HOUSTON — Hello heartbreak, it’s Dusty again.
Dusty Baker, managing his fifth different team to the postseason, once again watched someone else celebrate in front of him, with Atlanta winning the World Series with a 7-0 victory over the Houston Astros.
“I feel bad, I feel terrible,’’ Baker said, “because I’m not really ready to go home. … It’s tough, big time. But you know something, you’ve got to keep on trucking, and that gives you even more incentive next year.
“It’s tough to take now, but this too shall pass.
“I mean, it really hurts, but it’s over.’’
Baker’s contract, paying him $3 million this year, expired, but Astros owner Jim Crane told USA TODAY Sports this past week that he plans to sit down with Baker.
He’s expected to offer Baker an extension, but a two-year deal isn’t a given considering that GM James Click’s contract expires after the 2022 season
Baker, hired two years ago after A.J. Hinch was fired in the wake of the Astros’ cheating scandal, came in and calmed the waters. He has been lauded for his impact, and certainly earned the respect and admiration of the front office, players and fans.
Baker, 72, definitely has every intention of returning.
“I’ve still got some unfinished business,’’ he said. “I mean, I love these guys over here. I love the town of Houston. The fans are behind us.
“These guys, they gave it their all. They played through adversity, through a lot of stuff this whole year. We just kind of ran out of gas pitching-wise. Our guys, nobody complained, nobody alibied. And I’m not going to alibi. We got outplayed. What can you do, except go home, take a shower, figure out how you’re going to come back and win it next year.
“Look, last year we got one game short of the World Series, and this year we were two games short of the championship.
“So, I guess that’s progress.’’
Baker has endured plenty of heartbreaks throughout his career. The San Francisco Giants had a 5-0 lead in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series to the Angels, and lost the game, and the series.
The Chicago Cubs were up 3 games to 1 over the Florida Marlins in the 2003 NLCS, but lost the next three games, with the Marlins winning the World Series.
Now, after being down 3-1 to Atlanta, but winning Game 5 and bringing the World Series back to Houston, they lost in front of their sellout crowd.
The pain eventually subsides, but it never completely goes away.
“I think you get over it,’’ Baker said, “but other people don’t let you get over it. And other people don’t get over it. To me, we did all we could to get to this point. I’m proud of these guys. I’m real proud of these guys.’’
Baker says he’ll never be numb to disappointment, but compared to the Giants’ loss in 2002, this one doesn’t feel as painful.
“Quite frankly, this one doesn’t hurt quite as much as the first one did,’’ Baker said. “The first one, I thought we had that one, you know what I mean? The last one, we had the lead in the series. This one we didn’t.’’
The Astros, with their talented young pitching staff, should be back. They likely won’t have shortstop Carlos Correa, who’s a free agent, and is seeking more than the $200 million the Astros are willing to offer. Former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander missed the entire season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, so his $33 million contract is off the books. They’ll also part with veteran Zack Greinke, who’s earning $32 million. Greinke told the Astros he has no plans to retire, but would like to pitch in the National League.
Yet, as they all said good-bye in the clubhouse, the Astros’ players made it clear they enjoy playing for Baker, and definitely want him back.
“He’s a great manager, great person, great human being,’’ Correa said. “Loved playing for him. I loved every single second. I learned so much from him. Spent a lot of time in his office. He’s a great one.
“I think what’s special about Dusty is like he’s the manager, but you also see him as a friend. When you have that kind of relationship with your players and that communication, good things are going to happen in the clubhouse. He has our back. We have his back.’’
Said Astros second baseman Jose Altuve: “He did an amazing job this year, and he took us to the World Series.’’
Baker, who met with friends late Tuesday night in downtown Houston, talked about what the Astros accomplished this season, coming just short of a World Series title, but knowing the future is bright.
“It’s ok,’’ Baker said. “We’ll be back. We will be back.’’
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