I was a temporary Astros fan earlier this month, sort of like I was this month in 1980. Way back then, Houston being in the playoffs was novel and they were playing a team, the Phillies, that I detested. The Mets were nowhere in sight. It was October like it’s supposed to be when you can’t have October like it oughta be. That it didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted it to be was beside the point. I gravitated to a reasonably appealing entity, I rooted my postseason heart out for it, and I moved on to the next round. Not as good as rooting for the Mets, but I was used to the Mets being nowhere in sight come October.
That was in the National League, where the Astros used to reside. In the American League, my team for the duration was the Royals, a choice that was mandated by the presence of their opponent, the Yankees. I liked the Royals in those best-of-five days, anyway…though mostly because my exposure to them had been from watching them gallantly if futilely battle the Yankees in three previous Octobers. As the exotic t-shirts advertised in the back of Baseball Digest suggested, one of my two favorite teams was whoever was playing the Yankees.
The LCS portion of October thirty-seven years ago shook out as one part mighty satisfying — the Royals sweeping the Yankees three straight; and one part fleetingly heartbreaking — the Astros dropping the fifth and deciding game to the Phillies, 8-7, in ten innings. Houston’s other losses came in extra innings, too. Four of the five games went past nine. Grueling series to watch let alone lose. I felt truly bad for the colorfully clad band of bland ’Stros, that swirl of Puhls and Ruhles and Reynoldses to which I’d grown briefly yet resolutely attached.
Then I moved on, first to the World Series, where I’d feel bad for the futile/gallant Royals and resentful toward the ultimately victorious Phillies, then back to wondering how the Mets would improve themselves for 1981. My interest in Houston, except when they played the Mets, receded. Between 1981 and 2015, the Astros landed in the postseason nine times. Once, in 1986, I was keenly engaged. On all the other occasions, not so much. Twice (1999, 2015), the Mets were in the same postseason, and when the Mets are in the postseason, all action that doesn’t directly involve them tends to be blacked out from my attention span. Six other times, whatever the Astros were doing seemed to occur in the shadows of better publicized series transpiring concomitantly. When the Astros finally made it to the World Series in 2005, I was rooting squarely against them and for the White Sox. The White Sox hadn’t won a title since 1917. The Astros had Roger Clemens. It was an easy call.
I entered this postseason as I have all but nine times in my life as a baseball fan, without an automatic affinity. There were teams I could comfortably root against, but that’s less fun than rooting for (unless and until rooting against pays off ). Without necessarily meaning to, I sparked immediately to the Astros as soon as I encountered them in their ALDS versus the Red Sox. They were novel yet familiar, National League alumni who had famously transformed from hopeless to happening. The Sports Illustrated long-term cover cause circa 2014 . Altuve. Correa. Springer. Bregman. Beltran. Keuchel. Verlander. They were no longer in those rainbow stripes, but modeled a tasty shade of orange. They offered potential uplift for the people of a city slammed by a hurricane. I have friends in Houston — genuine Astros fans — who were flooded out of their home and had to move. I wanted them and their neighbors to have something to be happy about.
Clemens isn’t pitching for the Astros anymore. Mike Scott isn’t pitching for the Astros anymore. I had no reason not to root for the Astros. So they became my team for the duration. They beat the Red Sox in four. Then they won Games One and Two of their next series. They were exciting, they were intriguing, they were as rewarding to read about  as they were to root forward. I was so on board this Astro bandwagon that when my wife asked me what was going on in a game of theirs, I reflexively told her, “The Mets are winning.”
Whoops. The Astros aren’t the Mets. Same expansion litter , but very different bloodlines. Having spent six months glued to Mets telecasts, it was semi-understandable that I’d misspeak, though there was no mistaking the Mets for a team that had made it into this year’s seventh month of baseball.
The real problem is that over their last three games, the 2017 Astros have come to closely resemble the 2017 Mets. They’re not hitting. They’re not pitching. They’re not winning. They are oh-and-three during a span when going two-and-one would have been ideal and one-and-two acceptable. Oh-and-three, given their trajectory and their opponent, presents a problem. I had the actual 2017 Mets if I wanted losing streaks of three going on four against the 2017 Yankees.
I’ll be rooting for the Astros to resume playing like the Astros in Game Six of the ALCS and, I would like to believe, Game Seven. I have little expectation of success, however. When I was seventeen, I would have expected success. I’m older now. I’ve seen many more Octobers, particularly the ones that run neither as they’re supposed or ought to, specifically ones where we are sentenced to choose between the Yankees and Anybody Else.
At the moment, I’m gravitating toward the Dodgers. I don’t much care for them, but I will depend upon them. This is purely transactional. I don’t need a bandwagon. I require a barricade. The Dodgers, even after not quite clinching their inevitable pennant against the Cubs on Wednesday night, are the best World Series bet available among prospective contestants who are Anybody Else. The Dodgers have Justin Turner. That’s gotta be worth a couple of games right there. Their loss to Chicago in NLCS Game Four, I’ve rationalized, was all right. You don’t want your undefeated juggernaut swaggering into the World Series ripe for upset. Should we wind up with Dodgers-Yankees, the Yankees will whoosh in have knocked off the 102-win Indians and the 101-win Astros. The 104-win Dodgers riding a pair of postseason sweeps loom as too juicy a Goliath for the nouveau narrative Davids. A stray loss will properly humble Los Angeles in preparation for the civilization-assuaging assignment that awaits them.
I’m going with that theory for now. And the Dodgers, stain of Buttley notwithstanding. We tolerated Pete Rose in the 1976 World Series, three years after he whaled on Buddy Harrelson, and he played ball, so to speak, helping to stem the pinstriped tide until 1977. We can pretend Chase Utley is a member of decent society two years after he took out Ruben Tejada if it means delaying even for twelve months the impending restoration of the dormant dynasty slightly to the north. I’m also going with the Astros for as long as they’re alive, Verlander willing. I’d appreciate it if they can stop imitating the Mets. I didn’t mean to confuse them by conflating them. I didn’t mean to root solely against during this postseason, either, but sometimes October goes down that way.