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Astros fans wait, in nervous anticipation, hoping for one more win

October 19, 2018 GMT

Astros fans arrived at Minute Maid Park Thursday at the precipice. After the Astros’ heartbreaking loss to the Boston Red Sox Wednesday, they were on the edge, one game from elimination.

Had the luck, the skill, and relentless drive that fueled their 2017 Championship season run out?

On Thursday, the Astros and their fans entered Minute Maid Park hoping that it had not, and that the team could make good on its last chance to keep their post-season dreams alive, to take the fight to the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

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“We got a game stolen from us yesterday,” said Cameron Cruz, 23, walking toward Minute Maid Thursday afternoon in a jersey and sporting a replica 2017 World Series Champions ring. “But God is bigger than a 3-1 lead, and I’m praying he can deliver one for us.”

Like so many fans across Houston, he was still smarting from umpire Joe West’s call that ruled Jose Altuve out due to “spectator interference,” on a play many felt should have been called a home run.

He was pinning his hopes on Justin Verlander — responsible the team’s thrilling first win of the American League Divisional Series against the Cleveland Indians and the Astros’ first win in this series. He was back on the mound with days of rest, a supportive (and still wrathful) stadium of hometeam fans, and he was facing off against a tired Sox bullpen.

Around town, fans anxiously awaited the game.

In Montrose, a round of beers in, Carlos Ovies paced the patio at Griff’s Irish Pub and stewed.

“We’re going to kick their butts tonight because we should have done it last night,” Ovies said. “We got screwed last night. That umpire got it wrong.”

As Ovies made his exit — also headed to the game — he vowed to return to the Montrose watering hole afterwards, win or lose.

Ahead of the contest, the best seats in the house remained reserved for owners Donna and Debra Cattlett and their regulars.

The crowd on Wednesday had been especially moody because of the heavily scrutinized play, said bartender Jackson Alford.

“People weren’t pleased,” said Alford, who could hear their roaring jeers from the kitchen. “It gets pretty loud when they get riled up.”

Some disgruntled fans chucked their napkins at a TV in protest, said Donna Catlett, who has owned the bar for 17 years with her twin sister Debra Catlett.

“It got crazy,” said Debra. “They were standing up, booing.”

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For two other fans, John Geiss and John Dettor, fate, or divine intervention, or luck, was the last thing on their mind as they rode METRO Rail’s red line train to Minute Maid. The reminisced about the season. About the day the Astros clinched their division. But surely that couldn’t compare to game 5 of the World Series last year, or Game 3 of the 2017 ALCS, when they last faced the Red Sox.

They tried not to think about the stakes. They distracted themselves worrying about the money they’d spent springing for two seats in the 400 section instead.

“The only good thing, if we lose, is that we would save a lot of money on World Series tickets,” joked Geiss, a retired electric technician.

He worried this year’s post-season run wouldn’t seem as significant after last year’s post-Harvey championship.

Dettor disagreed. Teams rarely have such successful seasons back to back, he said, and the Astros are made up of mostly the same players as last year, only with a better pitching roster.

Geiss shrugged. They would go to as many games as long as the Astros are still in the running, expense be damned.

“It all comes down to tonight,” he said. “I’m pretty confident now, but the next two games? Not so much.”

Dettor shook his head.

“We won’t win the other two if we don’t win tonight,” he said.

Connor Barney, 28, a Red Sox fan far from home, was hoping his team could shut out the Astros.

He too, was nervous — worried the Astros would outpitch the Sox.

“They have the pitching advantage,” he said.

Thursday, he was thinking back to the 2004 World Series, when the Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals, ending the Sox’s 86-year curse. It had been a chilly playoff season then. Whatever the outcome of Thursday’s game, he could happily savor it in Houston’s temperate autumn.

“It’ll be nice not to be freezing for playoff ball!” he said.

Inside the ballpark, orange-clad fans filled the stands, waiting for the game to begin, along with tens of thousands of others in bars and homes across the city.

They sat in nervous anticipation. Shortly after 7 p.m., Verlander walked to the mound.

It was gametime.

At home plate waited Mookie Betts, who’d robbed the Astros of that homerun on Wednesday.

Verlander wound up, knee kicking through the air, pulling his mitt to his chest, then uncoiled.

The ball sped toward home plate; Betts swung. The crowd roared.

st.john.smith@chron.com

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