What a letdown.
After six stellar games, this World Series finally ran out of magic.
Not to take anything away from the Houston Astros, who claimed the first Series title in franchise history with a 5-1 snoozer over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday night.
For the eyes of Texas, this was a thing of beauty — especially considering where this team was just four short years ago , wrapping up three straight 100-loss seasons while in the midst of a massive reconstruction.
They’ll go down as a virtual textbook on how to tear down a franchise for the purpose of building it up again, an especially poignant championship for a city ravaged by Hurricane Harvey and desperate for something, anything to rally around .
“The people of Houston were never far from our minds,” Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. said. “They deserve this as much as we do, and we’re going to party hard.”
But the last game of the season was a total bomb.
Blame Dodgers starter Yu Darvish.
And manager Dave Roberts for sending him to the mound.
Darvish was acquired by the Dodgers at the trade deadline, supposedly the final piece needed to return a championship to baseball’s biggest-spending team.
He didn’t even make it through the second inning for the second time in the Series.
As a result, the Dodgers’ excruciating 29-year championship drought will stretch to three full decades.
The Hollywood ending will have to wait.
“I know he wanted the baseball. I know he was prepared,” Roberts said. “I just can’t explain the results. I really can’t.”
Darvish surrendered five runs (four earned) in 1 2-3 innings, joining a very small hall of infamy. Back in 1960, Art Ditmar became the first pitcher to start a pair World Series games and not make it to the third inning in either one of them.
Now, he’s got company.
“This pain is going to stay in me for a while,” Darvish said.
Darvish didn’t look much more effective than 91-year-old Don Newcombe or 81-year-old Sandy Koufax, who threw out the ceremonial first pitches. George Springer led off the game with a double and trotted home when Cody Bellinger ventured too far to his right to field Alex Bregman’s grounder, a play that wouldn’t have been much easier for second baseman Logan Forsythe. Springer came all the way home on Bellinger’s throwing error, and Bregman wound up scoring too.
Then Series MVP Springer came through with the decisive blow of the season.
After McCullers made it 3-0 with a run-scoring grounder, Roberts had Brandon Morrow throwing in the bullpen with two outs. The manager hoped to get one more out from Darvish, a foolhardy gamble it turned out.
Springer launched a two-run shot deep into the seats in left-center field , his record-tying fifth homer of the Series. Darvish screamed in anguish on the mound almost as soon as the bat struck the ball. Just like that, it was 5-0 Astros.
They were already partying in Space City.
Roberts will have to live all winter with the decision to send Darvish to the hill a second time, after he showed a total lack of command — especially with his slider — in Game 3. Whether it was nerves or just a sudden loss of form, it was clear that Darvish was the weak link in this Dodgers super team, which won 104 games during the regular season and romped through its first two playoff series, winning eight of nine games and knocking off the defending Series champion Chicago Cubs.
Roberts had Clayton Kershaw, the Game 5 starter, ready to go in the third inning. The left-hander threw four scoreless innings to at least provide the Dodgers with a chance for a comeback that never came.
What if Kershaw had started this game and turned in a similar performance?
Chances are, it would have been the classic that everyone expected, everyone deserved, after the first six games had this series poised to go down as one of the greatest in baseball history. Two extra-inning thrillers . Three other nail-biting games decided by two runs. Another that was 1-1 going to the ninth before the Dodgers put up a five-spot. Not to mention all those long balls, a record 23 to fittingly cap off the Year of the Homer .
In the heat of the moment, Roberts insisted he made the right decision.
“Yu has been one of our top three starters,” the manager said. “There’s always going to be second-guessing. We felt good with Yu starting the game.”
While Roberts stuck with his rotation in Game 7 and paid a huge price, A.J. Hinch made all the right moves in the Houston dugout. He would’ve been a worthy choice for Series MVP if they gave the award to a manager, deftly handling a suspect bullpen by largely ignoring ineffective closer Ken Giles.
Brad Peacock, a starter much of the season, pitched 3 2-3 hitless innings to close out Game 3 . Charlie Morton, the Game 4 starter, came out of the bullpen for the clincher and worked the final four innings for an unorthodox win, allowing just two hits and the lone Dodgers run, nothing at all over the final three frames.
It was a brilliant job of managing.
Just a dud of a final game.
What a shame.
Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberryap.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
For more AP baseball coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
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