US Forging Ahead With Airport Facial Recognition

Date: March 12, 2019

Plans to bring facial recognition to major U.S. airports by 2021 are on a fast flight path, despite concerns about the new technology’s readiness.

President Trump in 2017 issued an executive order expediting the deployment of biometric verification of the identities of all travelers crossing U.S. borders. It stipulates that facial recognition identification be used in the top 20 U.S. airports for “100 percent of all international passengers,” including American citizens, by 2021.dhs is accelerating its plans to implement airport facial id despite privacy objections

The mandate to accelerate the timeline for implementation of a biometric system initially was signed into law by President Obama.

Critics have cited questionable biometric confirmation rates and the lack of adequate legal guidelines as potential hurdles to adoption of the facial recognition plan.

Nevertheless, the United States Department of Homeland Security is rushing to get those systems up and running at airports across the country, according to leaked documents obtained by the nonprofit research organization Electronic Privacy Information Center.

DHS is doing so in the absence of proper vetting or regulatory safeguards, and in defiance of the law, according to some privacy advocates.

EPIC on Monday made public a 346-page document revealing that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been scrambling to implement a “biometric entry-exit system.” The goal is to have the facial recognition technology in place within two years.

The system would scan travelers’ faces aboard 16,300 flights per week. That process will involve more than 100 million passengers traveling on international flights out of the United States.

A component of this technology makes identification and protection easier, but there is also the potential for mistakes, suggested David Katz, a partner at Adams and Reese.

“We have to balance the possibility for a false positive or a mistake in identification against the security the technology ultimately provides to the larger population,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Muddled Flight Plan

The released documents explicitly state that no limits exist on how partnering airlines can use this facial recognition data. They do not clarify whether any guidelines exist for how other technology companies involved in processing the data potentially could use it.

During a data privacy meeting last December, CBP altered a previous condition by limiting participating companies from using the data, according to the documents, although how it would enforce that new rule is unclear.

There is no explanation of CBP’s current policies around data sharing of biometric information with participating companies and third-party firms. The documents note that CBP retains photos of non-U.S. citizens departing the country for up to 14 days. That holding period is for “evaluation of the technology” and “assurance of the accuracy of the algorithms.” It is unclear whether CBP intends to use retained photos for further training of its facial matching artificial intelligence.

CBP skipped portions of a critical “rule-making process” requiring the agency to solicit public feedback before adopting technology intended to be broadly used on civilians, the documents suggest. This is a touchpoint for privacy advocates concerned about the potential for privacy, surveillance and free speech violations that might result from the facial scanning technology.

It poses concerns, because facial recognition technology currently is troubled by issues of inaccuracy and bias, according to a Buzzfeed report on the documents provided by EPIC.

For example, the American Civil Liberties Union last summer reported that Amazon’s facial recognition technology falsely matched 28 members of Congress with arrest mugshots. Those false matches were disproportionately people of color.

No Rules, No Oversight

Facial recognition technology is already in use in 17 international airports, including Atlanta, New York City, Boston, San Jose, Chicago and two in Houston. It appears the U.S. government is working quickly to get it into every major airport in the country.

The U.S. has no laws governing the use of facial recognition. No courts have ruled on whether it could be considered an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment.

The accelerated deployment time might create more problems than it solves. According to the leaked documents, CBP wants facial recognition at “initial operating capability” by year’s end. The agency wants to use it for as many as 30 international flights across more than a dozen U.S. airports per day.

Rapid Deployment Planned

CBP began its first pilot for facial recognition technology in airports in 2016 at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Once a day, for a flight from Atlanta to Tokyo, CBP officers biometrically matched passengers’ passport photos to real-time photographs. The pilot program involved all passengers between the ages of 14 and 79.

CBP three months later switched to a daily flight from Atlanta to Mexico City. By late 2016, CBP was running tests on an average of seven flights per week, according to the Buzzfeed report on the leaked documents.

