Astros manager A.J. Hinch stood in front of home plate, microphone at his chest. He was solemn. It was a baseball game, yes, but it was something more. It was healing. It was relief. It was normalcy after a week of anything but.
Baseball would be played on a Saturday afternoon in Houston, just like the schedule called for. An innocent interleague matchup between a playoff contender and a team playing out the string. Once the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony was over, it was a baseball game, just like any other.
But first Hinch addressed the crowd. "It's a very special day to start the re-build process of our great city," he said. "We want to thank everyone in the city of Houston that's doing something good for somebody else."
The Astros have been doing a lot of good for others. On Friday, Jose Altuve and a number of other Astros visited the George R. Brown Convention Center, where many are seeking refuge.
Altuve also donated $30,000, as well as $25,000 in shoes and other items via New Balance. Jim Crane, the Astros owner, donated $4 million.
That they would play the Mets—anchored by starter Matt Harvey—was a nice bit of good fortune. It was announced today that one of their best hitters, Michael Conforto, would have season-ending surgery on his left shoulder. The Astros made pretty quick work of the team. Harvey lasted just two innings, giving up seven runs, including a homer to George Springer, his 30th.
"The fact that they came out today to support us, it's crazy," Springer told reporters. "There's thousands of people that don't have homes, they don't have belongings, and they're rallying around us. It's our job as the sports team here to do anything we can. Their goal is to provide anybody with some sense of relief."
After Springer hit the homer, he tapped a patch on the upper left side of his shoulder. It read: HOUSTON STRONG
Houston got five innings from Charlie Morton, and other than a five-run seventh by the Mets, it was a romp for the Astros. Jose Altuve had three hits and new acquisition Cameron Maybin had a steal.
And after the game, Justin Verlander threw his first bullpen.
And what's better than one game, but two? In the second half of the doubleheader, the Astros won 4-1. Springer went 3-for-4 and Brad Peacock went 5 1/3 innings, giving up just one run.
The Astros have the best record in the AL. A playoff spot is guaranteed. While they were quiet at the non-waiver deadline, they struck in late August with Maybin, the AL steals leader (Altuve is second) and Verlander (3.82 ERA, 176 strikeouts in 172 innings).
It's tough going to Houston right now. That the Astros are providing a semblance of a relief is no small thing. The Astros can't undo the damage already done in their city. They can, however, lift spirits.
"I'm really, really proud to be an Astro," said Morton. "I'm really proud to be a small part of this city and the community."