HOUSTON -- There have been other natural disasters since Hurricane Harvey, of course. The attention of the country and the world have shifted their attention to other places, other disasters, which seem to come, out of the earth and out of the sky, with a frightening regularity.
There is a devastating earthquake now in Mexico and more than 200 have died there. Florida is still recovering from Hurricane Irma even as a new and terrible storm, Maria, follows Irma, and the images and coverage on Wednesday morning show Maria's relentless attack on Puerto Rico.
But in Houston, where Harvey put parts of a great American city underwater back when the intense focus of the country and the relief efforts and the donations was here, when we were all inspired by the lines of people volunteering to help, the recovery goes on.
Even now, there are still big hotels off the Katy Freeway that remain closed because of the effects of the storm. "Flooded out," a man says on Tuesday night, standing near what was supposed to be the front entrance of an Omni International.
The next morning, you awaken in Houston to stories on the local news about the record numbers of people still needing the assistance of the Houston Food Bank, at the same time coverage is dominated by the stories of the earthquake in Mexico, the devastation and death attendant to a school collapse.
So the world's attention does move on to other tragedies and other disasters. But Houston still deals with the effects of its own disaster. Continues to rebuild and recover from Harvey. If life in areas of the city is not the same and will never be the same, at least there is a return to normalcy. And as that happens, there has even been a return to normalcy around the Astros, a wonderful baseball team which became a welcome part of the relief effort here just because the team came back to Houston and baseball came back as the city began to come back.
Again: The Astros didn't change what Harvey did to Houston. Didn't save a life or repair a home. The Astros just did what sports can sometimes do at times like this, in places like this. They just produced some normalcy for a few hours a day. Provided a welcome distraction. They made people cheer. It's always a good thing when it happens this way. And come October, it could become a great thing as this young and entertaining team tries to win the first World Series in the franchise's history. And tries, in its own world, to show its own resiliency.
The Indians, who have been the hottest team in the world lately, try to bring their own great sports moment to Cleveland, which finally won a championship again because of LeBron James. But if the Astros of October really are the Astros of April and May, as they were on their way to beginning the season with a record of 42-16, they would provide the single greatest sports moment in their own city's history.
For now, the Astros are locked in a race with the Indians, who just won 22 in a row, for the best record in the American League, one game separating them in the loss column as they entered Wednesday's games. And as good as the Astros are again, as Carlos Correa comes back and Jose Altuve tries to get more hits than anybody -- again -- as he solidifies his candidacy for the AL MVP Award, they might be better than they were early in the season, and that is because of Justin Verlander.
Because, as the Astros now play baseball again the way they did when they were the best team in the game, Verlander has gone back to looking like the pitcher he once was with the Tigers, when he was the best pitcher in the game.
Verlander was pitching like a complete star again in Detroit, even for a lost team, before the Astros traded for him. Dallas Keuchel once again looks like the kind of ace himself who went into Yankee Stadium in the 2015 AL Wild Card Game and shut down the Yankees on his way to shutting them out.
"There's nothing too different now from the Dallas Keuchel of 2015," Astros manager A.J. Hinch was quoted as saying the other day.
Keuchel is healthy again, and getting ground balls again. Verlander is throwing fastballs past the world. There is a lot of star pitching on its way to the playoffs, especially in the AL. But when you look at a best-of-five Division Series, you always look at the basic matter of who is going to pitch Game 1 and Game 2 for your team. Games 1 and 2 for the Astros are a glory-days Verlander, who has won an AL Cy Young Award, and Keuchel, who has won one as well. There will be other 1-2 punches in October. Not one, in the whole sport, will be better than the right-left combination the Astros will throw at somebody, either the winner of the AL Wild Card Game or the winner of the AL East.
Nobody wanted to play the Astros early. Nobody will want to play them late. It no longer matters the way they looked in August, when they were 11-17 and people started to give up on them, and all the talk in Houston and around baseball was that the team's general manager, Jeff Luhnow, who has done such fine and lasting work assembling this team, hadn't made the kind of big play at the end of July that other contenders had made, particularly the Yankees on their coast and the Dodgers on theirs.
Then, as August was ending, Luhnow went and got Verlander, as important an in-season deal as the Astros have ever made -- and they have made some beauties in their history, from Randy Johnson to Carlos Beltran. They have brought in star pitchers before, everybody knows that. In 2005, behind Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, the Astros made it to their first World Series, where they lost to the White Sox. Now, with Verlander and Keuchel at the top of their rotation, with the rest of the team once again playing at the top of its game, the Astros try to shoot the moon and win it all.
When Verlander finally made his Minute Maid Park debut in an Astros uniform, he dominated the Mariners and the Astros clinched the AL West title.
"Did you expect anything less?" Hinch said that day. "The story is almost too good to be true. We traded for him for this exact reason, to come up in big moments. He was locked in from the very beginning. There's nobody better to have on the mound and nobody better to celebrate with."
The Astros look to do more now. They look to finish this season the way they started. The baseball team carries momentum with it towards October. More importantly, it brings hope.