Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 2, 2017

A Wild World Series Goes To The Astros

By Wednesday evening the baseball gods were obviously tired, which is understandable.  After all, producing all the drama, the unexpected twists and unlikely turns, the multiple moments of both glory and pathos that were packed into the first six games of this year’s World Series surely required enormous exertion, even for deities. So it was that the Houston Astros won a title for a city still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 in a game that for almost all of its three and one-half hours had a distinct air of anticlimax compared to the contests that came before it.

Game 7’s drama lasted all of three pitches. After looking at a ball and a strike, Houston’s George Springer ripped Yu Darvish’s third offering down the left field line. Had it stayed in the air for another few feet, the curling drive might have landed in foul ground. But to the everlasting joy of Astros fans and the eternal agony of Dodgers faithful, the ball hit in fair territory and bounded to the left field corner, as Springer raced to second with a leadoff double. Alex Bregman followed with a grounder that pulled first baseman Cody Bellinger well of the bag, and his throw to the covering Darvish sailed into the Houston dugout, scoring Springer and sending Bregman to second. He promptly stole third, and then scored on Jose Altuve’s groundout.

Before many in the capacity crowd at Dodger Stadium had found their seats, the Astros had all the runs they would need to lay claim to the Commissioner’s Trophy. They added a cushion in the 2nd, on an RBI groundout and a two-run homer by Springer. The Dodgers got on the board in the bottom of the 6th, but after Andre Ethier’s RBI single to right, the final eleven L.A. batters were retired in order by right hander Charlie Morton. Houston is the fourth stop on the veteran Morton’s journey through the majors. Originally drafted by Atlanta, he made his debut in June 2008 against the Angels. His catcher in that game was Brian McCann, and multiple teams later for both of them it was McCann who leapt into Morton’s arms to start the Astros’ celebration Wednesday night. Normally a starter, Morton was credited with the Game 7 win in his first relief appearance in nine years.

From the initial best-of-nine affair between the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1903, on down through the decades to now, the autumn of every year save two has brought fans the World Series. Only the haughty refusal of New York Giants’ owner John T. Brush to play the representative from the recently chartered American League in 1904, and the players’ strike ninety years later prevented the Series from taking place. Yet in all its previous one hundred twelve editions, through more than six hundred fifty games, in cliffhangers and blowouts and with all the randomness that the Great Game offers, it’s hard to imagine that any previous Series took both the participants and fans all across the country on quite the dizzying joyride that this Fall Classic did for six games, before its cut-and-dried finale.

In those first six contests ties were forged or the lead changed hands twenty-three times. Runs were scored both early and late, with the first team to score winning and losing three games each. The Dodgers’ Brandon Morrow pitched in every game. Through the first four games hitters managed a total of thirteen hits on two-strike counts. In a crazy Game 5 L.A. batters managed ten such base knocks and Houston hitters added five more.

The statistical marvels didn’t end with Game 6. The final contest was the first Game 7 in history in which neither starter made it through three innings. Lance McCullers Jr., the Houston starter, became the first World Series pitcher to hit four batters. He also allowed three hits in just 2 1/3 innings, but somehow didn’t yield a single run. Morrow made a three-pitch appearance to maintain his perfect attendance record, only the second pitcher to do so in a seven game Series.

Game 1 was a pitcher’s duel, or as close to one as managers will allow in the playoffs these days, when even a dominant starter may not be left in beyond the 5th inning. Clayton Kershaw threw seven innings of one-run, three-hit ball while striking out eleven for the win. Dallas Keuchel was no slouch either, yielding three runs in 6 2/3. Game 6 was similar, with Justin Verlander allowing just two runs over six frames for Houston. But he was outdone by Rich Hill and a committee of Dodger relievers, who held the Astros to a single score. Both offenses had more to say in the other four contests, especially in Game 2 and Game 5, both of which went to extra innings.

Those two games defined this Series, and they did so by closely mirroring the current state of the Great Game at the major league level. In Game 2, Houston took an early lead before L.A. came back, first to tie and then to surge in front. The Astros returned the favor, knotting the score in the 9th before reclaiming the lead in the 10th. But the Dodgers struck right back, again tying things up in the bottom of the frame. In the 11th the Astros again moved ahead by two runs, and this time L.A. could only plate one in the bottom of the inning, finally falling by a score of 7-6. The teams combined for eight home runs in the game, a World Series record. Five of those came in the extra frames, a number never before reached in any big league game.

Game 5 ended with the football-like score of 13-12, again in Houston’s favor. This contest saw seven balls sail over the fence. The Dodgers led 4-0, 7-4, and 8-7, but were unable to hold those margins. Still L.A. didn’t quit. After falling behind by scores of 11-8 and 12-9 the Dodgers rallied for three in the 9th before finally succumbing in the 10th inning.

In the year of the dinger Houston and L.A. batters set a World Series mark with twenty-five home runs. Five of Houston’s fifteen homers came off the bat of Springer, who was named the Series MVP after he tied Reggie Jackson in 1977 and Chase Utley in 2009 for the most home runs in a Series.  Naturally when both teams’ hitters weren’t sending drives into the seats they were striking out, because that’s what players do now. Both squads struck out at higher than their regular season rates. Bellinger alone fanned seventeen times, and even MVP Springer started the Series with a four strikeout game.

If Springer was the hero for Houston, then Darvish filled the role of goat for L.A. Brought over from Texas at the trade deadline, he suffered through two dreadful starts. Matching a dubious record set by the Yankees’ Art Ditmar in 1960, Darvish failed to make it through two innings in either game. His ghastly 21.60 ERA was exactly what Ditmar posted decades earlier.

Finally, this Series left fans confused as to the fate of the infamous Sports Illustrated cover jinx. Three years ago, SI ran a cover story on the way the Astros were building a franchise for the future. The cover predicted a World Series title for Houston in 2017, and even featured Springer at the plate in the cover photo. Were the jinx in place, that should have resulted in the Astros losing 100-plus games this season. Instead it proved prescient. On the other hand, earlier this season SI’s cover story asked whether the Dodgers were “The Best Team Ever?” In the end, the answer to that was, nope. Still while fans in Houston prepare for Friday’s parade, Dodger loyalists can take heart. The first 2018 World Series odds out of Las Vegas list L.A. as the 6-1 favorite. Only 104 days until pitchers and catchers report.

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Responses

  1. Nice wrap up, Mike.
    Ω

    • Thanks Allan. It was fun to watch. Also, since I didn’t have a dog in the hunt, much less stressful to watch for me than for a very good friend who happens to be a lifelong Dodgers fan!

      M-

      Michael Cornelius
      603.498.527
      http://www.onsportsandlife.com


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