They may be the scourge of countless baseball fans, but the Houston Astros are also the sport’s most consistent force when October arrives.
And for the fifth consecutive year, they’ll be playing for a chance to advance to the World Series.
Shaking off a mid-series cheating allegation, the Astros submitted the Chicago White Sox with quiet precision, clinching their American League Division Series with a 10-1 Game 4 victory Tuesday in Chicago.
Houston’s 3-1 ALDS conquest advances it to play the Boston Red Sox in the AL Championship Series, beginning Friday at Minute Maid Park. It will be the third time in five years the Red Sox and Astros have met in the postseason, a stretch that’s seen the Astros claim one World Series title, an additional AL pennant and reach five consecutive ALCS, arriving at each occupying a wildly different spot on baseball’s spectrum.
In 2017, they were the too-smart upstarts, their years-long tanking campaign yielding the fruit of a dominant baseball machine that trucked the Red Sox in the ALDS, survived the Yankees in the ALCS and Dodgers in the World Series, results now disputed in New York and L.A.
They added Gerrit Cole but were still outmatched by the 118-win 2018 Red Sox, losing in the ALCS to the eventual champions. By 2019, they were AL champs again, yet Astros fatigue seemed to settle in among fans, even if just on a visceral level, and so few outside Houston were disappointed when the Washington Nationals overcame a 3-2 World Series deficit to knock them off.
Six weeks later, the visceral became specific – the Astros’ creation and execution of an elaborate and rules-breaking sign-stealing scheme that bolstered their 2017 championship team and cast doubt over all their accomplishments. They were reviled from outside closed doors during a pandemic-wracked 2020 season, yet still clawed within one game of the World Series.
Now, fans and opposing players alike finally have their say. Yet the Astros remain intent on getting in the last word.
They dominated the White Sox in this ALDS, scoring 31 runs in four games with a combo of players scandal-entangled and otherwise.
In Game 4, it was the old guard coming through.
Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman each slugged two-run doubles, Correa’s erasing a 1-0 deficit and putting Houston ahead for good in the top of the third, Bregman’s capping a three-run fourth that essentially put the game out of reach. They, along with Jose Altuve – who hit a three-run homer to ice the game in the ninth – were both significant beneficiaries of the sign-stealing scheme, with championship rings to prove it, and ultimately the public faces of its aftermath.
Through the boos and naysayers, they won 95 games this year, ostensibly under greater scrutiny from league security to ensure no further shenanigans occurred, be it the Astros, the Red Sox – who also ran afoul of rules in 2018 – or any other club.
Nonetheless, White Sox pitcher Ryan Tepera took it upon himself after Chicago’s Game 3 victory to dredge up the Astros’ “reputation” and noted they put the ball in play with marginally more vigor in Games 1 and 2 in Houston. Manager Dusty Baker – hired after predecessor A.J. Hinch was fired for his role in the scheme – called them “heavy accusations,” while Correa and Bregman largely put on blinders.
“I have no thoughts,” Correa said Tuesday morning before Game 4.
Trite though it may be, Correa indeed let his bat do the talking. Game 1 winner Lance McCullers Jr. struck out five in four innings and induced a pair of double plays before exiting with forearm discomfort.
Correa elaborated just a bit more in a postgame interview: “Disrespectful words,” he said, “with no fact.”
And with that, the Astros headed home – to their domiciles and also their unofficial place of residence, reserved only for the two best teams in the American League.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Astros beat White Sox in Game 4 to reach ALCS for fifth straight year