The Houston Astros will raise their 2017 championship banner when they begin their home schedule Monday against the Baltimore Orioles at Minute Maid Park. The following night, owner Jim Crane has arranged for the team to distribute 900 World Series rings to everyone from Jose Altuve to the coaches to the stadium ushers and even some long-term and loyal season-ticket holders.
The Astros are five months removed from one of the most thrilling and entertaining championship runs in baseball history, but some pivotal moments remain vivid. As the Houston players and team officials enjoy the ceremonies, here's what they recall most from the team's postseason journey.
The October tone-setter
Houston's postseason run got off to an auspicious start when Altuve hit three home runs and the Astros pounded Chris Sale for an 8-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox in the opener of the American League Division Series. Alex Bregman hit a huge, game-tying home run off Sale in the series clincher at Fenway Park.
Charlie Morton: "The first thing I remember is how we got to Chris Sale. Because of how good he is, I think that set the tone right off the bat. It just got the ball rolling.''
Josh Reddick: "I think our mindset was, 'It's another guy, and we're going to go out and play our game.' We knew we had a good lineup, and it didn't matter who was on the mound. We showcased that in the playoffs, especially in Game 1. No task is easy like that when you go up against guys like Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw. Your task is never going to be easy."
Jim Crane: "The first time I thought we had a chance of winning, I was sitting in Boston when Bregman hit the home run over the wall and got us back in the game. He came flying into the dugout and the whole place went crazy. I knew these guys were focused and they were working together. Just to see the excitement on the bench and in their faces, you knew they were not going to give up. And sure enough, they were able to pull the whole thing off."
The bang-bang play
Bregman made a gutsy and instinctive play when he threw home on a Todd Frazier chopper and beat Greg Bird by a hair to preserve a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning of the AL Championship Series clincher. The Astros went on to beat the Yankees 4-0 and advance to the World Series.
Jake Marisnick: "Not a lot of people talk about it, but that's one of the big plays that stood out for me. Just the way it happened. The throw. The play. It had to be perfect, and it was. It's something that will stick with me forever.
"A lot of us were yelling 'One, one, one,' [for first base], and he threw it home to get him. In our heads, we were thinking he didn't have a chance. But in Alex's head, there's not a play he can't make, and it paid off in the postseason. He has that confidence in himself to make any play on the field. If that play doesn't happen, we might not get to the World Series."
The understated hero
Marwin Gonzalez hit only .180 in the postseason, but he was at the center of two huge moments. He threw out Bird at home plate to preserve Houston's win over the Yankees in Game 2 of the ALCS, then rushed to the hospital where his wife was giving birth to his son. Gonzalez did something even more improbable in the World Series, going deep off Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning to jump-start a Houston comeback in Game 2 at Dodger Stadium.
Reid Ryan, Astros president of baseball operations: "When Marwin hit the home run in Game 2, it just energized the team. It was like, 'We stole one out there,' and everybody felt like we had a shot at this. It was the first World Series win ever for the Astros after getting swept in '05 and losing the first one in L.A. Winning that game got the monkey off everybody's back. We were like, 'Hey, we've won a World Series game. We can do this.'"
Derek Fisher: "Marwin's homer was the most overlooked moment in the World Series. That moment was the first one where I can remember exactly where I was and what I was thinking. I was like, 'Oh my god, that's huge.'
"I don't think any other team has someone like Marwin Gonzalez. It's hard enough to play one position well in the big leagues, never mind hit from both sides of the plate and play seven positions at a Gold Glove-caliber level. I think if you asked Marwin, he probably wouldn't tell you the Game 2 homer was at the top of everybody's list. But I think it's up there, for sure."
After the Astros lost three straight games at Yankee Stadium, Justin Verlander threw seven shutout innings to tie the ALCS at three wins each. The Astros wrapped it up a night later on a combined three-hit shutout by Morton and Lance McCullers Jr.
Morton: "New York was a trying time for us. When you're leaving the city, it's so big, and the night we left the stadium we're driving over the George Washington Bridge and you see the vastness of the city. There are millions of people there from all over the world who are Yankees fans, and it's a little intimidating. We went in there and lost three straight. But when we got on that plane and got back to Houston and you look out and Justin Verlander is on the mound, it changes the dynamic. Now we're back in Houston and we have the upper hand. We win and we're on our way to the World Series.
"When you watch a guy like that pitch -- especially if you've seen it enough -- you realize that guys like that are built differently. When you see them do it, it doesn't surprise you, but you're still in awe and appreciative of what they bring.''
