The usual madness was playing out in the victorious visiting clubhouse after Game 7 — Astros dousing one another in champagne, clubbies posing with the World Series trophy, Josh Reddick parading around half-naked in his custom-made wrestling belt.
But off to the side, in the kitchen lounge, coach Alex Cora, shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder Carlos Beltran posed for a picture. What made the photo shoot somewhat unusual was the photographer — a very big guy named Dave Winfield.
“They’re very good friends of mine,” said the Hall of Famer, who ended his playing career in 1995, the same year Beltran began his. “I wanted to capture the moment, a great victory for Puerto Rico, and to celebrate a stellar career. I’m just so happy that Carlos finally got a world championship.”
Winfield knows the feeling. Like Beltran, he didn’t win a World Series until he was 40 — Winfield did it for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992, in his 19th season. Actually, Beltran has him beat — this was his 20th and probably last season.
“Yes, it is a great joy to finally win a World Series,” Beltran said after the game. “But this is not about me. It is about my teammates who gave such a strong effort. It is about the people of Houston who rallied around us while they struggled after Harvey. It is about my people in Puerto Rico, who are celebrating right now even after Maria left us devastated.”
Beltran went hitless in three World Series pinch-hitting appearances, but he did help the Astros get there with 14 homers and 51 RBIs in the regular season. His contributions this postseason were off the field.
He delivered a clubhouse message before Game 7 of the ALCS when he sensed the team was a little tight. He said he didn’t need to after the Dodgers tied the World Series at three games apiece. “I could see they were ready,” he said. He also talked hitting with eventual Series MVP George Springer after he went hitless in Game 1, and he brokered a personal detente between Yuli Gurriel and Yu Darvish.
“He meant everything to us,” Correa said. “He brought a different chemistry into our clubhouse, and now we’re World Series champions.”
The title also brought validation to the battery of Brian McCann and Justin Verlander, veterans in search of their first World Series rings. “We’ve known each other for years,” McCann said, “so it’s kind of nice that we are all able to celebrate this together.”
After a romantic kiss with fiancée Kate Upton on the field after the game, Verlander floated through the clubhouse on a cloud of bliss. He didn’t stop to talk, but he didn’t need to. One look at the smile on his face, and you knew how he felt.
“These are the moments that you want to be a part of as a player,” Verlander had said before Game 6, when he lost for the first time as an Astro. Cy Young Awards and MVPs don’t matter as much as a World Series ring. Players spend countless hours together for nine months, working toward a common goal that’s not all that common. Ted Williams, Ty Cobb and Ernie Banks never won a World Series. Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell brought a standard of excellence to the Astros but never got to feel what Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Beltran and Verlander, are feeling.
There will be a victory parade in Houston on Friday, and then the players will go their separate ways for a few months. Verlander will head off to Italy with Upton to get married. Beltran will travel to Puerto Rico to assist Maria relief efforts — he has already raised $1.6 million. He will also probably announce his retirement. “After this season, I had a decision to make,” he said. “The choice is now easier.”
Verlander obviously still has a lot left, and the remainder of a $162 million contract, through 2020. It’s quite possible, though, that he and Beltran will be reunited someday.
They could end up on a team in upstate New York with Winfield.
For now, though, their careers are already complete.