By Rich Zwelling, Contributor
I had a moment of deja vu when I heard the Astros had a players-only meeting behind closed doors following Wednesday night's embarrassing 12-3 loss at home to the Washington Nationals.
It took me back to 1994, when I was 14 years old and had just watched the Houston Rockets drop two home games to go down 0-2 against Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns. Anyone living in Houston at the time remembers the feeling of watching the Rockets blow those two games. They coughed up 18- and 20-point leads, and my fellow middle-schoolers and I spent the next few days feeling depressed (and preparing ourselves for an offseason without a championship).
The fourth quarter of Game 2, in which the Rockets scored only 8 points, felt especially similar to Wednesday evening's 7th-inning disaster (the less said about that, the better).
What many don't remember, though, is that like the 2019 Astros, the 1994 Rockets also had a players' meeting behind closed doors.
I recalled this from my old VHS copy of "Hakeem the Dream," a commemorative video of center Hakeem Olajuwon's career from his days first learning basketball in Nigeria to his start at the University of Houston with Coach Guy Lewis and teammate Clyde Drexler and finally to his hall-of-fame career as a Top-20 all-time scorer and the all-time leader in shot blocks.
In the video, the late Hal Douglas -- whose voice you'll recognize from countless movie trailers and commercials, and whose career in my opinion reached its apex with the trailer of "Comedian" -- narrates and tells us about the brutal press the Rockets got following the losses, including the infamous "Choke City" headline. (Again, sound familiar?). Then, we hear Coach Rudy Tomjanovich recall that Olajuwon cut to the "crux of the situation" by asking the team whether they actually wanted to commit to coming back.
Of course, long-time Houston sports fans know what happened next. The Rockets were able to storm into Phoenix, win both games, and take the series in seven before going on to win the NBA Championship. Along the way, "Choke City" was rebranded "Clutch City."
The Rockets would again come back from 2-0 (and 3-1) down against Phoenix the very next year before winning the championship again. That 1995 championship was all the more improbable, since the Rockets were the sixth seed in the Western Conference. And that playoff run is arguably the greatest in NBA history (one that featured seven consecutive road wins).
So there is precedent. But there's an overriding theme to the above situations, and that's the underdog status. That's something the Astros haven't had in a very long time. But they sure do now, and they have a chance to embrace it. The data-driven fivethirtyeight.com now has the Nationals as 81 percent favorites. Maybe this is exactly what the Astros need as motivation.
Undoubtedly, similar words were spoken in that players-only meeting on Wednesday night to those spoken by the Rockets back in 1994. One would hope they were about getting back an edge, playing with a chip on their shoulders, having more fun just playing baseball, and remembering the hunger of chasing that first 2017 title.
Even though those 1994 Rockets were favored, they were considered down and out after losing two at home. The 1995 Rockets were underdogs all season. Now this Astros team knows what it's like to be playing from behind.
I know looking to the Yankees may not be fashionable, but let's remember the 1996 team that dropped its first two games in Yankee Stadium to the Braves. And they dropped them miserably (the scores were 12-1 and 4-0). Not only that, but 19-year-old Braves sensation Andruw Jones hit two home runs in his first two at-bats, not unlike 20-year-old Juan Soto crushing that bomb off of Gerrit Cole in Game 1 on Tuesday night.
The Yankees were then able to win all three games in Atlanta before closing out the series in Game 6 at home.
A stretch to think this is the same thing? Well, we'll see.
It's really up to the Astros bats, and we'll see if they emerge a new team on Friday night when they take the field at Nationals Park. The reason to be optimistic is that they can change the complexion of the series with just one win, and then they'd just need another at Nationals Park to ensure a return home for a Game 6.
Meanwhile, another fun fact:
Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander each won 20 games during the regular season and lost Games 1 and 2 of the World Series. The last time that happened? Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax for the Dodgers in the 1965 World Series against the Twins. And the result? The Dodgers came back to win in seven games!