LOS ANGELES — Earlier in the World Series, Houston Astros center fielder George Springer talked about not letting the magnitude of playing in it become overwhelming.
“You can’t worry about the result of each at-bat,” he said. “You just have to stay in the moment.”
In the biggest game of the season, the biggest game in Astros history and certainly the biggest game of his life, Springer remained in the moment, capping his stellar week by hitting his World Series record-tying fifth home run and leading his team to a Series-clinching 5-1 victory in Game 7 on Wednesday night.
Springer was an easy choice for the Willie Mays World Series Most Valuable Player Award, after hitting .379 (11-for-29) with five home runs and seven RBIs. His eight extra-base hits were the most ever in a World Series, and he is the first player to homer in four straight games within a single World Series, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Upon receiving his MVP award, Springer spoke about how the Series victory was especially meaningful both for the franchise and the city.
“This is a dream come true and an honor,” Springer said. “But it’s about the Houston Astros tonight, our city, our fans. That patch on our chests really does mean something. We’re coming home champions.”
Springer’s record-tying homer on Wednesday came off a 3-2 fastball from Dodgers starter Yu Darvish. It gave the Astros a 5-0 lead in the second inning, knocking Darvish from the game.
“I remember swinging and hearing the sound of the bat,” Springer said of the homer. “And I knew it was a good sound.
“It’s a very surreal feeling because this is Game 7. This is what you dream of as a kid. And for that to happen is indescribable.”
Springer matched Reggie Jackson (1977) and Chase Utley (2009) for the record of five home runs in one World Series, although Jackson and Utley did it in a six-game Series. Springer, who doubled and scored in the first inning, also had 29 total bases in the World Series, breaking the record of 25 shared by Willie Stargell (1979) and Jackson. Springer also passed Stargell for the most extra-base hits in a World Series with seven, becoming the first player to have had at least one extra-base hit in six straight World Series games.
Springer’s first four home runs of the Series each tied the score or gave the Astros the lead.
Consider the clutch factor of his home runs:
Game 2: Hit a two-run homer off Brandon McCarthy in the top of the 11th to give the Astros a 7-5 lead in an eventual 7-6 victory.
Game 4: Gave the Astros a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning, when he broke up Alex Wood’s no-hitter with a home run way out to left field off a 3-1 curveball.
Game 5: In the wild 13-12 win for the Astros, his seventh-inning homer — a 112 mph laser estimated at 448 feet — off Brandon Morrow tied the game at 8.
Game 6: Made it 1-0 in the third inning with an opposite-field shot off Rich Hill.
Game 7: With two outs in the second inning, his 438-foot two-run shot broke open a 3-0 game to give the Astros some early breathing room.
Springer’s World Series actually got off to an inauspicious start. After going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in Game 1, he said teammate Carlos Beltran pulled him aside.
“He told me to go out and enjoy the moment,” Springer said of Beltran. “He’s played for 20 years, and this is his second time here. He told me to relax, be myself and enjoy it.”
Maybe it is fitting that Springer has turned into a World Series hero for the Astros. A first-round pick out of the University of Connecticut in 2011, it was Springer who appeared on the infamous Sports Illustrated cover in 2014 that declared the Astros “Your 2017 World Series champs.” The Astros were mired in a 92-loss season that year, a season that actually was a big improvement over their three previous years, when the Astros had lost 100-plus games as the front office rebuilt the team from scratch.
“When you get to spring, you know who you have. You know what you have,” Springer said. “You think you can do it, but 162 games is a lot of games, and a lot has to go right. … Getting down 3-2 to a very good New York team, a lot of things happened for us. I’m just proud to bring a championship to city that desperately needed it.”
For this entire postseason, Springer had six home runs, all from the leadoff spot, tying Lenny Dykstra’s postseason record for home runs by a leadoff hitter.
The Astros set a World Series record with 15 home runs as a team.
Springer’s Game 7 shot closed the door on a World Series to forget for Darvish. The Dodgers righty is just the second pitcher ever to fail to complete the second inning in multiple starts within the same World Series. The other is Art Ditmar, who did so for the New York Yankees in Games 1 and 5 of the 1960 World Series. Darvish induced just four swing-and-misses in his 96 total pitches thrown in the Series.
Springer wasn’t the only member of the Astros to make history on Wednesday night.
Houston’s Lance McCullers Jr. became the first pitcher to hit four batters in any postseason game, plunking Yasiel Puig and Kike Hernandez once each and Justin Turner twice. According to Elias Sports Bureau, McCullers also became the first pitcher to hit four batters within the first three innings of any game, regular season or postseason, since 2000; coincidentally, it was Dodgers starter Orel Hershiser who hit four Astros in that game.
On Wednesday, McCullers was pulled one batter after hitting Turner for the second time, finishing with three strikeouts, four hit batters and no runs allowed in 2⅓ innings. He turned in the second shortest scoreless start in a World Series winner-take-all game; the shortest appearance was by Curly Ogden (one-third of an inning) of the 1924 Washington Senators.
McCullers left after striking out Cody Bellinger, who swung his way into history, as well. Bellinger’s third-inning strikeout was his 16th of the Series, tying him with the Yankees’ Aaron Judge (2017 American League Division Series) for the most K’s in any single postseason series. Bellinger then claimed the record outright with his 17th strikeout after going down looking against Charlie Morton in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Bellinger, who hit the second-most home runs in the National League this season with 39, was baffled by McCullers, going 0-for-5 with five strikeouts in the World Series against the right-hander. Bellinger whiffed on nine of his 12 swings against McCullers in the Series, and of the 19 total pitches he saw from McCullers, 18 were curveballs.
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