HOUSTON – On Monday, an off day between Games 2 and 3 of the American League Championship Series, a new Instagram story appeared under the account of Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman. Behind a caption saying "lil pregame video work" flashed clips of Bregman and two Astros teammates smashing back-to-back-to-back homers off righthander Nathan Eovaldi, the Boston Red Sox's scheduled Game 3 starter, during a game in June.
To watch those videos in private for motivation and/or a mental refresher was reasonable, even smart practice for a hitter about to face a semi-familiar pitcher. But to post them to more than 400,000 followers, including countless members of the media, said a couple of things about Bregman: that he was brash and cocky, and that he couldn't fathom a scenario in which he would end up regretting the post — say, in the event the Astros lost and Bregman himself disappeared as an offensive factor.
And that, as it turns out, was a perfect description of Bregman, the face of the Astros this fall, in the stunned and sullen aftermath of their Game 5 loss to the Red Sox on Thursday night, the one that sent them packing and sent Boston to the World Series: still brash, still cocky, still unable to fathom the end of Houston's hopes of defending its 2017 title.
"They beat us," the 24-year-old Bregman said. "Do I think the better baseball team won? I don't know. I wouldn't have traded any of these guys for anybody over there."
Many around the game, even many outside their own clubhouse, believed the Astros were the most dangerous, most flawlessly constructed and most formidable team in baseball — right up until the moment when it was proved they weren't. And even then, the Astros weren't fully ready to admit what five games in October had settled.
"This team was better than last year's team, I believe," Bregman said. "But the ball's got to bounce your way in the postseason. We'll learn from it, and everyone in here will have a little bit of an edge, a little bit of a chip on our shoulder, knowing that we believe we should have been back-to-back champions."
As evidence of the sport's capricious ways, the Astros could point to all sorts of plays made and unmade, and calls that could have gone their way, but didn't: the controversial fan-interference call in right field in Wednesday night's Game 4 loss that took away a potential home run from Jose Altuve. The diving, game-saving catch that same night by Boston left fielder Andrew Benintendi, when a miss might have given Houston the victory. The high fly balls that seemed to die at the wall for the Astros, but sail over it for the Red Sox.
"I said it last year: To win the World Series, so much has to go your way," Houston pitcher Lance McCullers said. "… Baseball's so funny, man."
But it is also true that the Astros, at the worst possible moment, suffered a series of system failures and individual stumbles that hadn't happened in a long time, and that collectively led to four consecutive losses, including the last three at Minute Maid Park, a building in which they had gone 10-1 in four previous playoff series.
That included Bregman, who was conspicuous in the disappearance of Houston's offense over the series' final three games, during which the Astros scored only nine runs. Up until Game 3 — or, if you prefer, up until his fateful Instagram story — Bregman had been having a postseason for the ages, hitting .417 with two homers and four RBI and reaching base 17 times in 24 plate appearances. But in those last three losses, he went 2-for-12, reached base only four times and drove in only one run.
"This game is all about failure," Bregman said. "You've got to look in the mirror, get back up and get better."