CBP added more international airport locations in 2017. The number running the facial recognition technology now stands at 17 airports with three more in the planning stages.

During its 2017 expansion, CBP replaced its Departure Information System with a more advanced automated matching system, the Traveler Verification Service (TVS). It could be used in a virtual, cloud-based infrastructure capable of temporarily storing images and operating via a wireless network, according to the CPB documents. The new system automatically could transmit confirmation of a biometric match across other DHS systems once a passenger boarded a plane.

The goal for the rapidly expanding facial recognition sites was to further assess facial matching technology as a viable solution, according to the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit of the government’s facial recognition biometrics program published last year. CBP concluded from those tests that facial recognition technology was the best operationally feasible and traveler-friendly option for a comprehensive biometric solution.

Flaw-Riddled Results – or Not

The OIG audit provides a questionable track record for facial recognition accuracy. It covers the time the TVS was in use, from August to December 2017.

The field test results were unclear:

  • CBP was able to provide biometric confirmation for only 85 percent of passengers processed;
  • Its matches for certain age groups and nationalities were inconsistent;
  • Its recognition of Mexican and Canadian citizens were notably problematic;
  • CBP did not previously establish a reliable algorithm for photo matching.

The low confirmation rate poses questions about CBP’s ability to meet its deadline to confirm all foreign departures at the top 20 U.S. airports by fiscal year 2021, according to the audit.

Confirmation rates for CBP’s biometric exit system since have risen to 98.6 percent, according to an agency spokesperson.

Benefits Outweigh Risks?

Facial recognition technology can bolster passenger safety by removing threats. It can be an effective way to vet international travelers prior to their entry into the U.S.

“When utilized in collaboration with international law enforcement agencies or in conjunction with other private data sources, [it] has great potential to stop individuals who have been previously identified as bad actors by law enforcement from entering the country,” Adams and Reese’s Katz said.

In general, facial recognition can be more reliable than human beings performing similar functions, especially when an individual already has been identified by another source, he added.

Facial recognition technology represents a new wave of identity and authentication solutions. International travelers will be able to authenticate their identities much more easily when passing through Customs, according to attorney David Reischer, CEO of LegalAdvice.com.

“There will be no more searching for a passport and digging through pockets at check-in to show your boarding pass,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Going forward, a person’s face will be their passport. Travelers will now be able to access lounge and VIP facilities without having to show a membership card or a boarding pass. Airlines will be better able to personalize VIP services they provide.”

Problems Aplenty

Privacy advocates maintain that Fourth Amendment prohibition of unlawful searches should limit the government from scanning, recording, matching and saving a person’s face in a massive federal database, noted Reischer.

“The right to privacy should prevent an unlawful scanning of a person’s face to be collected and saved in a central repository owned by the government,” he said. “There are legitimate concerns of a mass surveillance state developing, whereby an individual’s biometric data is obtained without a legitimate purpose.”

The two fundamental arguments consistently heard over the years against the use of biometric methods of identification — not just facial recognition — have focused on governmental abuse of power and the inherent risk of compromise, noted Matan Scharf, senior security solutions manager at Synopsys.

The first leaves the question of biometric identification open to debate, as to whether it is beyond the minimum required for effective boarder control. The second is the lucrative target for hackers the government’s plan could provide.

“Private information might be exposed in such a scenario, in which an individual can have their privacy completely destroyed without the ability to recover,” Scharf told TechNewsWorld.

Safe but Troublesome

Facial recognition, like most biometric methods of identification, has the inherent advantage of being considered relatively safe. It is hard to fool or circumvent, Scharf warned.

Concerns revolve more around how the technology is applied than its actual use. For instance, the different methods used for facial recognition vary in the level of integrity that they offer, such as the differences between a simple image and an infrared image. Some are easier to fool than others, he pointed out.

The most interesting advantage of the currently selected technology is that it is the only biometric identification method in which the sample, or the input used (that is, the person’s photo), has an inherent mechanism for self-destruction — aging.

