2022 World Series: After 25 years, Astros manager Dusty Baker gets his ring

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HOUSTON – Nick Castellanos spun, Kyle Tucker chased and Dusty Baker scribbled. When the Astros clinched the 2022 World Series, their manager first had to record the final play in his trusty scorebook: F9.

By the time he finished, his coaching staff had surrounded him in celebration. They sang his name, rubbed his head and hugged him, all at the same time. Baker had to grab the dugout netting at Minute Maid Park to keep from falling.

“I was mugged,” Baker said. “But I didn’t care.”

Dusty Baker moment

Dusty Baker moment

Houston’s Dusty Baker talks with Tom Verducci, Alex Rodriguez, Frank Thomas and David Ortiz after winning his first World Series title as a manager.

How could he? For decades, baseball’s elder statesman fought for this moment. He won a World Series as a player for the Dodgers in 1981, but he wanted one—actually, two—as a manager. The chase took him to five teams and a cancer and a stroke. He learned to balance the priorities of today with those of tomorrow in a society that he felt was leaning more toward the former with each passing year.

Twenty-five seasons and a dozen postseasons into his managerial career, Baker’s tomorrow has finally arrived with a team with a wild talent that, three years ago, needed him to protect them from a point-blank theft scandal. posters

He reached his tomorrow because of his patience. Baker left the dugout just once during the Astros’ 4-1 Game 6 victory over the Phillies, and it wasn’t to remove a pitcher but to check with the umpiring crew. Every series, Baker defied convention and stuck with his leads longer than modern norms dictate.

The Astros win the 2022 World Series

The Astros win the 2022 World Series

Houston celebrates its second championship in franchise history.

His counterpart, first-year coach Rob Thomson, earned praise for aggressively calling his top relievers in a tied Game 1. His bets earned Philadelphia an upset win, but a similar bet in Game 6 spelled the end for the Phillies.

With Yordan Alvarez closing in on the Astros for a run in the sixth, Thomson turned to Jose Alvarado, even though ace Zack Wheeler hadn’t delivered a hard ball all night. Álvarez’s subsequent three-run home run proved to be the difference.

When his Game 3 starter, Lance McCullers Jr., ran into trouble, Baker left him in the past when most coaches would. McCullers broke the record for home runs in a postseason game, and the Astros lost 7-0 in what looked like a momentum affair for the Phillies. Baker bristled at postgame questions about misplaced confidence in his veteran starter.

The 2022 Astros, it turned out, never lost again. Baker had saved his bullpen for tomorrow.

Baker and McCullers built a relationship out of their shared love of seafood, of all things. After learning that McCullers loved the fish, Baker began leaving choice salmon fillets in his cupboard.

“Get a cook to do it for you,” Baker told him.

Baker is random. He is devoted. He is thoughtful. He is sensitive. He is playful. He is popular. Within this sport that has been his home for more than half a century, he is, above all, loved.

“Dusty’s one of those guys, when he’s in the room, he changes the vibe and the feel of everything,” McCullers said. “When they hired him here after the scandal, he gave us a sense of himself and stability. We were able to really grow and flourish with that sense of stability and confidence in our guys that he brought.”

It took a January 2020 conversation with Baker, Astros owner Jim Crane said, to convince him he had found the right replacement for AJ Hinch.

“We needed a guy with a lot of experience and a lot of poise, who’s been through a lot,” Crane said. “And he handled it very well.”

Astros owner Jim Crane discusses the title

Astros owner Jim Crane discusses the title

Astros owner Jim Crane talks about the support of his team’s fan base after winning the championship.

On the first day, Baker told the team that he didn’t care what happened in past years.

“I’ll be here with you, and we’ll fight,” he said. “We have a great team and we’re going to win a World Series one of these years.”

It took three years. The Astros went five wins in 2020, two in 2021. In 2022, Baker became, at age 73, the oldest man to manage and win a World Series.

He learned long ago to harness his excitement and anxiety before these high-stakes games. Before Saturday’s game, Baker went out for coffee at his favorite store in Rice Village and visited his cobbler to pick up a pair of shoes. Game 6, he said, had been his “nemesis” for years, so he tried to avoid thinking about it too much.

“I mean, you just get so excited,” Baker said.

Now, I could let it all out.

Baker has always said that if he won one World Series, he would win two. This remains his goal. After Saturday’s champagne, Crane wouldn’t commit to carrying Baker in 2023. Even Baker seemed less sure about that.

“I mean,” he said, “what a hell it was to get to this point.”

But he found joy in that hell, gratitude in his heartache. If his 2002 Giants had topped the Angels, if his 2021 Astros had eclipsed the Braves, he might have called it a career. Instead, it’s still here.

“Maybe it didn’t have to happen,” Baker said. “So that hopefully I could influence the lives of a few young people and their families and a number of people around the country by showing what perseverance and character can do for you in the long run.”

It was a long haul for one. It can be a much shorter race for two.

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Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for The Athletic, the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and LA Times, and his alma mater, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of “How to Overcome a Broken Game.” Follow him on Twitter at @pedromoura.

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