Game 7 of the World Series took 3 hours and 37 minutes, but the teams could have played just the first 150 seconds and the result would have been the same. Houston center fielder George Springer led off with a double and scored one pitch later on a Cody Bellinger throwing error, and Alex Bregman immediately added a second run after a stolen base and groundout. Those tallies were all the offense the Astros needed in their 5-1 win, which represented the least thrilling part of an otherwise electrifying series, but also the most satisfying game in Houston franchise history.
In their 56th year of existence, just a handful of seasons removed from three consecutive 100-plus-loss campaigns, the Astros are World Series winners for the first time. Justin Verlander and Carlos Beltrán have their long-elusive first rings, and the youthful core of José Altuve, Carlos Correa, Bregman, and Springer all possess what could become just the first piece of an impressive collection.
The best offense baseball has seen since the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees flummoxed the Dodgers’ pitching staff all series, and Wednesday night was no different. L.A. had allowed just eight runs over five games in its NLCS win against the Cubs, but no lineup in baseball can strike quicker, or with more volume, than Houston’s. With some offenses, you might blink and miss a run; with Houston’s, you’ll blink and miss five.
The Astros jumped on Dodgers starter Yu Darvish early in Game 7, with series MVP Springer both starting and capping the damage. Darvish has strangely always struggled against leadoff hitters, and Springer took advantage on Wednesday, lining a hanging slider down the left-field line on the game’s third pitch and then crushing a backbreaking, two-run homer in the second inning that sent Darvish to the showers.
Springer’s early-game success is typical of a player who epitomizes a new kind of leadoff hitter, who with equal facility can walk, run, and slug. He hit 34 homers and batted in 84 runs this year from the no. 1 spot in the order. Before 2017, only one leadoff man had ever reached those totals in a season (Alfonso Soriano, who managed the feat twice); this year alone, three—Springer, Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon, and Minnesota’s Brian Dozier—did so.
Still, dropping Springer in the order became an actual talking point earlier in this series. After routing Red Sox pitching to a .412/.474/.706 line in the ALDS, he struggled for the next two weeks. He hit just .115 with no extra-base hits against the Yankees in the ALCS, then struck out in all four of his Game 1 at-bats. After that performance, reporters asked Astros manager A.J. Hinch if he would consider demoting his center fielder; Hinch appropriately considered those suggestions absurd.
“I don’t really ride the roller coaster with players,” he said after Springer proved his critics wrong with three hits in Game 2. “You have to believe in what they can do, not what they’re doing. If you respond to every bad game or tough game, you’ll bounce these guys around and ruin their confidence in a heartbeat. This is one of our best players. And there’s no need to panic over a bad night against Clayton Kershaw.”
“He wasn’t broken, his swing is not bad, he’s not gone for the series,” Hinch added. “He had a bad night and came back with one of the best nights.”
Springer indeed came back with one of his best nights, and then another, and another. He knocked those three hits in Game 2, including the game-winning homer in the 11th inning, and slugged a leadoff double against Darvish in Game 3. Games 4 and 6 both brought Springer homers to break a pair of scoreless ties, and in Game 5, he tallied two hits, three walks, and three runs—including the longest homer of the World Series, a 448-foot blast off the Minute Maid Park train tracks that tied the score in the seventh inning of that seesaw affair.
“When things don’t start to go well, you tend to press,” Springer said. “You tend to do things that you wouldn’t normally do.” But after talking to the veteran Beltrán after his set of Game 1 strikeouts, he avoided those pitfalls in mind-set and decided instead to “enjoy the moment,” which freed him to hit like he had all season.
In all, he homered five times against the Dodgers, tying a World Series record, and tallied 29 total bases, setting a record all for himself. After Game 1, he hit .440/.533/1.160, and even some questionable defense couldn’t prevent him from nabbing the MVP award, which was named after Willie Mays for the first time.
“I used to go in the backyard with my dad, and he would hit me fly balls and I’d pretend to be Willie Mays,” Springer said. He then added that the team win was far more important than his individual one and gestured toward Altuve. “He’s gonna get the MVP of the league, so his [trophy] will be, like, this big,” Springer said, stretching his arms wide.
The man on the other side of Springer’s brilliance in Game 7 was Darvish, the Dodgers’ trade-deadline snag who lasted just 1 2/3 innings in each of his World Series starts. Darvish had allowed only one run each in his NLDS and NLCS starts, but he couldn’t find any sort of groove against Houston’s lively offense, and he ended the season on a sour note for both himself and his new team.
“I would like to come back in the World Series, and I want to pitch better,” Darvish said after the game.
Dodger Stadium’s architecture traps noise like air inside a neck-tied balloon, which causes every chant, cheer, and—theoretically—championship whoop to resound throughout the 56,000-seat bowl. No other ballpark in the majors hosts as many fans, and the outfield boasts two large video boards that stand tall behind the left- and right-field bleachers, sandwiching a large pole of speakers situated just past the 395-foot sign on the fence in straightaway center. And while that setup artificially amplifies the decibel level on all Jumbotron festivities—media members have complained about pregame noise all month—it also spins the crowd toward 11 when, say, Chris Taylor leads off the bottom of the first with a double.
But Lance McCullers, Houston’s Game 7 starter, struck out both Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger after Taylor reached and retired Joc Pederson on a bases-loaded groundout, and the Dodgers pattern was set. All night, L.A. threatened with men on base, and all night, it squandered opportunities to tighten Houston’s lead. The Dodgers hit 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 runners—tying the record for losing teams in a nine-inning Game 7.
The crowd still filled that bowl with all sorts of sound. They cheered and they booed—boy, when Yuli Gurriel occupied the batter’s box, they booed—and they stayed standing until the final, muted out of the franchise’s first World Series appearance in 29 years, and Dodger Stadium’s first World Series Game 7 ever. But for all the collective will summoned by the 54,124-person mass, Yasiel Puig’s third-inning flyout with two men on didn’t float even to the warning track, and Bellinger couldn’t help but flail at yet another back-foot knuckle-curve. Charlie Morton retired the last 11 batters he faced, and Houston’s nine tossed their gloves into the air, with Altuve and Correa then draping the flags of their respective birthplaces over their shoulders like Olympic track-and-field medalists. In the stands, the bright blue sea softened, and the fans trudged up the steps in—for once—silence.
Before Wednesday, more than half of winner-take-all World Series games had been decided by one or two runs, so this Game 7 served a relative anticlimax. Few series in Fall Classic history, though, have better captivated fan attention throughout. “This series was destined to go seven pretty much the whole time,” McCullers said after the Dodgers won Game 6. Each team staged thrilling comebacks, and each team blew incredible opportunities to seize control. The Dodgers were just three outs from a 2-0 series lead, then led by four runs with Clayton Kershaw—who threw four ultimately fruitless shutout innings in relief Wednesday—on the mound in a pivotal Game 5; the Astros were just seven outs from a 3-1 series lead, then led with Justin Verlander on the mound with a chance to clinch the series in Game 6.
Houston won’t mind the dramatic path it had to navigate. The team survived Game 7s in both the ALCS and World Series and won its first title ever, as the city won its first in a Big Three sport since the Rockets more than two decades ago. Springer was an elementary schooler then, when Hakeem Olajuwon and Co. won two consecutive trophies; now he’s the most valuable player on a new champion, with the potential for more in his immediate future. But that dynastic question is for Houston’s victorious front office and analytical staff. Springer can celebrate by raising his trophy to the sky.