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Nightengale: Astros Complete Stunning Rise to Win World Series

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The Astros celebrate their 5-1 win over the Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. Photo: Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle

George Springer, standing in the middle of the raucous Houston Astros clubhouse Wednesday night, completely drenched in beer and champagne, his shoes covered in alcohol on the floor, tightly held the trophy, refusing to let it go.

He kept looking around the room, glanced at his general manager in back of him, never saw his manager, and broke into this sly, almost mischievous grin.

The Houston Astros had won the World Series nearly two hours ago, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 in Game 7 for their first title in franchise history, and in all of the pandemonium in this cramped clubhouse filled with cigar smoke and the aroma of cheap champagne and beer, it’s suddenly as if everybody forgot the ultimate prize.

The World Series trophy.

“Unbelievable,’’ Springer said, his voice cracking. “This is what you work for. This what you hope for. This is what you dream.

“We really did it.’’

It was earlier in the evening when Springer was standing on the massive stage on the Dodger Stadium infield, accepting the World Series MVP award on TV. This is a guy who hit .100 without a single extra-base hit in eight postseason games, striking out four times in Game 1 of the World Series, only to come back and hit .478 the final six games.

Springer, joining Reggie Jackson and Chase Utley, tied a World Series record with five homers. He set records with eight extra-base hits and 29 total bases. He hit .379 with seven RBI and eight runs. And he joined Lou Gehrig and Jackson as the only players in history to homer in four consecutive World Series games.

“It was fitting,’’ Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said, “because in a lot of ways, he’s the heart and soul of the organization. This guy has so much talent, but he’s a leader with so much enthusiasm.

“He was the one who started Club Astro with the music, the fog lights, and all of that stuff.

“There’s no better guy to win a World Series MVP.’’

It was a beautiful trophy, the first of its kind in the Astros’ organization, but to be honest, Springer said, shrugging, he had no idea what happened to it.

He didn’t really care.

The one he wanted he was clutching and holding next to his chest.

“You dream of this as a kid,’’ Springer says, “holding up the World Series trophy. Now, here I am, holding up a World Series trophy. This is for the city. This is for our fans. This is incredible.’’

Springer, who was in Houston during all of the miserable days, on a team that lost at least 106 games three consecutive years, and now here he was, holding the greatest prize in franchise history and starting to wonder when someone might notice he still has the trophy in his possession.

“I will probably give this to [manager] A.J.[ Hinch],’’ Springer said, “but you never know. I don’t see anybody asking for it. No one is.

“I might just hang onto it.

“You think anyone would notice?’’

Well, it might look a little funny at the World Series parade without the trophy, but considering it’s Springer, who opened the door in this game with a leadoff double, and slammed it shut with his two-run homer in the second inning off Dodgers starter Yu Darvish, the city of Houston is willing to overlook a whole lot of things.

Four years ago, they were laughingstocks, losing at least 106 games three years in a row, including 111 in 2013, prompting Luhnow to even change his licences plate to GM111.

“I wanted to feel that pain,’’ Luhnow said, “every time I got in my car.’’

Today, they are champions, leaving grown men like Astros president Reid Ryan crying, and franchise icons Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio getting sentimental, too. This is a franchise, born in 1962, that had some great teams along the way. They had Nolan Ryan and Jose Cruz. They had Mike Scott and Ken Caminiti. They had Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. And, of course, Bagwell and Biggio for 20 years.

They earned 10 playoff berths during those years, winning three consecutive division titles, and four out of the five years, and even reached the World Series in 2005.

Yet, until past week, they had never even won a World Series game, let alone sniffed a title.

“This is a great team,’’ said Bagwell, inducted this past summer into the Hall of Fame. “I don’t think the world knew it. Well, they do now.

“Nobody wanted us to win this whole thing. Everybody else wanted the big teams. But we beat the Red Sox. We beat the Yankees. And now we beat the Dodgers.

“Pretty cool.’’

This isn’t the old-school Astros that Bagwell and Biggio grew up with during their Hall of Fame careers. They hated when players stood on the top step instead of siting back in the dugout. It drove them crazy when players flipped their bats after homers. They hated this new era, preferring cigar-chomping scouts with sun-baked arms than pimple-faced kids sitting in front of their computer screens making baseball decisions using analytics.

“Things are different, baseball is different,’’ Bagwell said. “The game has changed, and I have to get used to that.

“But these kids are having fun, they’re fun to watch, they’re entertaining for the fans, and they’re good.

“I can adjust.’’

You know times are different when Astros All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa is running around the infield mobbing his teammates one minute after winning the World Series, and the next, he’s on his knees proposing to his fiancée on national TV.

“I was planning on doing it if we were World Series champions,’’ Correa said, “so I was going to do it right there when I saw her. I don’t think that’s a stage you can create. You just have to let it happen.’’

Says Springer: “That’s very Correa. I’m very happy for the guy. He gets a ring. She gets a ring. And everybody wins.’’

Springer, himself, is getting married in January to Charlise Castro. Starter Justin Verlander is getting married this weekend in L.A. to model Kate Upton. Why, even catcher Brian McCann’s mom is getting re-married, to former Yankees teammate Mark Teixera’s dad.

Really.

“We’re matchmakers,’’ Teixera said. “So now Brian and I get to be step-brothers.’’

Yes, these are your 2017 Astros, where everything is unscripted, featuring one of the most talented nucleus in all of baseball with a brilliant manager in A.J. Hinch, the mad genius of Luhnow, and the scratch golf billionaire owner of Jim Crane.

“It’s a crazy journey, man,’’ Altuve said. “Those hundred losses, three years in a row, it’s not easy. But I kind of believed in the process. I believed in what Jeff Luhnow and Jim Crane used to tell me, “Hey, we’re going to be good. We’re going to be good.’

“Then this year in spring training, I realized like, this is the team. It’s something in our clubhouse. I was like, “Ok, I kind of like believed it was the year. Everybody did it.

“And now we’re here.’’

And still trying to wrap their minds around it, almost in a state of shock, becoming the first team to win their first World Series championship on the road since the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

“I haven’t stopped crying,’’ said Laura Springer, George’s mother. I started crying when he led off the game with a double. I cried more when he homered. I calmed down a little bit, but once the seventh inning came around, I cried the rest of the game.’’

The Astros, who partied deep into the night at their downtown L.A. hotel, are scheduled to fly out Thursday afternoon, get ready for the parade, and let their fans know they have grown up before their very eyes, bringing home baseball’s ultimate prize.

“I can’t stop crying because it’s been heartbreak every time,’’ said Reid Ryan, son of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. “I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it didn’t.

“I was born in Houston, was a batboy for the club, and I know the DNA of this city and this club. These are tears of joy.

“We did it, we really did it.’’

They took on everyone in the AL West, and won 101 games. They knocked off the Red Sox in the AL Division Series. They beat the Yankees in seven games in the ALCS. Now, they beat a third historic franchise.

“Those are the teams that go after the big-name guys,’’ Astros starter Dallas Keuchel says, “and get the big-name guys. But were a big-name team now too.

“Everybody wants to come to Houston again. The prominence is back.

“We’re here to stay.’’

Now, if they can only get that trophy back from Springer.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

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