Thursday, November 09, 2017

Game 5 of the 2017 World Series (and how I managed to be there)

It's been a week and a day since the Astros finally won the World Series. As amazing as that feat was, there's one aspect to it (that I finally got around to writing about) that makes this particularly amazing for me: the fact that my girlfriend and I were able to attend Game 5 - yes, that Game 5 - of the World Series.

For free.

Because we won tickets to the game.

Here's the story.

We knew that, with the Astros playing the weekend's games at home, the entire City of Houston would be crazy; my girlfriend Corinne and I wanted to be part of the madness, rather than watch the games by ourselves in our apartment, so we decided to go out.

Friday night we watched Game Three at my usual watering hole in Midtown. We were wondering where to watch the game on Saturday night, when a post appeared on our Facebook feed announcing that King's Bierhaus in the Heights was having a watch party and holding a drawing for two outfield bullpen tickets to Sunday night's game (it even made the local news). Decision made!

We didn't go because we thought we had any chance of actually winning World Series tickets, obviously. We went simply because we like the food, beer selection and atmosphere at King's Bierhaus, which opened earlier this year as the junior restaurant to King's Biergarten in Pearland and which serves a variety of Bavarian and Austrian specialties. It's quickly become a favorite place of ours to eat, but until now we had never thought of the Bierhaus as a sports-watching spot as well, and it sounded like fun.

Bier and baseball!
So Saturday evening we went King's, which was predictably filled with hopeful Astros fans. (Being the Saturday before Halloween, it was also costume night for the staff.) We ordered our food (as well as a Munich-sized stein of Hofbräu Dunkel), found a place in the corner of the outdoor seating area where we had a good view of the televisions carrying the game, and ate our preztels, sausages, cabbage and wings. Our waiter brought us cards for us to fill out for the drawing, which we did. We watched the game, cheered along with the rest of the crowd, and generally enjoyed the evening.

Unfortunately, Game 4 did not end the way we would have liked, thanks to a late-game meltdown by the Astros bullpen. Houston fans were hoping that the Astros could sweep the Dodgers in Houston so as to avoid having to travel back to Los Angeles, but that wasn't meant to be. The Dodgers were simply too good of a team.

After the game was over, it was time for the drawing. Everybody in the restaurant crowded close to entrance, where the restaurant manager was to draw a card out of the bin and announce the winner of the tickets. Corinne remained at the table while I went inside to try to see what was going on and hear the manager call the winner's name, but it was pretty noisy and I simply didn't get close enough to hear what was going on. I didn't see or hear anybody screaming with joy because their name was called, but since I just knew it wasn't me or Corinne - we never win stuff like that - I turned around and began to walk back to our table in the corner of the outdoor seating area. I needed to finish my drink - maybe I could get the waiter to change the channel on one of the televisions to a college football game, if any were still on - and we needed to pay our tab and think about where to watch Sunday night's game.

That's when I noticed Corinne walking towards the front of the restaurant, accompanied by our waiter and a manager, with a rather shocked look on her face.

What happened? Was something wrong with her food?

As they drew closer, I heard the manager ask Corinne if she had her identification on her. Corinne responded that it was still in her purse at the table. Automatically figuring that it would not be a good idea to leave her purse unattended at the table, I walked back to the corner table and grabbed it to bring it to her. That's when I began to realize what was actually happening.

No way.

It turned out that her card was the one the manager had pulled out of the bin. He had called her name, but when nobody inside the restaurant responded - I obviously couldn't hear to respond on her behalf - he and our waiter (who had us write his name on our entry cards) came to the outdoor seating area to call for her. Corinne answered, the manager and waiter came over to the table to tell her that she was the lucky winner, and she, in a moment of complete astonishment, left her purse at the table as she got up to claim her prize.

Seriously. No way!

