When Justin Turner walloped a walk-off home run in the National League Divisional Series 29 years to the day of Kirk Gibson’s famous dinger it felt like a sign that the Dodgers were the team fated to hoist the Fall Classic Trophy.
But Los Angeles was competing against a team from Houston whose destiny was etched in metal the moment their city was leveled by a devastating storm.
Wednesday night, given the plot line of Yu Darvish’s date with redemption, the Astros’ may have been considered the underdog, but in the world of baseball poker, the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey gave Houston the better hand.
And after six games that delivered enough drama to fill a television network’s Fall line-up, the final showdown did not live up to the hype as the Dodgers fell in a 5-1 loss, picked the absolute worst time to highlight their untimely hitting.
Game 7 got off to a bad start for Darvish when the man who would become Series MVP, George Springer, belted a leadoff double down line in left. Alex Bregman, who dines on defense, rattled the Dodger infield with a ground ball in the hole, inducing a wild throw from Bellinger that sailed past his pitcher covering first, allowing Springer to score. Bregman dealing with a shaky Darvish, stole third, and Altuve brought him home on a ground out to first.
Gurriel stepped into the box to a chorus of boos and tipped his helmet toward the mound as a mea culpa for his disrespectful gesture. He then forced the righty to toss 13 pitches before flying out to Puig in left.
Chris Taylor led off the home half with a double to center off Lance McCullers, who was actually warming up for Game 7 immediately after Game 6. He got Seager swinging on his signature curve then hit Justin Turner on a 0-2 count. Cody Bellinger coming off a four strike out night made it five in a row on a breaking ball down and in. McCullers played with fire hitting Yasiel Puig to load the bases for Joc Pederson, who stepped to the plate giddy at the prospect of a grand slam, only to end the inning on a ground out to Altuve.
Springer then put Darvish out of business on his 47th (and final) pitch with a two-run blast to center, putting LA five in the hole. Dodger manager Dave Roberts sought relief in Brandon Morrow who delivered, striking out Bregman on three straight pitches. Morrow became only the second pitcher in MLB history to pitch in all seven games of a World Series. A’s pitcher Darold Knowles was the first to do so and he did it against the Mets in 1973.
Logan Forsythe led off the bottom frame with a base hit to left, landing at second on Austen Barnes’ infield ground out to Altuve. Roberts, desperate to capitalize on a runner in scoring position, removed Morrow for Enrique Hernandez, who was plunked by McCuller’s 94 MPH four-seam fastball. The best-laid plans were dashed when Taylor hit into an inning-ending double.
Clayton Kershaw came in to restore some order in the third, and did just that retiring the side on 10 pitches. Altuve flied out to center, Correa to right, and Gurriel got the count 3-2, before staring at a called strike three.
The crowd was pumped with the stuff their ace was offering, hoping it would ignite LA’s listless lumber. Seager answered the call with a sharp liner to center, Turner took another ball off of his body, and Bellinger, baited by knuckle curves, went down swinging. Brad Peacock came in for McCullers and put away Puig on a fly ball to Springer then enticed Pederson to swing past a 2-2 80 MPH slider for another golden scoring opportunity that turned sour.
Kershaw mowed down McCann to start the fourth and after surrendering a single to Gonzalez that eluded Seager’s glove, he erased Reddick on a grounder to short and retired Peacock on a fly ball to center.
In the bottom of the inning, Peacock plowed through the order getting Forsythe on a ground out to third, Barnes with a pop up to the same vicinity, finishing off his counterpart swinging on a 2-2 two-seam fastball.
The Dodger ace took the ‘Stros to the cleaners in the fifth with back-to-back punch-outs to Springer and Bregman, keeping Altuve hitless with a pop up to Bellinger in foul ground.
More run scoring was squandered in the bottom half when Seager drew a one out walk, reaching second on Turner’s single to left. With Bellinger coming to the plate, A.J. Hinch pulled Peacock for Francisco Liriano, who punched out the struggling rookie, the only hitter he faced, in Game 6. The one batter wonder got Bellinger to ground into a force at second, and was lifted for Chris Devenski who put away Puig on a liner into the first base glove of Gurriel.
Correa led off the sixth with a line drive to left. After Kershaw retired McCann and Gurriel on a couple of infield ground balls he intentionally walked Gonzalez and pinch-hitter Evan Gattis, escaping a bases loaded jam on Cameron Maybin’s pop out to Turner in foul territory. The ace of the place pitched four innings of two hits, four punch-outs and a pair of walks.
Charlie Morton, the starter who moonlights as a reliever replaced Devenski in the bottom of the inning and immediately surrendered a lead off single to Pederson, followed by a walk to Forsythe. After Barnes popped to short, Andre Etheer, the longest tenured Dodger, pinch-hit for Kershaw, and delivered an RBI single to center. But Morton reclaimed his cool, striking out Taylor then got Seager on a soft grounder to short.
The seventh brought an early arrival by Kenley Jansen who kept Springer off the bases with a line out to center, got the best of Bregman on a foul tip, gave Altuve a free pass then coerced Correa on a cutter for an inning ending pop up to Seager.
Morton put the Dodgers down in order in the bottom half with a four-seam fastball that Turner popped up to first, a curve that caught Bellinger for a called strike three, and 97 MPH heat that Puig grounded into Correa’s glove. Bellinger set a new major league record with 17 strikeouts in the entire postseason.
Alex Wood relieved Jansen in the eighth, retiring the side on a Gurriel line out to center, McCann looking, and Gonzalez on a grounder to third. Morton prevented Pederson from any further offense with a three-pitch strikeout, gave Forsythe a 96 MPH fastball that he couldn’t get past Springer in right, and said good-bye to Barnes on a fly out to center.
Wood’s work was done with a pair of strikeouts to Morton and Maybin, along with an inning-ending line out by Springer to Taylor. Hinch, not going analytical, trusted his eyes over some data, and let Morton close out the show with a strikeout to Chase Utley, and consecutive ground outs to Altuve by Taylor and Seager for Houston’s first World Series title in franchise history.
With all of the seconding guessing that filters in during a hard fought series, the decision made by Dave Roberts to start Yu Darvish over his sensational southpaw will haunt the Dodgers forever. I get the redemption aspect, but Darvish entered Game 7 with a postseason record of 2-3, and an ERA of 4.74 with seven home runs allowed in just 24 innings pitched. Kershaw would have been pitching on three days rest, but with the numbers that Darvish displayed, Kershaw was the surer bet for a crucial Game 7 in the World Series.
I’m officially exhausted, and will go into withdrawal counting the days until pitchers and catchers report next season.