The World Series MVP
George Springer bounced back quickly from setbacks on his way to winning the World Series MVP award. After going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in the opener against the Dodgers, he set World Series records with eight extra-base hits and 29 total bases. Springer hit a huge, tying homer in Game 5 after misplaying a Cody Bellinger line drive into an RBI triple.
Springer: "Baseball is a game where you have to let the good and the bad go and move on to the next one. I can say that I was proud of myself for turning the page on a lot of things. Earlier in my career, I might have let something like that affect me and affect the outcome of my next at-bat or my next play.
"I'm glad that I was able to take a big step forward in that department. It's something I know I can do now, whereas before, you might not have thought you could move on that quickly. I'm going to take that into this season."
The classic games
Two Houston victories rank among the greatest in World Series history. In Game 2, the Astros and Dodgers combined to hit a record five extra-inning home runs. In Game 5, the Astros rallied from deficits of 4-0 and 7-4 against Kershaw to win 13-12 on a walk-off RBI single by Bregman.
Springer: "I thought Game 2 was the craziest game I've ever played in. Then we played Game 5. That's something you can't prepare for, especially at a stage like that. You hardly see a game like that in the regular season, let alone the playoffs. Game 5 was the most mentally and physically drained I've ever been after a game."
Reddick: "Game 5 was the biggest turning point of the World Series. As hectic as that game was, to go back and forth, you had a feeling whoever won that game was going to move on and take it all. It makes it even more impressive when you're down three against Kershaw and you're like, 'Oh man, it's not going so well.' Then all of a sudden we turn things around. It was definitely eye-opening."
Brian McCann: "Just the grind of the whole month. Two Game 7's. That must-win Game 6 against the Yankees. All that stuff. And then enjoying it with the family. Everybody had the families with them the whole time, and they were flying on the plane and everyone was taking pictures.
"The whole thing was incredible. You just keep going, and once you stop and settle down, all the aches and pains come. Going through it was just incredible."
The final out
Morton, entrusted with pitching the final four innings of relief by manager A.J. Hinch, retired Corey Seager on a ground out to Altuve to end the Series and set off a wild celebration among the Houston players in the Dodger Stadium infield.
Morton: "I remember throwing the pitch to Seager, and I didn't even expect him to swing at it because it was pretty far inside. I remember the ball going to the right side, and thinking, 'Oh, wait, there are two outs.' Altuve fields it and throws it, and that's three outs. I look back to home plate, forgetting that McCann would be backing up first base over towards our dugout. I'm looking back toward home plate going, 'Where's Mac?' Then I look up and I see him.
"Brian and I have known each other for a long time. He caught me in the Area Code Games in 2001. He more than likely caught one of my first starts in pro baseball, and he caught my big league debut [in Atlanta] in 2008. It's been a cool journey for both of us to come back and play together again."
The old favorites
Ryan: "I had had my heart broken so many times as a kid with my dad [Nolan] with the Astros, and as an executive with the club since '98. When we finally won -- having my wife and son and one of my daughters with me in L.A. and just sharing that moment with them and the tears flowing -- it was really, really special.
"We invited Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, my dad, Jose Cruz and Enos Cabell to be part of the parade. All those guys got close in the postseason, and you could just watch them in the parade with all those people and know what was going through their minds: 'What would it have been like if we were the team that won it?'
"It was special to see those guys enjoying it. You don't achieve anything without the success of past teams. They build the fan base and set the standard. This was a world championship that was celebrated by anybody that ever put on an Astros uniform."
The celebratory parade
In early November, an estimated crowd of 750,000 to 1 million people paid tribute to the Astros at the team's championship parade. Fans throughout the region had found comfort and solace in the Astros' inspirational run after the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Harvey in August.
Reddick: "The amount of people at that parade was insane. You come around every corner and there are thousands and thousands -- not just standing on the streets, but in parking garages and parking lots. The spaces they were able to find to come out and celebrate was impressive. When you come around every corner in a two-hour parade and see a flock of people just cheering, it makes you feel good inside.
"It's almost like a storybook ending that the Astros won the World Series. You can go back and make a documentary on a team that's slowly transitioning into a championship team and they come out and do really well. Then all of a sudden -- boom -- disaster hits. We bring a little normalcy back through baseball, and all of a sudden we're in the playoffs making that historic run. It felt good for us as players, and it had to feel good for the people in that community who had lost so much just to come out and put it behind them for 3-4 hours."
Crane: "The parade was special. There were a zillion people there. They were hanging out of garages. It was breathtaking to see everyone that turned out. I remember standing on the podium next to Marwin Gonzalez, and I said, 'Marwin, if you didn't hit that home run in Game 2, we may not be here.' That's how close it was. Everybody was elated in the city. The reaction was great, and it's still great. And I hope to keep it like that."