A true team of destiny? Yankees never had a chance against Houston

Justin Verlander and Jose Altuve are headed to the World Series. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If Houston wouldn't let a hurricane beat it, you think the New York Yankees stood a chance? 

Poor Yankees ... they weren't beaten by 25 baseball players. They lost to an entire city picking itself up off the canvas. They lost to a tidal wave of emotion, an unstoppable force that would not be denied. They lost to fans who pulled out of their driveways, past all their possessions reduced to debris on their front lawns, and headed to Minute Maid Park to cheer their Astros. 

This team doesn't just wear a patch that says "HoustonStrong." They ARE the embodiment of Houston, the most diverse, resilient, boldest city in the U.S. Nowhere will you find a team that looks more like its hometown. Our second baseman is the smallest player in the lineup ... and the best player in the world. How can you root against that guy? Our first baseman is a Cuban defector with hair like the top of a pineapple. Our centerfielder is bi-racial and climbs outfield walls to rob home runs. Our shortstop is from Puerto Rico. He learned how to speak English as a kid because he knew ESPN would want to interview him one day. Our right fielder is a self-described, mullet-wearing "down south redneck"  in Captain America underpants. He comes to bat to a recording of wrestler Ric Flair yelling "Wooo!" Ever hear 40,000 baseball fans yelling "Wooo" in return? Our third baseman is a Jew from New Mexico, of all places. Our championship series MVP is the hottest pitcher in the game, the highest-paid player on the team and his fiancée is a Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover girl. He's doing all right. Our manager has a degree in psychology from Stanford and needs it. Fearless leader is smart.  

How can you not love this team? Lance McCullers was pretty awesome in Game 7, right? You know what he does in his spare time? He rescues homeless dogs and cats. George Springer made a spectacular leaping catch, two of them, last week. You know what he did after Hurricane Harvey struck Houston? He arranged for his hometown in Connecticut to send a caravan of trucks packed with needed supplies to Houston. Springer also holds fundraisers to send kids who stutter to summer camp. Astros owner Jim Crane donated $4 million for hurricane relief from his own pocket. 

What's the word ... fate? Kismet?  Destiny? Karma? Whatever you want to call it, this team will not, cannot be denied. The 2017 Houston Astros are a force of nature stronger than any hurricane. After all we've been through in Houston, we deserve the pure joy of Astros baseball. 

There were doubters, for sure. The Yankees were supposed to vanquish the Astros, ending the dream, especially after sweeping Houston three straight in New York. Aaron Judge had emerged from his home run slump. The Yanks needed only one win at Minute Maid Park. 

The Yankees are used to winning. It's sort of their thing. They're the winningest, most storied franchise in U.S. sports. Their name means excellence, like Babe Ruth and Cadillac, the gold standard. When a team dominates in another sport, "they're the New York Yankees of this or that." 

There are 27 World Series flags flapping over Yankee Stadium. Minute Maid Park has none. Surely the young, inexperienced Astros would crumble at the Yankees' feet.  

That's just the way it is, or was supposed to be. Back in the '50s, New York was so dominant that a book called The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant hit the best-seller list. The plot had a long-suffering baseball fan selling his soul to the devil so his team could beat the Yankees, if only once. The book was turned into a Broadway musical and movie called Damn Yankees. 

It's time for a remake, because 2017 belongs to Houston - our Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant. 

The team motto this year was "Earn History," and they sure did. But their work isn't done. It's on to Los Angeles and the World Series. Say it again ... World Series! 

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This time next week Jim Crane will have hired or be closing in on hiring the Astros' new manager. Who is it going to be? Considering Crane himself doesn't know yet, how the heck should I know? The candidate pool is deep in quality, four former big league skippers (none of whom have won a World Series) and at least three others who have never managed in Major League Baseball.

Dusty Baker. 70 years old. Over 22 seasons he steered four different franchises to the postseason. Tremendous people skills. I always felt his teams took on his upbeat but intense personality. Not a tactical wizard and a questionable resume re: handling of several pitchers. That's not a dealbreaker If Brent Strom is still the pitching coach.

Buck Showalter. Organized and prepared as all get out. Taken three different teams to the playoffs. More coincidence than anything else, the Yankees and Diamondbacks won the World Series...the season immediately after they fired Showalter.

John Gibbons. Low key personality. Two American League Championship Series trips with the Blue Jays.

Jeff Banister. LaMarque high school grad, played at UH. Back-to-Back AL West titles with the Rangers before their roster fell apart and the Astros took over the division. Also a lifetime big league batting average of 1.000. One at bat, he singled.

Any of those four would be a highly credible hire.

Those seeking experience by getting experience: Raul Ibanez, Will Venable, and Eduardo Perez. Where the Astros are, I would lean away from them. Incumbent bench coach Joe Espada is a more credentialed candidate than those three, but Espada was on A.J. Hinch's staff when the Astros are confirmed as cheaters, so can't see Crane going with him.

The experienced big league managers would command more money. That should play zero role in the choice, even though if the Astros stay largely healthy and avoid precipitous performance declines, you or I could manage their roster to 90 wins. Who is best equipped to navigate the S.S. Astros through some stormy seas bound to hit? Because, A. that's baseball, and B. they'll face some unusual stuff in their role as the lying, cheating villains of MLB. Can't know the answer to that.

Rockets fading from the spotlight

The Texans disintegrated on the field in Kansas City, the Astros' integrity turns out to have in part either disintegrated or been non-existent, leaving the Rockets among the big three to uplift the city's sports spirits over the next couple of months. Problem, relatively few seem to care. Glaring numbers of empty seats (even though sold) at Toyota Center, lower TV ratings, and a palpable lack of buzz to them. No shame in a 27-16 record, but that's not close to special and things just seem a bit stale. Dog days of midseason or larger problems?

The Rockets enter the weekend closer to the Draft Lottery than to the Western Conference leading Lakers. The Rockets are at best b-list contenders, waaaay more likely to get bounced from the playoffs in the first round than to win the West. They may be in serious trouble relative to this season's aspirations, and going forward.

Recent deep shooting slump aside, James Harden is a phenomenal offensive force, and Russell Westbrook is a force of nature. But a Harden/Westbrook backcourt headlines a non-championship caliber defense. And there just aren't good enough players around them. Harden is 30 years old, Westbrook is 31. Eric Gordon and his balky knee and erratic jumper, also 31. Over the next three seasons the Rockets are on the hook for those three guys at an average of about 106 million dollars per season.

For two straight off-seasons, the Rockets have been cheap with construction of the bench. Whatever the extent he's been following owner Tilman Fertitta's marching orders, among teams that fancy themselves contenders General Manager Daryl Morey has produced the worst bench in the NBA.

There are a bunch of teams with better overall talent, there are lottery teams with better young talent. It all adds up to the best guess being Head Coach Mike D'Antoni parts ways with the Rockets after the season. How good a job will the Rockets job be for the next coach? The answer might be, not very, in terms of pursuing an NBA championship.

While not being a big deal, it won't look good on the Rockets side if/when Chris Paul makes the All Star Game and Russell Westbrook doesn't.

Buzzer Beaters

1. If you were Kelvin Sampson would you leave UH for the Rockets? 2. The Pro Bowl is Sunday! 3. Things on TV I'd watch before the Pro Bowl: Bronze-Real Housewives of Anywhere Silver-A full XFL game Gold-Three hours of test pattern

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