Say goodnight to the bad guys: Astros fall short in Game 7

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Houston Astros Carlos Correa tosses his bat and has words with home plate umpire Lance Barksdale after striking out during the fourth inning in Game 7 of a baseball American League Championship Series, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

SAN DIEGO – The Houston Astros spent this odyssey of a season as baseball's biggest villains.

When Aledmys Diaz flied out with a runner on first to end Game 7 of the AL Championship Series, the bad guys finally lost.

Ridiculed, roasted and ripped all year long after the revelation of the franchise's sign-stealing tactics in previous seasons, the Astros still summoned enough October heart and poise to reach the brink of another World Series. Manager Dusty Baker's club even came agonizingly close to matching the biggest playoff comeback in baseball history in a wild ALCS.

“The legacy of this group is that these guys are ballplayers, and these guys are men," said Baker, who took over the team in January. “They’ve been through a whole bunch other than on the ballfield, and these guys can forget whatever problems that they’ve had that’s out there and come together as a group. These guys will be forever friends.”

Houston fell behind early and never caught up in a 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay in Game 7 on Saturday night, coming up short of an astonishing series comeback after three consecutive victories.

Although they couldn't quite conjure one more incredible postseason feat, this playoff run should be a source of pride for these Astros long after the boos stop.

If fans are allowed back in most stadiums in 2021, this tarnished franchise probably won't hear the end of 2020 anytime soon — but the Astros who return next season plan to greet the condemnation with the same mental toughness they demonstrated this month.

“I think we showed the kind of team we are,” said Lance McCullers Jr., who pitched four-hit ball into the fourth inning as the Game 7 starter.