You could call it the best World Series ever or one of the most heartbreaking, depending on who you root for. But the 2017 World Series was easily up there with the most exciting battles in the history of baseball and the pursuit of the Commissioner's Trophy.
After a seven-game, eight-day slugfest, the Houston Astros came out on top over the Los Angeles Dodgers, four games to three, giving the Astros and the City of Houston their first-ever baseball world championship.
On a night in which the Dodgers looked to double up on their Game 6 win at Dodger Stadium, the home team started Game 7 with a 2-0 deficit early. The 1st inning saw the Astros get on base immediately on a double from Astros outfielder George Springer. After that, a botched throw by Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger on second batter Alex Bregman's groundout sent Bregman to second base and Springer home to score the first run. Minutes later Jose Altuve grounded out, but his effort sent Bregman home, to notch up the score 2-0 to the Astros. The early contact spelled trouble for Dodgers starting pitcher Yu Darvish.
In the 2nd inning catcher Brian McCann would score the third run, and with Marwin Gonzalez on base, Springer hit off Darvish again, this time swatting a two-run homer to centerfield, making it 5-0.
Over the next few innings, Clayton Kershaw would pitch four full innings with four strikeouts and no runs, coming in to start the 3rd inning after Brandon Morrow pitched the last out in the 2nd. Manager Dave Roberts pulled Darvish with 1 2/3 innings pitched after a repeat performance of Game 3's 5-3 loss to Houston. The rest of the game the Dodgers could only fashion one run, scored in the bottom of the 6th, when a single by Andre Ethier sent Joc Pederson home.
Charlie Morton, a member of the Astros starting rotation, came into to start the 6th inning and pitched Game 7's last four innings, giving up only two hits, the one run, and registering four strikeouts for the win. An emotional Morton said at the end of the game that the effort was "for my teammates and the City of Houston". Astros manager A.J. Hinch echoed Morton's sentiment.
"We're going to love bringing the World Series trophy back to Houston. We take pride in being there for Houston, and obviously they responded by falling in love with this team," Hinch said. "Our September was incredible, our October was even better, and in November – we're pretty good."
In addition to winning the World Series for Houston after Hurricane Harvey, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, a native of Puerto Rico, said the win also honored his homeland.
"It means a lot to me for the City of Houston, being able to bring joy, happiness," Correa said, "and the same for my people in Puerto Rico." Moments later Correa celebrated further by going down one knee to propose to his girlfriend. (She said yes.)
The windup to World Series 2017 was one packed with a lot of anticipation and fanfare. From the beginning of preseason on, both the Dodgers and Astros were touted as the most exciting teams. If all went as planned, their able managers would have the hands on deck to make Major League Baseball's 113th Fall Classic electric.
Early on, the Dodgers were considered the favorite to run away with the National League pennant, and the Astros were the favorites to win the American League West division, in what looked like a tossup postseason between the Astros, and two other teams, the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians.
Strangely, none of baseball's experts at USA Today picked the Houston Astros to win the World Series, while Sports Illustrated slyly predicted in 2014 that Astros would win it all three years later, while also suggesting this August that the 2017 Dodgers were the best team ever. All the debate and flip-flopping didn't make either the Dodgers or Astros any less thrilling to watch.
For the Astros, much of the expectation came from the unspeakable talents of their position players. Infielders Altuve and Correa were nothing short of a dynamic duo known for impeccable defensive prowess and great hitting too. Altuve, a five-time all-star in his seven seasons with Houston, led the American League in hits the last four seasons, as well as batting average three of the last four, and stolen bases in 2014 and 2015. Correa, only 22, was a newer addition to the Astros roster, but as a 2017 All-Star and 2015 AL Rookie of the Year, Correa seemed to complete the infield. Then there was the Astros' leadoff man George Springer.
Little known outside the circle of diehards and stats geeks, Springer's numbers in his first three seasons were impressive but didn't much make headlines. This year, in his fourth MLB season, Springer led the Astros with 34 home runs, while also making his first All-Star Game appearance. Yet, it was in the postseason that Springer looked like the X-factor of his team and nothing less of a Pandora's Box for opponents.