“In that sense, compared to the current use of fingerprint scanners, this is a more privacy-enabling solution,” said Scharf.

Growing Public Approval

The general public may be more willing to forego privacy concerns over safety and convenience issues, a recent Acuant survey shows. Among its findings:

  • Nearly a quarter of Americans (23 percent) who had ever been to an airport admitted to boarding a plane with nothing more than a credit card in place of an official, TSA-approved photo ID card.
  • Fifty-nine percent thought that using biometrics when passing through TSA checkpoints would make flying safer — by increasing identification accuracy, for example.
  • Almost half (46 percent) said they would feel safe and comfortable using ePassports — that is, passports with biometric information.
  • Forty-five percent said they would be on board with using a digital ID, and 43 percent said they would be comfortable with retina scans to confirm their identity.

“Internationally, there are more use cases with biometrics in smart airports. There are more than 1 billion ePassports in service globally in more than 120 countries,” said Acuant CEO Yossi Zekri.

“Today this is mainly manifesting as a more expedient boarding process via eGates that use this technology, with the U.S. catching up with the rollout and trial of these gates,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The current controversy is focused on security and border control. However, there also is potential to use biometric technology to enhance the personal traveler journey by creating more customized retail opportunities, Zekri pointed out, and offering conveniences that perhaps seem out of a sci-fi movie today, but easily could be tomorrow’s reality.

What Do Privacy Advocates Want?

Travelers must be allowed to consent to their faces being scanned, said LegalAdvice.com’s Reischer. Any data that is acquired by the government during such a scan should be deleted after it is determined not to fit a database of known criminals.

“There is no reason that the government should be allowed to keep a permanent record of a person’s face and other biometrics without their explicit consent,” he said.

What is needed is a much broader national dialogue about the government’s collection and use of biometric technologies, maintainted Adams and Reese’s Katz. At the highest levels of our government, there should be concern and conversation about how such technologies are managed.

It is important “to ensure individuals’ rights to privacy are maintained, even as we seek to leverage the benefits of these technologies for national security,” he said.

While the mandate was signed into law several years ago, the technology may not yet be strong enough to be held accountable for national security measures, said Larry Trowell, principal security consultant at Synopsys.

“Let’s take the iPhone facial recognition software as an example. When it first came out, Face ID was alarmingly simple to fool,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Apple has since strengthened the functionality, and hopefully that is exactly what the CPB is doing in testing their facial recognition technology.”

By: Jack M. Germain
Source: https://www.technewsworld.com/story/85893.html

Google: Security Keys Neutralized Employee Phishing

A YubiKey Security Key made by Yubico. The basic model featured here retails for $20.

Google has not had any of its 85,000+ employees successfully phished on their work-related accounts since early 2017, when it began requiring all employees to use physical Security Keys in place of passwords and one-time codes, the company told KrebsOnSecurity. Security Keys are inexpensive USB-based devices that offer an alternative approach to two-factor authentication (2FA), which requires the user to log in to a Web site using something they know (the password) and something they have (e.g., a mobile device).A Google spokesperson said Security Keys now form the basis of all account access at Google.“We have had no reported or confirmed account takeovers since implementing security keys at Google,” the spokesperson said. “Users might be asked to authenticate using their security key for many different apps/reasons. It all depends on the sensitivity of the app and the risk of the user at that point in time.”The basic idea behind two-factor authentication is that even if thieves manage to phish or steal your password, they still cannot log in to your account unless they also hack or possess that second factor.The most common forms of 2FA require the user to supplement a password with a one-time code sent to their mobile device via text message or an app. Indeed, prior to 2017 Google employees also relied on one-time codes generated by a mobile app — Google Authenticator.In contrast, a Security Key implements a form of multi-factor authentication known as Universal 2nd Factor (U2F), which allows the user to complete the login process simply by inserting the USB device and pressing a button on the device. The key works without the need for any special software drivers.Once a device is enrolled for a specific Web site that supports Security Keys, the user no longer needs to enter their password at that site (unless they try to access the same account from a different device, in which case it will ask the user to insert their key).U2F is an emerging open source authentication standard, and as such only a handful of high-profile sites currently support it, including Dropbox, Facebook, Github (and of course Google’s various services). Most major password managers also now support U2F, including Dashlane, Keepass and LastPass. Duo Security [full disclosure: an advertiser on this site] also can be set up to work with U2F.