I made my way through the crowds to the front of the restaurant with Corinne's purse, and discovered her and the manager standing together while another employee took pictures and videos of them. Corinne would later tell me that she was certain she didn't look too enthused in the video simply because she was too stunned to process what had just happened.

Corinne showed the manager her identification so he could verify that she was indeed the person whose name was on the winning card. He got her contact information and told us that the owner would give us a call to discuss how to deliver our tickets to us.

NO. FREAKING. WAY.

We paid our bill and profusely thanked our waiter. I sent out a couple of stunned text messages to my friends: you're not going to believe this, but... We walked out of the restaurant, still in disbelief, past  all the Astros faithful at the inside tables who neither got to see their team win nor got to win tickets to the next game, and it was then that a weird feeling - one I've never had before because I've never won anything before - hit me: winner's guilt.

These folks were wearing their Astros hats and their Astros shirts and their Astros scarves and their Astros boots and were waving their Astros pennants. They were cheering loudly throughout the entire game. They were probably regular attendees at regular season games, while our attendance at Astros games is, eh, much more sporadic (our limited sports budget is largely devoted to UH Cougar football and Dynamo soccer). Yet none of these bigtime Astros fans ended up with the tickets they came to King's Bierhaus in hopes of winning, while the actual winners turned out to be that middle-aged couple in the corner of the outside seating area who weren't even wearing any Astros gear...

ASTROS GEAR! I still had an old hat bearing the 2000-2012 logo and color scheme, but all my other Astros clothing had long since been retired and never replaced. I couldn't go to an Astros game - a World Series game - without an Astros shirt!

So we drove down TC Jester and made a stop at the Heights Wal-Mart (I'm not a big Wal-Mart shopper, but it will do in a pinch) to pick up some clothing. The stocker who walked by us while we were looking at t-shirts and polos said that we had to be die-hard Astros fans because we were buying clothing even though they had just lost. We chuckled; if he only knew the real reason why we were scrambling to buy clothes late on a Saturday night.

The shock had still not worn off by the time we got home. We won World Series tickets? Out of all the people at an event that made the local news, Corinne's card was the one that got pulled? How does that happen? We never win stuff like this! I put my head on the pillow. Maybe this is all a dream. 

But it wasn't a dream. The owner, Philipp, called Corinne on Sunday morning to ask how we enjoyed the previous evening, to see how excited we were, and to discuss how to get the tickets to her. Shortly later, they appeared in her email and I printed them out. These were real MLB World Series tickets. This was actually happening.

Rather than trying to fight traffic and shell out money for jacked-up parking fees around Minute Maid Park, Corinne and I decided instead to take METRORail from my parents' house near the University of Houston. We needed to visit my dad anyway, as his birthday was that day and because he had just recently gotten home from the hospital, where he had been in for surgery (had he been in a bit better physical shape, he might actually have gone to the game in place of one of us). We drove over to my parents' house, and after visiting and watching the Texans play the Seahawks for a bit, bid my mom and dad farewell - they instructed us to scream loudly for them - and walked a few blocks to the train station at the edge of the UH campus. I purchased a couple of day passes on my METRO Q-ticketing app - I'm not a freeloader! - and before long, Corinne and I were on a Purple Line train full of other Astros fans headed to the stadium area.

The crowds were large, but moved fairly quickly. Our tickets were scanned, and we spent some time enjoying the pregame festivities along Crawford Street before finally going inside Minute Maid Park for the start of the game.

Astros faithful wait to get into the stadium. Astros management did an excellent job moving the crowds fairly quickly.

Paul Wall entertains the crowd outside the stadium before the game. 
We eventually went inside the stadium, and found our seats, in right field behind the bullpen, right where King's advertised they'd be.

It was real. We were here. At a World Series Game.

If you had told me where I'd be twenty-four hours before this picture was taken...
That alone would have been memorable, a bucket list item, a story to tell grandkids I'll probably never have. But there was still a game to be played. Little did we know we were about to witness first-hand one of the most amazing games in the 114-year history of the World Series.

