Some of the younger Astro fans are probably yawning as the Astros clinched a playoff spot on Friday with 17 games left to go and then Monday clinched their fifth AL West title in six seasons with 14 games to go in the season. Ho-hum, playoff-clinching is so mundane and expected.
The grey hairs and the blue hairs around here remember the old days. We recognize that the Astros did not make the playoffs until their 19th season. We remember what fingernail-pulling torture that the first opportunity was in 1980 as the Astros lost a three-game lead to the Dodgers in the last three games of the season and only made it into the playoffs after a playoff game at Dodger Stadium (thank you, Art Howe and Joe Niekro).
As Justin Verlander told his teammates in language that can’t be repeated here…. don’t take these things for granted. No one is guaranteed to make the playoffs in their careers, much less in any particular year. Verlander made it to the World Series in his second season with the Tigers but recalls the journey of Sean Casey, who in his tenth year was traded to the Tigers and made his first appearance in the playoffs that season and was so grateful. Standing on the mound as the Astro clinched the division last night was pitcher Hector Neris, who missed the playoffs his first eight seasons in Philadelphia before signing with Houston. He helped to anchor one of the best bullpens in baseball and will get rewarded with his first experience in the postseason.
This will be the Astros’ 16th appearance in the post-season, and seven of those appearances have been in the last 8 seasons. In their whole history up until their playoff appearance in 2015, the franchise had only won three playoff series, one in 2004 and two in 2005. Including their wild-card win in 2015 over the Yankees, the Astros have won 11 series in the last seven seasons and have made it to the ALCS five times in a row and the World Series three times in those five.
This is a golden age of Astros’ baseball that we wish could have been shared with those who went before us, like my father, who died in 2001. We may never see a run like this again in our lifetimes, but we did see this, and it has been a remarkable run.