October 21, 2017 is a day that will always live in infamy in my mind. It was the day my beloved Yankees lost that year’s American League Championship Series (ALCS) to the Houston Astros. The 2017 Yankees were a phenomenal team, and an even better story.
The year was supposed to be one of rebuilding and developing their bevvy of young talent. They were not projected to even make the playoffs, and merely finishing .500 would have been considered a success. However, the Bronx Bombers simply scoffed at the lack of expectations the sports media world had for them. Aaron Judge (All Rise!) came out of nowhere to blast 52 homers, unanimously win AL Rookie of the Year, and finish second in AL MVP voting. Former relief pitcher Luis Severino broke out as an ace, recording a stellar 2.98 ERA. Midseason acquisitions of Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Tommy Kanhle and Sonny Gray, helped the miracle Yankees to a 91-71 finish, and a playoff berth. After being down three runs to none against the Twins in the first inning of the AL Wild Card Game, the team roared back to win 8-4. People were writing the ’17 Yanks’ obituaries when the lost the first two games of the ALDS to the top-seeded Cleveland Indians – but they would manage to come back again, winning the next three consecutive games, sending the Tribe home, and moving on to face the Astros.
The Yankees would go down 2-0 for a second series in a row, losing both games by a score of 2-1. Then came Game 3 of the ALCS, which I had the pleasure of attending in person at Yankee Stadium, where the Bombers crushed the ‘Stros 8-1. In Game 4, Houston led 4-0 in the seventh inning, but New York somehow came back to win 6-4. With a 5-0 shutout in Game 5, the Yankees were just one game away from advancing to the World Series. But, their amazing playoff run came to an end in Minute Maid Park, where the Astros won the next two games in blowouts. I was definitely upset when the Yankees were eliminated, especially given all they had gone through and how close they had come, but it wasn’t the worst feeling in the world. That season after all was played on house money with nothing really to lose, and their core, the aptly named “Baby Bombers,” were fairly young – it wasn’t the end, it was the beginning of a promising future. Plus, the Astros had vanquished our archrivals, the Red Sox, and I had much sympathy for their fanbase as the city of Houston had just endured the horrors of Hurricane Harvey. At the time, I had no ill will at all against the Astros and therefore, I rooted for them to beat the Dodgers in the World Series (which they did in a thrilling seven-game series).
However, this all changed in November of 2019, just a few weeks after the Astros had eliminated the Yankees in a rematch of the 2017 ALCS, this time in six games. Mike Fiers, a player on the 2017 team himself exposed the ugly truth – the Astros had cheated that year using an elaborate sign-stealing operation, complete with a center-field camera and a trash can. An MLB investigation had confirmed these allegations. Since my Yankees were only one game from making what would have been their only World Series appearance of the 2010’s, only to lose to a team because they cheated, I was rightfully furious. I was especially enraged because the Yankees lost their first two games at Minute Maid Park (where the cheating was found to have taken place) by a score of 2-1. If only the Astros batters did not know what pitches were coming, the Yankees probably would have won those games. I felt like I was robbed from seeing the team I have loved my entire life playing for a 28th ring. (Yes, my Twitter bio says I am a Yankees fan since ’96, which was the year I was born in, for all of the people who were alleging that I’m a “bandwagon fan.”) The friendly rivalry I had with the Astros turned into outright hatred overnight.
As someone who values hard work, cheating is something that I have zero tolerance for – cheaters never prosper. Pretty much every other baseball fan who was not an Astros fan agreed with me. The Astros cheating scandal was perhaps the only thing (besides dislike for Commissioner Rob Manfred) that united Yankees die-hards like myself with Red Sox nation, despite our bitter rivalry. I even made a video lampooning the whole situation where I can be seen wearing my “Houston Asterisks” shirt.
So, wait – isn’t this supposed to be a post where I say why I’m rooting for the Astros?
Despite my history with the team, I am indeed rooting hard for the Astros to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2020 ALCS, for a variety of reasons. First is the obvious: I strongly dislike the Rays, especially after they just sent my team packing a few days ago in a hard-fought five game series. However, this alone is not a reason for me to root for a team that I have reasons to detest even more. Instead I have concluded that the Astros must defeat the Rays in this ALCS…for the sake of the sport of baseball.
But wait, how is rooting for a team that definitely cheated better for baseball? Doesn’t that fact automatically make it worse? Not really. Remember, the actual cheating happened in 2017 – three years ago (which honestly feels more like thirty after all the crazy stuff that has gone down in 2020). In fact, there is no evidence after 2018 that the Astros cheated at all. Yes, there may be something about Jose Altuve, a shirt, his wife and an “unfinished tattoo,” but that’s another story for another day. What’s certain is that this Astros team, playing in the ALCS as I am writing this, is playing the game fair and square. It’s an entirely different team. Many of their players from the 2017 season are gone. They have a new manager and a new GM (A.J. Hinch and Jeff Lunhow were both fired by team ownership in the wake of the scandal). If anything, the fact that the scandal happened means that this team has something to prove – can they win a World Series without cheating. The only way to find out is for them to beat the pesky Rays and actually get there.
Which brings me to my next point. If the Astros move on to the Fall Classic, their likely opponent is none other than the best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers of course are the very team the Astros beat in their controversial 2017 World Series victory. A rematch between those two teams would be a huge win for MLB which has been losing viewers to the NFL, NBA and soccer over the last few years, and almost cancelled its 2020 season entirely. An extremely desirable World Series matchup like the Astros vs. the Dodgers Part II would attract casual fans left and right. Furthermore, there is the added narrative that this time around, the Astros, who had a losing record and are without ace Justin Verlander, are the clear underdog – and there’s nothing that us sports fans (even this Yankees fan) like more than a great underdog story. Compared to the Astros, the Rays, have barely any fan base to speak of – just ask their own former player, Tommy Pham. Indeed, the team has for a while been struggling to fill their stadium, where a majority of the fans in attendance often sport their opponents’ jerseys. In a year where baseball was close to not being played at all, is it really a good reflection on the sport that a team lacking in fans makes it to or even wins the World Series? I don’t think so.
If you told me a month ago that I would’ve rooted for the Astros to win a playoff series, I would’ve laughed in your face. But then again, it’s 2020, a year that has straight up defied reality. So without further ado, it’s time to send those Rays back to the Trop! This Yankees fan is #ForTheH