The weekend had already been an improbable one in terms of local sports. My heretofore struggling Houston Cougars had upset the #17-ranked South Florida Bulls in Tampa on the previous day, thanks to a third-string quarterback and an unreal conversion on 4th and 24. The Houston Texans, meanwhile, came very close to upsetting the Seahawks (and probably would have, had they had anything resembling a pass defense) in a crazy, back-and-forth game in Seattle. So I guess it should have been expected that the Astros were due for a barn-burner of a game as well (never mind that they already had one of them earlier this series).

It didn't start out awesome, of course. Astros ace pitcher Dallas Keuchel gave up three runs in the first inning; by the time the middle of the fourth inning arrived, the Astros were down 4-0 and Keuchel had been pulled from the mound. The Astros were in a big hole, and the Dodgers' star pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, was keeping the Astros bats silent. The crowd was beginning to get nervous. Nobody wanted this team to go back to Los Angeles facing elimination.

In the bottom of the fourth, the Astros finally broke through. Carlos Correa batted in the Astros' first run on a double. Yuli Gurriel was next up to bat, and he sent Kershaw's very next pitch into the Crawford Boxes. Given where we were sitting, we couldn't actually see the trajectory of the ball after Gurriel launched it until it actually landed. We didn't need to; the reaction of the Dodger outfielders - instead of running back towards the wall, they simply stood and watched in disgust - told us everything we needed to know. Three-run homer. Tie Game. Minute Maid erupted in celebration.

The celebration didn't last, however. Astros reliever Collin McHugh took over on the mound in the next inning but struggled, allowing Dodger batters to reach base. Then Cody Bellinger smacked a three-run homer of his own, and LA went back ahead by three runs. I got frustrated and decided to walk around the (very crowded) stadium to see what other concessions were available and to see the field from other vantage points:

The view from behind the Crawford Boxes. A standing-room-only crowd of 43,300 was on hand for this game. 
I got back to my seat just in time to see LA's lead disappear. In the bottom of the 5th, Kershaw got two Astros hitters out but then walked two batters in a row and was replaced by reliever Kenta Maeda. José Altuve fought Maeda to a full count and then did this:



And our section did this:



(That's 3 [three!] three-run homers in an inning and a half of a World Series game, if you're counting.)

The top of every inning was agony, as Astros pitchers struggled to get strikes and outs. The Dodgers weren't able to score any runs in the sixth, but they did score a run in the 7th after George Springer misplayed a Cody Bellinger hit in the outfield and allowed Enrique Hernandez to reach home. However, Springer atoned for his mistake in the bottom of the seventh, hitting a solo home run onto the railroad tracks to tie the game up once again. Alex Bregman then got on base, and then José Altuve hit a double to get Bregman home, and then Carlos Correa did this:



Right after this, a streaker ran out onto the field and got arrested; it would have been kind of funny had it been an actual ecstatic, drunken fan, but as it turns out it was just some dickhead who goes around the country doing stunts like this to generate YouTube views. (He gets no links from me.)

The Dodgers scored a run in the top of the eighth to cut the Astros lead back to two runs, 11-9. But the Astros got that run back in the bottom of the eighth with a Brian McCann homer to right field; the ball landed a few sections over from us. The Astros were up by three with only three outs remaining, and the crowd was beginning to feel pretty good about the 'Stros getting out of there with a win and going back to Los Angeles needing only one more win to clinch their first-ever World Series.

It's the bottom of the eighth and fans in my section were ready to go home with a win. The Dodgers had other plans. 
Alas, the Dodgers were not going to go quietly. In the top of the ninth, they roughed up Astros reliever Chris Devenski; this time it was Yasiel Puig's turn to slam a two-run homer into the Crawford Boxes to cut the Astros lead to one. There was still a chance that the Astros would win; Chris Taylor came to the plate with two outs and was down to his last strike when he smacked in a run to tie the game, 12-12. Los Angeles was unable to score any additional runs to take the lead, however, and with the heart of the Astros' order coming to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, the fans were still hopeful that the team could win without having to go to extra innings.

