Nationals

It’s easy to root for Dusty Baker, but not the Astros

Nationals

Dusty Baker always has a story.

So, when asked about coaching Bob Melvin, now the Oakland manager, or Mike Aldrete, now the Oakland first base coach, Baker could easily reminisce. He was the hitting coach for both once upon a time in San Francisco. An umpire told Baker that Aldrete -- whom Baker calls “Aldo” -- could win a batting title one day. In turn, Aldo crept into Baker’s subconscious.

“I remember one time I was dreaming about Aldo,” Baker said. “And Aldo was taking a lot of pitches and it was kind of upsetting me a little bit. In the middle of my sleep, in my dream, I said, ‘Come on, Aldo!’ My wife, she woke me up and asked me who Aldo was.”

Baker has endless tails about myriad topics. One thing he is yet to pocket is the retelling of how he won a World Series title as a manager. It eluded him in Chicago thanks to some of the strangest circumstances ever seen in the postseason. He made it to the World Series with the Giants in 2002, making his son, Darren, famous. But, the Giants lost. He never won a National League title with the Reds. And, he roared through two regular seasons with the Nationals only to add to their wretched postseason past.

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Monday night, he starts the American League Division Series against Oakland. Baker’s title chase is something many across baseball root for. He’s been around the sport so long, charmed so many, caused others to yell at their TVs (or him), he’s become something of a lovable underdog. Trouble is, he’s at the helm of baseball’s most-despised team.

 

Baker believes, as do others, that if he wins a World Series title as a manager it will get him into the Baseball Hall of Fame. This is his 23rd year as a manager. He took over the Astros anticipating a season of nastiness at every visiting ballpark. Instead, he received another kind of turmoil, something even he had not been through despite stepping into Major League Baseball in 1968.

The 2020 Astros are distinctly different from the 2019 team which lost to the Nationals in the World Series. Lance McCullers Jr. will start Game 1. He didn’t pitch in the postseason at all last year because he was hurt. Game 2 starter Framber Valdez did not pitch in the postseason last year. Prospective Game 3 starter Zack Greinke pitched in the postseason last year. Nationals fans may recall his final appearance and time-sensitive removal.

So, the manager is different. The starting staff is strikingly different (No Gerrit Cole, no Justin Verlander). Yet, the view of the Astros’ brand remains the same, and they are not helping to change it.

Carlos Correa reissued a challenge to those critical of Houston after it bounced the Twins in the wild-card round.

"I know a lot of people are mad. I know a lot of people don't want to see us here," Correa said afterward, "but what are they going to say now?"

Too soon? It was for former Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who lost the ALCS twice against Houston, including the tainted 2017 season.

"They cheated and then they're mad at us. Like get the [expletive] out of here," Sabathia said on a podcast. "It's a [expletive] joke. And then you finish under .500 this year. Like, shut the [expletive] up ... The kid's a clown, I'm sorry."

This is a quick representation of what happens any time the Astros pop their head up. Generally, no one enjoys an us-against-the-world mentality more than Baker. But, he’s stuck in this odd space. On one hand, his story could be completed, even with a title in an oddball year. On the other, that means the Astros, a team no one outside of Houston and Baker’s home is rooting for, need to win. It’s a tough combination.