The beauty of WebAuthn is that it eliminates the need for users to constantly type in their passwords, which negates the threat from common password-stealing methods like phishing and man-in-the-middle attacks.

With any luck, more sites soon will begin incorporating the Web Authentication API — also known as “WebAuthn” — a standard put forth by the World Wide Web Consortium in collaboration with the FIDO Alliance. The beauty of WebAuthn is that it eliminates the need for users to constantly type in their passwords, which negates the threat from common password-stealing methods like phishing and man-in-the-middle attacks.Currently, U2F is supported by Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. In both Firefox and Quantum (the newer, faster version of Firefox), U2F is not enabled by default. To turn it on, type “about:config” in the browser bar, type or paste “security.webauth.u2f” and double-click the resulting entry to change the preference’s value from “false” to “true.”Microsoft says it expects to roll out updates to its flagship Edge browser to support U2F later this year. According to a recent article at 9to5Mac.com,  Apple has not yet said when or if it will support the standard in its Safari browser.Probably the most popular maker of Security Keys is Yubico, which sells a basic U2F key for $20 (it offers regular USB versions as well as those made for devices that require USB-C connections, such as Apple’s newer Mac OS systems). Yubikey also sells more expensive U2F keys designed to work with mobile devices.If a site you frequent does not yet support WebAuthn, please consider hardening your login with another form of 2FA. Hundreds of sites now support multi-factor authentication. Twofactorauth.org maintains probably the most comprehensive list of which sites support 2FA, indexing each by type of site (email, gaming, finance, etc) and the type of 2FA offered (SMS, phone call, software token, etc.).In general, using SMS and automated phone calls to receive a one-time token is less secure than relying on a software token app like Google Authenticator or Authy. That’s because thieves can intercept that one-time code by tricking your mobile provider into either swapping your mobile device’s SIM card or “porting” your mobile number to a different device. However, if the only 2FA options offered by a site you frequent are SMS and/or phone calls, it is still better than simply relying on a password.While we’re on the subject of multi-factor authentication, I should note that Google now offers an extra set of security measures for all of its properties called Advanced Protection. Exactly how Google’s Advanced Protection works (and the trade-offs involved in turning it on) will likely be the subject of another story here, but Wired.com recently published a decent rundown about it. Incidentally, this article includes a step-by-step guide on how to incorporate Security Keys into Advanced Protection. I have been using Advanced Protection for several months now without any major issues, although it did take me a few tries to get it set up correctly. One frustrating aspect of having it turned on is that it does not allow one to use third-party email applications like Mozilla’s Thunderbird or Outlook. I found this frustrating because as far as I can tell there is no integrated solution in Gmail for PGP/OpenGPG email message encryption, and some readers prefer to share news tips this way. Previously, I had used Thunderbird along with a plugin called Enigmail to do that.

Ref: https://krebsonsecurity.com/2018/07/google-security-keys-neutralized-employee-phishing/

By: Krebs on Security

Graphair – Water Purification Revolution?

Graphair, a specially designed form of graphene, seems to supercharge water purification according to a research team in Australia.

Using their own specially designed form of graphene, ‘Graphair’, CSIRO scientists have supercharged water purification, making it simpler, more effective and quicker.

The new filtering technique is so effective, water samples from Sydney Harbour were safe to drink after passing through the filter.

Dr. Dong Han Seo in Sydney

The breakthrough research was published today in Nature Communications.