However, the Dodgers also had a formidable weapon in the form of closing pitcher Kenley Jansen. He got Altuve and Correa out on a total of four pitches. He then surrendered a double to Yuli Gurriel, which brought the crowd to life - as loud as it was in our section, I can't imagine what the noise must have been like on the field - but then got Josh Reddick to fly out to end the inning.

Fans were clearly deflated. Corinne and I slumped back into our seats and prepared for extra innings. I looked at the clock on my phone. It was after midnight. How much longer would this thrilling yet agonizing game go on? The way these two teams were playing, we could be here all night. And how do we get home if the trains stop running?

Astros reliever Joe Musgrove made it through the top of the tenth without surrendering any more runs to the Dodgers. I went to the gift shop in the concourse behind my seat to get my father a birthday present - an Astros cap with a World Series logo - and returned in time for the bottom of the inning to start. I couldn't say that I was particularly optimistic that the Astros would be able to score any runs off a closer as good as Jansen, however.

Sure enough, Jansen got the first two Astros batters out. But then he threw a bad pitch that hit Brian McCann, sending him to first base. He subsequently walked George Springer. McCann moved to second, where Astros manager C.J. Hinch replaced him with speedy baserunner Derek Fisher.

Then Alex Bregman got up to the plate. And then this happened:



And in my section, this happened:



It's hard to describe the mix of ecstasy, exhaustion, relief, delirium and joy we all felt at that moment. Being at a World Series game because we won tickets was awesome enough. But being an in-person witness to the Astros winning one of the most amazing games in World Series history? A week and a half later, I still can't find the right words to describe the experience.

We eventually made our way out of Minute Maid Park, high-fiving people all the way. We walked through the jubilant crowds to the light rail station and got on a train back to campus (props to METRO for keeping the trains running after the game, even though it would normally have been after the end of service). Everybody on the train seemed to be feeling the same mix of "OMG I can't believe the Astros just won!" and "OMG what kind of baseball game did I just witness!" We got off the train in front of Moody Towers and made our way back to my parents' house; the couple walking behind us - I'm not sure if they lived in the neighborhood or had just parked there - began to talk about flying out to Los Angeles to see next Tuesday and Wednesday's games. Mom and dad were still awake when we got to their house, even though it was well after their normal bedtimes. But who could sleep after a game like that!?

We spent time excitedly yet hoarsely recounting the game - or trying to, at least - with my parents, who saw the whole thing on TV. Dad got his Birthday World Series Astros cap. Corinne and I finally made it back to our apartment around 2 in the morning. I was a little bit late to work the following day, with an explanation that must have sounded to my boss like the worker's equivalent of "the dog ate my homework." I didn't care; I was still hoarse and my ears were still ringing from the game the night before.

The Astros would, of course, eventually win their very first World Series in franchise history, getting past the formidable Dodgers in seven games. That alone is a wonderful feeling for a lifelong fan such as myself. But actually getting to be at one of the games, and getting to witness a wild, back-and-forth slugfest, all because my girlfriend improbably won tickets at a local German restaurant?

It's nothing short of magical.

Finally, a shameless plug for the reason we were able to attend the game: King's Bierhaus is located at 2044 East T. C. Jester, just south of Loop 610. Here is their menu. (For all you south-siders, the original King's Biergarten, at 1329 East Broadway near Pearland's border with Friendswood, has a somewhat more extensive menu.) A special thanks to Hans and Philipp Sitter, as well as the wonderful staffs at both their Heights and Pearland restaurants, for making this amazing memory possible.

They also do drawings for trips to Munich during Oktoberfest.

Hmm... Maybe lightning will strike twice.

1 comment:

Jaime Flowers Ashley said...

What a fantastic read recounting an ever more amazing experience!