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The Astros in the World Series

After a cheating scandal, the Astros head into Game 1 of the World Series with a lot to prove

The Astros return to the World Series for the third time in five years, but this time, they’ll try to shake the phantom of a 2017 scandal. It won’t be easy.

The Houston Astros World Series banner is seen Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Houston. The Astros face the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of baseball’s World Series tomorrow.

Mike Scott's no-hitter in 1986. The Killer B's of the 1990s. And of course, the 2017 World Series. All fond memories for Astros fans.

Houstonian Ray Martinez knows those moments. Standing outside of Minute Maid Park on Monday, he said he's watched the team his entire life with friends and family, sneaking in to the Astrodome.

But along with those cherished moments came the the doldrums of a decade ago. Those were the years before Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and other young talent boosted the team to its first World Series in franchise history, a feel-good ending for a city still reeling from Hurricane Harvey.

But the catharsis of that win was soon replaced by scandal: An investigation later revealed the team had been stealing signs during that Cinderella run.

Now, with that hanging over their heads, Martinez said he believes the Astros will show the Atlanta Braves — and baseball fans everywhere — that 2017 was no fluke.

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“I think they can redeem themselves,” he said. “Maybe the whole country can forgive them, because everybody has fallen some way or another. But you just dust yourself off, get up and move on. That's in the past. We don't live in the past.”

As the 2021 World Series begins Tuesday night, the Astros will look to win a second championship in five years against the Braves.

But the team has a lot to prove.

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Making people forget the sign-stealing controversy won't be easy. For one, fans of opposing teams obviously haven't let it go: Away game after away game this season, the boos were merciless.

And at least for the time being, the team should expect more of the same in Atanta — and beyond.

“This is not something that's going to go away,” Houston Press journalist Jeff Balke told Houston Matters on Tuesday. “The Astros are going to be the villains, and that's how they're going to stay for a while.”

Before the cheating scandal came to light, the team again made it to the World Series again in 2019, but came up short against the Washington Nationals.

Then came a bombshell report from the Athletic: Four players from that 2017 team came forward to reveal that during that Cinderella 2017 season, the Astros stole signs at their home games by using a camera in the outfield. Members of the Astros organization monitored those signs in real time, and bang on a trash can loud enough for the batter to hear in order to signal what pitch was coming.

A Boston Red Sox fan holds a sign up during the second inning in Game 3 of baseball’s American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros in Boston, in this Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, file photo. Before they could swing away against the Atlanta pitchers in the World Series, Jose Altuve and Houston Astros face another kind of heat. No, the cheating scandal that tainted their 2017 championship isn’t going away anytime soon.

The revelations cast a shadow over that season, and the team went from baseball’s biggest heroes to the most hated villains everywhere but Houston.

Now they return to the World Series, but they do so without ace pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who won’t pitch in the series due to a flexor pronator muscle strain in his right arm. McCullers pitched 6 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball in Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the Chicago White Sox. But days later, he was taken out of Game 4 with what was believed to be forearm tightness. He hasn’t been able to throw since.

Still, the rest of the pitching staff has managed to step up in a big way. After a rough first outing against the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series, starting pitcher Framber Valdez went eight scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox last week. He’ll make the start again Tuesday night.

Then in Game 6, 24-year-old rookie pitcher Luis García pitched six innings of no-hit baseball in a 5-0 win over the Red Sox that clinched a World Series spot for the team.

The offense was carried through the ALCS by the big bat of Yordan Álvarez, also 24, who hit an ALCS record .522 with one home run, three doubles, a triple and six RBIs.

Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez warms up during batting practice before Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Houston, in preparation for Game 1 of baseball’s World Series tomorrow between the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox.

It’s all part of the mentality of a team that believes they’re meant to play October baseball.

“You know, these guys felt that we were going to get to this point,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said after the deciding game on Friday. “It's a matter of belief. Before it happens you've got to believe it, and these guys believe it.”

For now Astros fans are enjoying the ride.

Houstonian Steve Prado, who also stood outside the Astros home park in downtown Houston Monday, said after years of bad teams he's not taking anything for granted.

“I remember when they used to be 0-and-whatever,” he said. “And now to be at the World Series every year? It's a dream come true.”

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Paul DeBenedetto

Paul DeBenedetto

Senior Producer

Paul DeBenedetto is Houston Public Media's senior digital producer, writing and editing stories for HoustonPublicMedia.org. Before joining the station, Paul worked as a web producer for the Houston Chronicle, and his work has appeared online and in print for the Chronicle, the New York Times, DNAinfo New York, and other...

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