“Almost a third of the world’s population, some 2.1 billion people, don’t have clean and safe drinking water,” the paper’s lead author, CSIRO scientist Dr Dong Han Seo said.

“As a result, millions – mostly children – die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene every year.

“In Graphair we’ve found a perfect filter for water purification. It can replace the complex, time consuming and multi-stage processes currently needed with a single step.”

While graphene is the world’s strongest material and can be just a single carbon atom thin, it is usually water repellent.

Using their Graphair process, CSIRO researchers were able to create a film with microscopic nano-channels that let water pass through, but stop pollutants.

As an added advantage Graphair is simpler, cheaper, faster and more environmentally friendly than graphene to make.

It consists of renewable soybean oil, more commonly found in vegetable oil.

Looking for a challenge, Dr Seo and his colleagues took water samples from Sydney Harbour and ran it through a commercially available water filter, coated with Graphair.

Researchers from QUT, the University of Sydney, UTS, and Victoria University then tested and analysed its water purification qualities.

The breakthrough potentially solves one of the great problems with current water filtering methods: fouling.

Over time chemical and oil based pollutants coat and impede water filters, meaning contaminants have to be removed before filtering can begin. Tests showed Graphair continued to work even when coated with pollutants.

Without Graphair, the membrane’s filtration rate halved in 72 hours.

When the Graphair was added, the membrane filtered even more contaminants (99 per cent removal) faster.

“This technology can create clean drinking water, regardless of how dirty it is, in a single step,” Dr Seo said.

“All that’s needed is heat, our graphene, a membrane filter and a small water pump. We’re hoping to commence field trials in a developing world community next year.”

CSIRO is looking for industry partners to scale up the technology so it can be used to filter a home or even town’s water supply.

It’s also investigating other applications such as the treatment of seawater and industrial effluents.

Source: https://www.csiro.au/en/News/News-releases/2018/Tiny-membrane-makes-Sydney-Harbour-drinkable

Astros win 1st World Series in franchise History!

LOS ANGELES — The Houston Astros are all alone in the baseball stratosphere, coming through just when their city needed them most.

Just a little more than two months ago, the Astros were displaced, disconsolate and helpless, grieving that they could not do more for a city ravaged by Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. All the Astros could do then was play baseball, to give their fans common cause and a little distraction. All they can do now is revel in the first World Series title in the history of both the city and the state. It seems like so much.

Astros win Game 7! David J. Phillip/AP

“Our team believed in each other all year,” World Series MVP George Springer said. “And through the good times and the bad times, through a rough stretch in August, to getting down 3-2 against a very good New York team [in the American League Championship Series], there’s a lot of things that happened. I’m so happy to be a part of it to bring a championship back to a city that desperately needed one. It is a surreal feeling.”

In one of the most dramatic World Series ever, the Astros sucked the air out of Dodger Stadium from the outset. They jumped on Los Angeles Dodgers starter Yu Darvish for five early runs and then cruised to a 5-1 clincher on Wednesday, the first World Series Game 7 at Dodger Stadium.

As he has done so many times during his spectacular young career, Springer sparked it all, leading off the game with a double and scoring on Cody Bellinger’s throwing error. Then he broke the game open in the second inning with a cometlike homer to left-center that gave Houston a five-run lead. No team had ever overcome a deficit that large in a winner-take-all World Series game. Lance McCullers Jr. and the bullpen — led by a heroic four-inning effort from Charlie Morton to finish the game — made sure that stat remained in effect.

“When the stage got big and the anxiousness started, you just rely on your guys,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “George, as [the leadoff hitter], when he goes, we all go. And I think that was seen the rest of the Series; when he got going, it gets pretty scary. He can do a ton of damage. He’s at the top of the lineup for a reason.”

