘They don’t boo nobodies.’”

After winning their second World Series in six years and showing they could do it without stealing signs and banging on trash cans, the Astros are true somebodies.

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