Like most of the world, I don’t lament the Astros losing the World Series in crushing fashion. The supposedly unstoppable team that casually swooped in and grabbed Zack Greinke, all but guaranteeing a World Series win, lost every single game at home when it mattered most and threw away a dramatic comeback with a disastrous game seven.
A.J. Hinch seems like a good guy. I feel bad that his legacy is stained for the time being because he went to his best reliever in a big spot instead of trusting a starter on two day’s rest. But besides him, there are very few players or personnel on the Astros I truly feel sorry for.
The exception, of course, is Michael Brantley.
Some, himself included, might say he should be able to count his blessings playing in the majors, let alone being a part of two teams in the World Series. Still, he’s a competitor who specifically went to Houston to win a championship and by all accounts has been a stand-up guy from the moment he debuted in Cleveland through the final at-bat of the 2019 World Series. You can still find traces of Brantley’s impact in Cleveland, such as Francisco Lindor calming Oscar Mercado down in a huge at-bat — something Lindor himself looked to Brantley as a rookie just a few years prior.
When he played against his former team throughout the season, he and Indians exchanged notes in the outfield grass, written in sunflower seeds. The most pure baseball imaginable.
If you could say anyone truly “deserves” a World Series ring some day, it’s Michael Brantley.
After playing with the Indians through some downright miserable seasons leading up to their improbable 2016 World Series run, he was left to watch others win a magical ALCS and take a big lead against an overwhelming foe in the Fall Classic. No one on the Indians deserved to be on the big stage as much as him, but it was never meant to be. Surely he’d get more shots at postseason glory?
Fast forward past two disappointing early playoff exits with the Indians, and his own team doesn’t even bother to extend him a qualifying offer. In the long run it probably helped him — without declining the offer and having a draft pick tied to signing him, he probably was able to squeeze a few more millions out of the Astros. But it was a a sign, intentional or not, that the only team he ever played for didn’t value him enough to either a) pay him to stay long-term, even with a rapidly deteriorating outfield or b) pay him $17.9 million to stick around for another year if he accepted the deal.
When he did finally sign the Astros, he of course was a great player. That’s what he does when he isn’t suffering freak shoulder injuries. He played well enough that he didn’t get completely overshadowed on a team featuring Alex Bregman, Geroge Springer, José Altuve, and rookie sensation Yordan Álvarez. Nobody forgot Michael Brantley was patrolling in left field and hardly ever striking out.
He even got to play in a World Series, though it hardly went how he wanted.
It’s bad enough that he didn’t get to play in 2016, but to be the final out of the only World Series he actually got to play in is some sick dramatic irony. Much like Indians fans will always have the image of Michael Martínez solemnly walking off the field while the Cubs pile on in excitement behind him, the image of Brantley down on one knee after striking out will likely be etched into the minds of Astros fans wondering what the hell happened.
This is my favorite moment. Daniel Hudson is literally FLINGING his glove with joy, while Michael Brantley looks like some kind of knight that has been felled in battle. pic.twitter.com/emaRoWkomZ— Michael Clair (@michaelsclair) October 31, 2019
But unlike Martinez, who never should have been in that situation let alone a playoff roster to begin with, Brantley didn’t deserve any of this. He fought back from more physical ailments than most readers of this post will ever endure and he tearfully said goodbye to the only team he’d ever known to pursue a World Series. After hardly playing in 2016 and 2017, he turned in back-to-back seasons of superb offense for two teams attempting to compete for a championship. Yet the result is the same in 2019 as it was in 2018 and as it was since he debuted in 2009.
Brantley is hardly withering away, but he’ll be 33 when he hits free agency next offseason. Maybe enough time to string together a few seasons as a crafty veteran guy with good contact skills, but I worry how many opportunities he’s going to get as the front-running star of an outfield that he’s shown so many times to be.