 

George Springer celebrates hitting his fifth home run of the World Series to help deliver Houston’s Game 7 win. David J. Phillip/AP

Springer became the first player with homers in four straight games in one World Series. He tied Reggie Jackson (1977) and current Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley (2009) with five homers in one Fall Classic. He also set a new World Series mark with 29 total bases. All this after his rough start in the Series led to some in the media worrying if his swing had gone wrong.

Clearly not. After the game, Springer was crowned World Series MVP — an award now named after Willie Mays, another center fielder, whom Springer used to imitate.

“I used to go in the backyard with my dad and he would hit me fly balls and I’d pretend to be him,” Springer said. “I would pretend to be Willie Mays. And to earn this is great. It’s an honor. But it’s not about me. It’s about the team and what the team has done tonight.”

Almost all the young Astros’ stars contributed to their historic win. Alex Bregman scored a run and made a couple of nifty defensive plays. Jose Altuve drove in a run on a groundout. McCullers pitched around some early command troubles — he hit a postseason record four batters — and drove in a run at the plate. Carlos Correa singled off of Clayton Kershaw.

Thus completes the rapid rise of a franchise only three years removed from the third of three straight 100-loss seasons, one of the worst trios of campaigns any franchise has ever had. Houston becomes the fourth team to go from 100 losses to a title within five seasons, joining last year’s Chicago Cubs.

But with the losses came draft picks, international signings, upgraded developmental processes — all conducted under the cutting-edge baseball operations machine headed up by general manager Jeff Luhnow and put into action under Hinch.

But suffice to say, the Astros are all grown up.

The Lone Star State has its first World Series champion, as the Astros climb to the top of the baseball world for the first time in their 56 years of existence. When you add in the Texas Rangers’ 46 years without a title, the combined drought was even longer than the one the Cubs broke last season. But in the end, the Astros got there before the Rangers, and in a spirited intrastate rivalry, that means a lot too.

The folks in Houston continue to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated parts of the city and surrounding areas with record flooding at the end of August. They’ll be dealing with it for a long time to come. The storm forced the Astros to relocate a three-game series against the Rangers to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. The players, some with families stranded by the catastrophe, struggled to focus on the games at hand and let it be known they wanted to get home as soon possible to do what they could to help the community.

“I’ll tell a quick story about Jose, who was separated from his family. A lot of guys, a lot of our families, some were with us, some weren’t,” Hinch said. “Jose came up to me and asked how long he would have to play like this, with his family back in Houston, getting surrounded by water.

“They were safe but scared. It’s not easy to ask your players, ‘Jose, now, go out and get your normal two and three hits. Be the 3-hole hitter. Play hard. And deliver us a win.’ And we did. We won a couple of games along that stretch. But if you want to humanize baseball, look at that story.”

Sylvester Turner, mayor of Houston, was adamant that a return by the Astros would be a big step toward a return to normalcy, so the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park two days after the side trip to St. Petersburg. Hinch addressed the fans before the first game back, saying, “Hello, Houston. It’s good to be home.”

After a torrid first half of the season, the Astros also had been in a funk on the field, with injuries to several pitchers and star shortstop Correa. But things started turning around even before the end of the homecoming series, just one week after Harvey.

That’s because Justin Verlander joined the Astros that weekend, acquired by the team from the Detroit Tigers seconds before the Aug. 31 trade deadline. Verlander’s presence boosted the Astros down the stretch as they recorded 101 regular-season wins, and he played a crucial role in the postseason with his ALCS MVP performance against the Yankees.

Verlander was the final piece for a team that had constructed baseball’s most dynamic core of young offensive talent. It was a piece the Astros needed, because the margin between them and the Dodgers was razor-thin.

“This was a great Series between two 100-win teams, two great teams, two great offenses, two great defenses, two great pitching staffs and two great pens,” Springer said. “The wildness of this Series, the wackiness of this Series, the emotional ups and downs, being able to play in this is something that I will never, ever forget. Even if this is the only time I will ever get here.