During the AL Divisional Series versus the Red Sox Springer logged seven hits and a team second-best .706 slugging (beat only by Altuve). During the World Series Springer led his team in runs, hits, home runs, and RBIs, all while slugging a solid 1.000. In the mix, Springer's five World Series home runs put him in the record books, helping him match the existing record with Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson (1977) and Chase Utley (2009).
In addition to Houston's solid core of hitters and fielders, pleasant surprises came from the Astros pitching staff in 2017. Starter Dallas Keuchel bounced back after a so-so 2016 to his 2015 form, while Lance McCullers, Charlie Morton, and Brad Peacock all made solid performances throughout the year. During the regular season closer Ken Giles posted an impressive 34 saves, while Chris Devenski and Joe Musgrove helped bridge the gap between starters and the 9th inning. Moreover, the organization's middle of the night efforts to grab Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers just sweetened the deal.
While the Astros' pitching assets looked set for the task of a tough postseason, it was the Dodgers that had it in the bag when it came to the mound.
By the start of October baseball, the Dodgers' rotation of Kershaw not to mention Rich Hill, Alex Wood, and Darvish (on a good day, at least) looked to be as formidable as any. Baseball's most analytical observers and much of the media that follows the Major Leagues were fascinated by the power and finesse of the Dodgers rotation, and rightly so. But, at times it looked like the narrative around the 2017 National League champs and their pitching staff may have gotten ahead of reality.
For example, right before Game 6 at Dodger Stadium, ESPN's Buster Olney called Kershaw the "greatest [pitcher] of all time", perhaps a premature designation for the great young pitcher, especially considering other World Series-winning Dodger Hall of Fame pitchers like Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela, and Don Drysdale were all in the house.
Likewise, much of the same exuberance followed Hill. A slightly above-average pitcher for the first 10 years of his career, Hill bounced between the National and American Leagues before his stints with the Yankees and Red Sox, in 2014 and 2015, found him honing his control with a remarkable sub-2.00 ERA in the American League. For L.A., Hill threw 205 strikeouts in just a 170 regular season innings. Yet, if you tuned in to a Dodgers radio broadcast while Hill pitched you'd often hear announcers calling a Rich Hill "no-hitter," even as early as the game's 1st or 2nd inning.
But for as much media may have wanted to craft the Dodgers as a glamorous, star-studded squad, the truth is that the Dodgers were and are more of a gritty, nose-to-the-grindstone crew that doesn't seem to get caught up in the hype. Calm, quiet players like Corey Seager and Bellinger are at the dawn of their careers, and their future years will only strengthen the Dodgers prospects. Other starting players like Justin Turner, Pederson, and Yasiel Puig, should he remain a Dodger over the long haul, all add spark, depth, and critical hits usually at the right time.
It's atypical, when compared with, say, the NBA and NHL, for baseball's championship teams to return to a world title year after year. But both the Dodgers and Astros look to have the depth, the quality players, the management, and the organizational stability to do it again. And, wouldn't that be exciting for baseball.
Winning it all ain't easy
A day before the first pitch, Astros closer Ken Giles called it better than anybody.
"It's going to be a hitting spree," Giles said to Rolling Stone, during last Monday's pre-workout interview sessions. "No pitcher is going to be safe. That's for sure."
As relievers, Giles and Devenski were both instrumental in the Astros' 101 wins and the run-up to the World Series. Giles only pitched an inning in the second game, and Devenski's results were mixed, grabbing the win in the Game 2, before failing to close out Game 5's 9th inning, followed by a few productive outs as a reliever in Game 7. But both pitchers emphasized that the series would always be a team effort.
"When it comes to roles, I don't think anyone in the [Astros'] bullpen has a role," Giles said. "Our role is to get outs. I think we're just one unit, trying to do our best." Devenski talked more about preparedness and focus as a measure to battle nerves and the high stakes of the series.
"It comes down to being prepared for any situation that is thrown at you. Staying focused, and being locked in pitch-by-pitch is what it's all about," Devenski added.
In the end, you could say that hitters on both teams were as locked into every moment as much, probably more so, than pitchers were. No pitcher was perfect. Fourteen different players hit a total of 24 home runs, a World Series record. And, in the end, it was the total of all efforts that won out for the Astros in a tough, wild seven-game World Series.
"Being an Astro is so much fun, and all this year we've come together," Devenski said. To be able to pitch for this team has been an honor."