The Astros’ hopes for a Game 7 blowout stalled when the Dodgers quickly lifted starter Yu Darvish, who faced just 10 batters and allowed half of them to score. After that, the pitchers on both sides took over, making for a tense finale, if not a classic, in the first World Series Game 7 ever held at Dodger Stadium, the third-oldest venue in the majors.
The Astros had never even played in a World Series seventh game; their only other trip was a four-game loss to the White Sox in 2005, which had been part of that string of abbreviated Series.
For historical resonance, nothing could have topped last year, when the Chicago Cubs won their first championship since 1908 against a Cleveland Indians team that had the second-longest title drought, dating to 1948. That series went seven games, with the Cubs blowing a late lead but prevailing, after a rain delay, in the 10th inning.
Now, another Series between two desperate teams has gone all the way. The Dodgers were seeking their first World Series title in 29 years, and the Astros – an expansion team in 1962 — their first ever.
“I’m sure M.L.B. is probably sitting back and kicking their feet up,” the Dodgers’ third baseman, Justin Turner, said before Game 7.
“Counting the money?” a reporter asked.
“I’m not going to say that, but definitely enjoying it,” Turner said, laughing. “And knowing that it’s going to Game 7 is appropriate, with these two teams.”
This is the first season that baseball has awarded home-field advantage in the World Series to the team with the better record. The Dodgers earned the right to be the host by leading the majors in victories with 104, the most in their six decades in Los Angeles. But the Astros were not far behind, with 101 wins, making this a particularly high-powered matchup.
To find the last time a World Series between 100-win teams stretched to Game 7, you have to reach back to 1931, when the St. Louis Cardinals thwarted the Philadelphia Athletics’ attempt at a third consecutive championship. It was so long ago that the winning pitcher, 38-year-old Burleigh Grimes, threw spitballs. The pitch had been banned for years, but since Grimes had already been throwing it, he was allowed to continue.
In this World Series, according to Verlander and others, the balls arrive pre-slicked. He insisted again after Game 6 that the World Series baseballs were slippery, making it hard for a pitcher to pull down on the slider for a reliable late slash. That could partly explain the power surge that has helped make this World Series memorable – though not every game has been a slugfest.
Indeed, Game 6 mirrored the opener: a 3-1 Dodgers victory, with the starter allowing a solo homer and Kenley Jansen perfect at the end. In Game 1, Clayton Kershaw worked seven innings for the win, but on Tuesday, Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts pulled Rich Hill in the fifth, before he could face a batter for the third time.
Roberts’s aggressive bullpen usage, a reflection of the team’s analytically minded front office, has lent another intriguing sidebar to this World Series, with fans not even waiting to second-guess. They booed Roberts when he called for the bullpen in Game 6, and Hill knocked over a few cups of water in the dugout. But the Dodgers’ relievers were superb, after looking hopelessly trapped in a Houston fun house in Game 5 on Sunday.
That game had ended up 13-12, a score so odd for a baseball game that it had not happened anywhere in the majors in almost three years. The Astros won on a single by Alex Bregman, but the game included seven homers, a total exceeded only once in World Series history – by the eight homers in Game 2 of this very series, a 7-6 Astros victory here.
“Just when I thought I could describe Game 2 as my favorite game of all-time, I think Game 5 exceeded that and more,” Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said on Sunday. “It’s hard to put into words all the twists and turns.”
Reggie Jackson thought of a few. During Game 5, when the Astros’ Jose Altuve crushed a game-tying homer, Jackson – the Hall of Famer and two-time World Series most valuable player — texted the Astros’ owner, Jim Crane.
“Altuve, the best player in the game,” read the message. “Says who? Says Mr. October.”
Altuve’s homer came on the first at-bat after Kershaw was pulled from Game 5. The Dodgers had given Kershaw leads of 4-0 and 7-4, and with a chance to send his team back home with a lead, Kershaw fizzled. He spun four shutout innings in Game 7, but with his team behind, he could not quite match the signature performance of a division rival.
That effort, by San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner, came in 2014 and began this stretch of three Game 7s in four years. Pitching on just two days of rest after throwing a shutout, Bumgarner blanked the Royals for the final five innings of Game 7, stranding the tying run on third base at the end.
The Royals followed up the next year by beating the Mets, coming back in all four victories of an entertaining five-game World Series. It was the first championship for the Royals in 30 years — and, of course, they were happy to wrap it up when they did, despite leaving two games not played.
In their clubhouse after Game 6 on Tuesday, the Astros were hardly despondent, and seemed energized by the chance to play one more game. Yes, they had been leading on Tuesday heading into the bottom of the sixth, but in a World Series like this, 12 outs were a lot to assume. Verlander had allowed just one hit through five innings, but did not feel close to victory with a tenuous 1-0 lead.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “Not the way these games have gone, not the way these guys’ lineup is. If we could have squeaked across a run or two more, I maybe would have changed my mentality. But I’ve played this game too long.”
He has played it in the majors since 2005, all with the Detroit Tigers until a trade to Houston in August. Verlander helped lead the Tigers to the World Series in 2006, when he lost the first and last games to St. Louis. He made it back in 2012, but got flattened by the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval in the opener of a forgettable sweep.
Those were two of the 10 World Series between 1998 and 2013 that lasted only four or five games. A few moments stood out in that time, of course; Carlos Correa, the Astros’ shortstop, cited two of the best when asked for his favorite memories as a fan.
“Luis Gonzalez off the Yankees and David Freese off the Rangers,” Correa said, referring to the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Gonzalez, who had the winning hit in Game 7 in 2001, and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Freese, who homered to win Game 6 in 2011 to set up a Game 7.
Both were among the previous 38 best-of-seven World Series that extended to the final game. And before now, just one other World Series had followed the pattern of the home team winning Games 1, 3, 5 and 6 and losing Games 2, 4 and 7: the spellbinding clash in 1975 between the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, who won Game 7 at Fenway Park.
This World Series had the same kind of rapid momentum shifts, and was a new phenomenon for everyone: None of the 50 active players had taken part in a Game 7 of the World Series. Yet they had spent their lives waiting.
“It’s what you sign up for,” said Springer, who was drafted seven years ago, when the Astros were the worst team in baseball. “For us to go from where we were a long time ago to Game 7 of the World Series against the Dodgers here — it’s an honor.”