TENSIONS RISING

How Astros World Series campaign is creating volatility unlike anything ever seen

The atmosphere will be brutal in Boston. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

Hollywood or Vince McMahon couldn't have written it any better: the Houston Astros vs. the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series with the winner advancing to the World Series.

This is gonna be fun. Or as your mother used to say when you and your brother were fighting in the backyard, "Yeah, it's all fun and games until somebody loses an eye."

There's a lot of anger in America and it's spilled onto the baseball diamond and into the stands. Political differences used to be "I like Ike" and "I'm just wild about Harry." Now we have a mob chanting "Hang Mike Pence." And Pence was one of their guys! At least "in name only."

Last week Chicago White Sox pitcher Ryan Tempera said the Astros have a reputation of doing "some sketchy stuff." What he really meant was "cheating." White Sox manager Tony La Russa said the Astros have a "character shortage." What he really meant was the Astros are "a-holes."

Dusty Baker, who's normally unflappable and turns the other cheek, turned feisty, "I don't have much response to that other than I was listening to Eric Clapton this morning, and he had a song, 'Before You Accuse Me (Take a Look at Yourself).' ... You know what I mean? That's all I got to say."

I got no problem with Dusty spitting back. Except Creedence Clearwater Revival's version of "Before You Accuse Me" is much tighter than Clapton's.

Houston sports fans have a reputation for being polite. The only player who really gets a hard time from the crowd here is Albert Pujols, and that's mostly out of respect for a homer Pujols hit in the 2005 NLCS that still hasn't landed.

Last week, though, a couple of Astros fans beat the crap out of a White Sox supporter in Minute Maid Park. Wave to the TMZ cameras, fellas. American baseball has turned into European soccer in some cities, not Houston, not yet, but we're trending.

The Astros ballpark is going to rock Friday night when the Red Sox get here. The White Sox were merely bystanders in the Astros 2017 cheating scandal. The Red Sox were involved – the Astros beat them in the AL Division Series and current Red Sox manager Alex Cora was in the Astros dugout in 2017. If Cora wasn't the mastermind of the sign-stealing scheme, he was at least consigliere to crime boss Carlos Beltran.

The Red Sox, unindicted co-conspirators for their own shenanigans in 2017, have revenge on their minds. It got nasty when the Astros visited Fenway back in June. Cora didn't apologize for his fans, but did admit that the fans' jeers were "tough to swallow, tough to hear it."

Cora added that Yankees fans were much harder on the Astros. True. I was in Yankee Stadium when the Astros visited The Bronx. I never heard an entire ballpark so united in one cheer that contained the F-word. Altuve got it the worst because Yankees fans believe he not only helped the Astros steal the ALCS from the Yankees, Altuve personally robbed the American League MVP from Aaron Judge.

Astros shortstop Carlos Correa also was a target of Yankee fans' taunts. There will be only one way Correa can get those fans to stop boo'ing him – sign with the Yankees next season. Fans are so fickle.

I suspect that Sox fans will let it hang out when the ALCS moves to Boston next week. There will be chants of "Cheaters!" and "F-Altuve" and some fans will sneak in blow-up garbage cans. The lead sports column in Thursday's Boston Globe wondered if the Astros are the biggest cheaters in sports history – not just baseball, all of sports!

That's a stretch. The 1919 White Sox cheated to lose the World Series on purpose. At least the 2017 Astros cheated to win the World Series. That's something, I guess. Then again, Pete Rose was banned from baseball for betting on his own team to win. Didn't help.

Yeah it'll be brutal up in Boston. And there may be even crazier villagers with pitchforks and torches if the Astros beat the Sox. I shouldn't say "if" – I mean "when."

There's a possibility the Astros will meet the Dodgers and unforgiving, high and tight pitcher Joe Kelly in the World Series. Dodgers fans make Yankees and Red Sox fans look like the Welcome Wagon lady.

Last month, my son and two friends were in Los Angeles for an Astros-Dodgers game. They wore Astros jerseys. After the game, security insisted they leave Dodger Stadium, already soaked with beer and condiments, in the back of a police car for their protection.

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Jeremy Pena could have some big shoes to fill. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images.

MLB and the MLBPA are embroiled in yet another labor dispute. The owners and players have both dug in their heels and refuse to budge. No end is in site for the lockout as Spring Training is drawing more and more near each passing day. So what does that mean for our 2022 Astros' season?

One sigh of relief came when Justin Verlander signed his new deal. Two years for $50 million dollars isn't bad at all. Factor in he's closer to my age than my son (coming off Tommy John surgery), and some may worry. Not me. He's the closest thing to Tom Brady MLB has seen since Nolan Ryan. Jim Crane and James Click did a great job bringing him back. His spot as the ace with the rest of the staff they have should help shore up the bullpen if one or two starters can make that transition. I know I said I didn't want him back a few months ago, but time has passed, and wounds have been healed.

When it comes to Carlos Correa, I'm growing more and more comfortable with the thought that he may not be back. I talked about his potential replacement months ago. Maybe the reason being is that the club loves Jeremy Peña at that same position, and Pedro Leon could also factor in. Plus, Peña is tearing the cover off the ball in the winter leagues.

At 24 years old, turning 25 in September, he'll be under team control for the foreseeable future. That truly depends on the new labor agreement. So does Correa's new contract. His contract will be largely based on the parameters set in the new labor agreement, since he didn't sign before the lockout took place. And now we know that contact will be negotiated by Correa's new agent, Scott Boras.

I'm all for the doom and gloom when it comes to an MLB labor issue because they've historically screwed over fans. The most notable and egregious was the '94 World Series being canceled. However, there's way too much money at stake right now. More money than ever to be exact. That said, it's precisely why there's a dispute. That, and the fact that the owners have always gotten over on fans and players, and the players are poised to get their just due.

When the season starts, the Astros should be contenders yet again. Don't look for them to come out the gate firing on all cylinders as this team may look a bit different. Guys may not be fully ready after a lockout and there will be some roster turnover. The bulk of the core will be here, ready, and healthy. Whether Correa is a part of that group remains to be seen. Am I concerned? Hell no! This team has enough to fill that void at least partially and will have either guy under team control for a while. Think about this upcoming season as the time you fixed up your older car. New tires, headlights restored, rims polished, inside made over, and a fresh coat of paint after the transmission rebuild. It still has over 150,000 miles on it, but you wouldn't trade it in for anything because it still runs well and has sentimental value. You know one day it'll give out and need to be put out to pasture, but you're holding on and riding until the wheels fall off. Enjoy Astro fans, because the ride will be over one day. Hopefully much later than sooner.

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