“And that’s a good team over there. I don’t expect them to go anywhere anytime soon. I’d expect them to be competing for a world championship for years to come.”

The champion Astros began to form in 2010, when Jim Crane purchased the team from Drayton McLane and agreed to allow Major League Baseball to move the team to the American League West. Then Luhnow took over in 2011 and modernized the organization, while committing to a total rebuild from the bottom up.

And we do mean bottom. From 2011 to 2013, the Astros lost 324 games. The only teams to lose that many over a three-year span were the 1962-64 New York Mets and the 1915-17 Philadelphia Athletics, a victim of Connie Mack’s decision to sell off all the useful parts from his 1914 AL pennant winner.

Altuve was first called up to the majors in 2011 to join the first of those 100-loss teams. He, more than anyone, can appreciate how the Astros grew into champions.

“I believed in what Jeff Luhnow and Jim Crane used to talk to me, ‘Hey, we’re going to be good. We’re going to be good,’” Altuve said. “Then OK, let me keep working hard. Let me get better every year and try to be part of the winning team. I always believed that we’re going to become good. Then I saw Springer get drafted, Correa and Bregman, and I was like, ‘OK, here we go.'”

By 2015, the Astros’ reconstruction efforts had them back in the postseason. But that run only added to a franchise legacy for postseason near misses — dating through the years of Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott in the 1980s and the Killer B’s era of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell in the 1990s and early 2000s. The 2015 Astros’ five-game loss to the Kansas City Royals in the AL Division Series included a squandered 6-2 lead in Game 4.

That history would have added a new chapter had Houston dropped Game 7. Instead, those old books can be chucked into Buffalo Bayou. This team has come a long way in 56 years. Heck, they’ve come a long way in two months.

“The baseball was important,” Hinch said. “We were chasing the pennant. This is a team that wanted to win the division. We’d been knocked out of the division a couple of years in a row. But we never lost perspective of what was important.

“I saw these guys at the community center the day off that the Mets gave us on Friday night [after our return to Houston]. I saw these guys do good deeds for people as they started to rebuild the city. And I think that’s why the city fell in love with this team all over again. That’s why we had that Houston Strong strength that carried us a long way.”

There were no shortcuts. There was plenty of pain, and maybe a few too many losses. But who could argue now whether it was worth it? Well, maybe a few Rangers fans, but that’s about it.

“This year in spring training I realized this is the team,” Altuve said. “It’s something in our clubhouse, a lot of chemistry, good relationships between players, coaches, with everybody. I was like, OK, I believed it was the year. Everybody did it, and now we’re here.”

This group has grown from historically bad to historically good. The city around the team has grown into the nation’s fourth largest and is projected to soon surpass Chicago for No. 3.

That weekend two months ago, when the Astros returned home, their downtown neighborhood looked no worse for the wear. The flooding had not been bad in that district, and there were only hints of storm damage here and there. But one thing served as a stark reminder that the city was in distress and that beyond downtown, many were suffering: There were almost no people around, save for those who had sought shelter at the local convention center.

The scene could not have been more different last week when Houston played host to Games 3, 4 and 5 — the last the classic 13-12 victory that cemented this World Series’ status as an all-timer. The streets were alive with orange-wearing fans.

A few days later, as the Astros celebrated in the bowels of Dodger Stadium, those streets remained alive.

And for the first time in the state of Texas, they are dancing to the beat of a brand-new baseball champion.

By: Bradford Doolittle : ESPN Staff Writer

Source: http://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/84360/houston-strongest-after-more-than-a-half-century-astros-win-first-world-series-title

ALCS Game 7: Astros headed to World Series after defeating Yankees!

