LOS ANGELES—From laughingstock to lift-off.
George Springer and the Houston Astros rocketed to the top of the baseball galaxy last night, winning the first World Series championship in franchise history by romping past the L.A. Dodgers 5-1 in Game 7.
Playing for a city still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, and wearing an “H Strong” logo on their jerseys, the Astros brought home the prize that had eluded them since they started out in 1962 as the Colt .45s.
“I always believed that we could make it,” said all-star slugger Jose Altuve.
“We did this for them.”
For a World Series that was shaping up as an October classic, Game 7 quickly became a November clunker as Houston scored five runs in the first two innings off Yu Darvish.
Hardly the excitement fans felt during the Cubs' 10-inning thriller in Cleveland last fall.
Well, except for everyone wearing bright orange. Back in Houston, a huge crowd filled Minute Maid Park to cheer as fans watched on the big video board—and the train whistle wailed when it was over.
“We're coming home a champion, Houston,” Springer said after accepting the World Series MVP trophy named this year for Willie Mays.
Star shortstop Carlos Correa turned the party into a proposal. After doing a TV interview, he got down on one knee and asked girlfriend Daniella Rodriguez, a former Miss Texas USA, to marry him.
“Yes?” he said, putting a ring on her finger as she cried.
Altuve, one of four holdovers from a club that lost an embarrassing 111 times in 2013 after switching from the NL to the AL, and this collection of young stars silenced Dodger Stadium from the get-go by taking a 5-0 lead in the second inning.
Altuve was in perfect position for the final out—a grounder by Corey Seager to the 5'6" second baseman.
“I caught the last out for the Houston Astros to become a world champion,” he noted.
“It was a groundball to me, I threw to first, and I think it was the happiest moment of my life in baseball.”
The Astros streamed from the dugout and bullpen to go wild.
A thousand or so fans crowded behind the first base dugout, chanting “Hou-ston! Hou-ston!”
At last, they had completed the ascent some predicted after a rebuilding club purged payroll and stripped down to bare bones a few years back.
Famously, now, there was the Sports Illustrated cover in 2014—after Houston had lost more than 100 games for three-straight seasons—that proclaimed: “Your 2017 World Series Champs” and featured a picture of Springer in a bright Astros' jersey.
On the other side, ace Clayton Kershaw and several Dodgers leaned against the dugout railing, watching the Astros celebrate.
L.A. led the majors with 104 regular-season wins and a $240-million payroll, and rallied to win Game 6, yet it didn't pay off for part-owner Magic Johnson and his team.
“Obviously, this one hurts," said manager Dave Roberts. ”And like I told the guys, when you put everything, every ounce of your being into something and you come up short, it hurts.
“And it's supposed to hurt.”
Normally a starter, Charlie Morton finished up with four stellar innings of relief for the win.
“We held down a really tough lineup," Morton noted. "For my teammates, for the city of Houston, it's just unbelievable.”
Springer led off the evening with a double against Darvish, and soon it was 2-0.
Springer hit his fifth homer—tying the Series mark set by Reggie Jackson (1977) and matched by Chase Utley (2009)—when he connected for a record fourth game in a row, making it a five-run lead.
That was plenty for Houston manager A.J. Hinch. He pulled starter Lance McCullers Jr. soon after the curve-baller crazily plunked his fourth batter of the game, and began a parade of four relievers that held the lead.
Throughout the post-season, Hinch and the unconventional Astros overcame a shaky bullpen by using starters in relief.
“I knew yesterday [Tuesday] I didn't have much,” admitted McCullers, the Game 3 winner.
“I knew I didn't have much to give other than to gut it out as long as I could.”
In a dramatic World Series marked by blown leads and late rallies, when Houston twice outlasted the Dodgers in extra innings, McCullers did enough.
Houston won 101 times during the regular season to take the AL West, then won Games 6 and 7 at home in the AL Championship Series against the N.Y. Yankees.
The Astros joined the 1985 Kansas City Royals as the only clubs to win a pair of Game 7s in the same year.
For the Dodgers, the quest to win a World Series title for the first time since 1988 fell short.
Kershaw provided four shutout innings of relief for L.A. but it was too late.
What the Dodgers really needed was a better starter than Darvish, someone more like the lefty who tossed out a ceremonial first ball: the great Sandy Koufax.
Acquired from Texas on July 31 for these big games, Darvish lasted just 1 2/3 innings in both his World Series starts—the two shortest of his career.