By Doug Padilla, The Sports Xchange
LOS ANGELES — Baseball was not always fun for the Houston Astros in 2017, yet it always remained motivational.
On Wednesday night, it never was more inspirational.
The Astros won Game 7 of the World Series, pushing aside the Los Angeles Dodgers for a 5-1 victory that was so simple, so complete that it belied the competitive nature of the matchup.
The city of Houston needed something it could sit back and enjoy, without having to fret and fuss first.
During a summer when Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Houston area, the Astros first provided a distraction, then hope and now pride with their first World Series championship.
“I’ll tell a quick story about Jose (Altuve), who was separated from his family, as were a lot of guys,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Some were with their families, some weren’t. And Jose came up to me and said, ‘How long do we have to play like this, with our family back in Houston getting surrounded by water?’ They were safe but yet scared.”
Not long after the Wednesday game, an Astros fan waited in front of a Dodger Stadium elevator, tears flowing, sobbing quietly.
“We deserved this,” she said, no doubt talking about everything Houston went through.
In that context, playoff matchups against the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and finally the Dodgers were far less intimidating. And the Houston Strong credo was something the Astros exemplified as well.
Perhaps nobody represented it better than George Springer, the World Series MVP who was struggling so much after Game 1 that questions were being raised about moving him from the leadoff spot.
Springer simply powered the Astros to the franchise’s first title, crushing a two-run home run in the second inning that gave his club a commanding 5-0 lead on the way to the victory.
“I remember my approach was to get something out over the plate, something I could drive,” Springer said. “I just remember swinging and hearing the sound off the bat, and I knew it was a good sound. I rounded third and got home, and that’s a crazy feeling. It’s a surreal feeling.”
In a World Series that saw back-and-forth battles nearly every game, only Houston got off and running in Game 7.
The Astros won their title in just their second World Series appearance, after falling short in 2005. The Dodgers have six titles but remain without a championship since 1988.
“It’s unbelievable and indescribable,” Springer said. “When you get to spring (training), you see who you have and there is always that thought of we could do it. But 162 games are a lot of games, and a lot of things have to go right to get here. Our team believed in each other all year.”
Springer tied a record for most home runs in one World Series with five, joining the New York Yankees’ Reggie Jackson (1977) and the Philadelphia Phillies’ Chase Utley (2009). He also became the first player to hit home runs in four consecutive games of the same World Series.
The Game 7 blast also gave Springer a record eight extra-base hits in a single World Series. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Willie Stargell (1979) previously held the record with seven.
“George, when he goes, we all go,” Hinch said. “I think you saw the rest of this series that when he gets going, it gets pretty scary, and he can do a lot of damage. He’s at the top of this lineup for a reason, and he sets the table for the guys at the top of the order.”
Springer’s home run Wednesday chased Dodgers starter Yu Darvish after just 1 2/3 innings. The Los Angeles right-hander gave up five runs (four earned) on three hits and a walk.
Darvish (0-2) recorded a total of just 10 outs during his World Series starts in Games 3 and 7.
“I didn’t make adjustments, or the stuff that I didn’t have hurt the team,” Darvish said through an interpreter. “But this pain is going to stay in me for a while. I’ve just got to learn from it and just go from there.
The Astros got things going early when Springer doubled to lead off the game. He scored when first baseman Cody Bellinger could not hit Darvish on a throw to first base after a ground ball from Alex Bregman. The Astros made it 2-0 when Bregman stole third and scored on a groundout by Altuve.
Just before Springer delivered his two-run blast, the Astros made it 3-0 when starting pitcher Lance McCullers grounded out to bring home a run. Springer then lifted a 3-2 fastball into the seats in center field.
Bellinger’s rough day was only starting with the errant throw. He also struck out in his first two at-bats to extend his consecutive strikeout streak to six plate appearances. He added a third strikeout to give him a record 29 whiffs in this postseason alone, breaking the record that the Yankees’ Aaron Judge held for all of 11 days.
“I was just overaggressive and didn’t make adjustments,” Bellinger said. “Hopefully it sticks with me until the next time we’re in the playoffs to know what I feel like right now. We have such a young and talented group here, I have no doubt in my mind that we’re going to get back.”
McCullers delivered 2 1/3 scoreless innings to open the game, but he was far from sharp, hitting four Dodgers batters, including Justin Turner twice. He was supported by four relievers out of the beleaguered Houston bullpen, although one of those relievers pressed into service was starter Charlie Morton.
The Astros’ bullpen entered with a 7.29 ERA after the first six games but had its day in Game 7, giving up just one run on three hits over the final 6 2/3 innings. Morton (1-0) earned the victory, allowing one run on two hits over the final four innings.
In one start and one relief appearance, Morton gave up just one run in 10 1/3 innings, offering his fair share to the cause.
“I think we were able to really keep in perspective what was going on in Houston,” Hinch said. “Baseball was important; we were chasing a pennant. This was a team that wanted to win the division. We’ve been knocked out of the division a couple of years in a row.
“We never lost perspective of what was important. You saw these guys at a community center on a day off. You saw these guys do good things for people as they started to rebuild the city. I think that is why the city fell in love with this team all over again and why we had that ‘Houston Strong’ strength that carried us a long way.”
Pinch hitter Andre Ethier drove in the Dodgers’ only run on a sixth-inning single off Morton. Ethier set a Dodgers record with his 51st appearance in a postseason game.