HOUSTON – Not long ago, when the Houston Astros were in the midst of losing more than 105 games in three consecutive seasons, when their local TV ratings were literally 0.0, when they were tanking to win before it was cool, they believed this day would arrive. Certainly they hoped the path would come easier than this, a seven-game torture rack of an American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees that stretched them to their limits. That was fine. They had lived through worse.Altuve & Gurriel - Houston Astros

The losing, the rebuilding, the devastation dealt to this city by Hurricane Harvey – all of it made their 4-0 victory Saturday night to advance to the World Series that much more special, that much more resonant. The home team won all seven games of the series, and in front of 43,201 orange-clad rowdies at Minute Maid Park, the Astros outpitched, outhit and altogether outplayed the Yankees to win their second consecutive elimination game.

Houston will face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, with Dallas Keuchel set to oppose Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 on Tuesday at 8:10 p.m. ET. The Yankees will head home heartened by an advance deep into the playoffs a year ahead of their expected resurgence but disappointed by the missed opportunities to close out Houston in Games 6 and 7.

Fantastic though the Astros’ pitching was in the clincher, with starter Charlie Morton spinning five shutout innings and starter-playing-reliever Lance McCullers Jr. blanking the Yankees over the last four, the game hinged on a perfect play at the plate and turned for good when the catcher who made it came through with the bat, too.

That the Yankees are paying part of Brian McCann’s salary for the Astros this year was only rubbing alcohol in the deep cuts he inflicted on New York. The first came in the fifth inning, with Morton wobbling and the Yankees threatening following an Evan Gattis home run that had staked Houston a 1-0 lead. With Greg Bird on third, Todd Frazier dribbled a ball to the left side. Alex Bregman wheeled toward home with what looked like an ill-advised throw, but he feathered it in to the perfect spot, where McCann scooped it and held a tag on Bird, whose spike dug into McCann’s forearm. He was out. Morton escaped.

In the bottom of the fifth, Jose Altuve, the heart of this Astros team, who played on the 106-loss team of 2011, the 107-loss team of 2012 and the 111-loss team of 2013, homered off Tommy Kahnle, who had relieved Yankees starter CC Sabathia after 3 1/3 innings. Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel singled, putting runners on first and third for McCann.

The Yankees had dealt him to Houston in the offseason, a time in which the Astros prioritized adding to their phenomenal young core with veterans. In Altuve, they had an MVP-type player – and he is the favorite to win the award this year. In Correa, they had turned the No. 1 overall draft pick into among the most talented young shortstops in the last two decades. In Keuchel and McCullers, they had a pair of homegrown pitchers with frontline stuff. McCann, 33, would be a complementary piece.

He found himself center stage in Game 7, crushing a Kahnle changeup into the right-field corner. Correa scored easily. Gurriel, for years the best player in Cuba, a late defector because of his family’s close relationship with top governmental figures, raced around third and slid headfirst into home. It was 4-0.

The Yankees had escaped a similar deficit four days earlier, when they scored six unanswered off the Astros’ beleaguered bullpen. Hinch didn’t bother going to it in Game 7. If Morton’s five shutout innings were the appetizer, McCullers’ four were the main course, and the Astros were happy to eschew dessert. In the ninth, he retired Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez and Bird to secure the save and the AL pennant.

And with that, the plan of Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ general manager, had come full course. He took over following the 106-loss season and refashioned the Astros, an antiquated organization, into a finely tuned machine of analytical excellence. There was nothing the Astros wouldn’t study, no traditional thought they wouldn’t test just to see if it was wrong. They were The Process before The Process.

They made mistakes along the way, whiffing on draft picks and rankling some across the game with their unorthodoxy, but their willingness to adapt – and make against-type moves, like the acquisition of the vital Justin Verlander on the Aug. 31 trade deadline – buoyed them. And now they’re headed to the World Series to try and win the first championship in franchise history, ready to take on a Dodgers team that hasn’t won since 1988 but ran roughshod through the National League, making mincemeat of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs along the way.

The Astros’ road was tougher. They wouldn’t have it any other way.

By: Jeff Passon – Yahoo Sports

Source: https://www.yahoo.com/sports/alcs-game-7-astros-headed-world-series-defeating-yankees-031906032.html