By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – The city of Houston turned to the Astros for a boost in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the team delivered in spades in a magical run to win their first World Series title nine weeks later.
When the Astros beat the Los Angles Dodgers in the decisive game of Major League Baseball’s title game on Wednesday it set off celebrations across Houston where many are still recovering from the strongest hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years.
“To give people who are going through a hard time something to really cheer about, and step away from whatever hardships they’re going through and rally around, it creates a special bond,” Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, who arrived in Houston via a trade only days after Hurricane Harvey hit, told MLB.com.
“I saw it way back when and felt it when I got here. And to really kind of follow through and actually win the whole damn thing, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
After Hurricane Harvey, which brought devastating wind and flooding to parts of America’s fourth-largest city, the Astros began wearing a simple patch on their uniform as a reminder of what the city lost.
The patch on the upper left side of their chests featured the word “STRONG” in white block letters between an Astros’ logo and a rendering of the state of Texas.
The Astros quickly became a rallying point for many in the city.
“We’re just happy for the city,” Astros owner Jim Crane said. “The city was in bad shape. Still a lot of work to do there, but I’m happy for the fans and the city and the region. Just couldn’t be more proud of that, and we look forward to getting back with the trophy.”
The Astros will enjoy a victory parade through Houston’s streets on Friday and the city’s largest school district has canceled classes so students can celebrate the World Series triumph.
Parts of Houston suffered severe wind and flood damage after Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25 while the Astros were in California for a road trip.
Eight days later they returned to their ballpark to play the New York Mets, who had agreed to postpone the previous day’s game so players from both teams could volunteer as part of the relief efforts.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch told the crowd it was a special day to start the re-build of the storm-struck city.
They then enjoyed a strong finish to the regular season before embarking on a remarkable playoff run in which they won three elimination games – two against the New York Yankees and one in the World Series decider.
“Our team believed in each other all year. And through the good times and the bad times, through a rough stretch in August, to getting down 3-2 against a very good New York team,” Astros outfielder George Springer said.
“There’s a lot of things that happened. And this is – I’m so happy to be a part of it to bring a championship back, to a city that desperately needed one, is a surreal feeling.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)