LOS ANGELES — They were once the Colt .45s. They were once the first team to ever call a dome home. They once wore the most ghastly uniforms with different shades of orange in horizontal lines. They once played in the National League.
The Houston Astros were many things in their 56-season history. But not until the first night of November 2017 were they champions.
They completed the journey from tankers to title Wednesday night by quickly seizing the decisive Game 7, draining the enthusiasm from a full house at Dodger Stadium and keeping Los Angeles from ever turning opportunity into a sustained rally.
The 113th World Series had been filled with close games and drama and tension and everything that set the stage for Game 7 to be wondrous — a forever conclusion. And then Game 7 disappointed as George Springer fueled an early barrage against a beleaguered Yu Darvish that brought a five-run lead two innings into the game, from which the Dodgers never recovered.
In their 9,028th game — postseason included — the Astros won 5-1 … and the state of Texas had its first ever champion.
The team that lost 106 games in 2011, 107 in 2012 (the Astros’ last in the NL) and 111 in 2013 won 112 this season, notably 11 in the postseason. After 2011, the general manager, Ed Wade, was fired and Jeff Luhnow was hired and his strategy was to keep losing, to get high draft picks, to save money for a better day, to accumulate as much young talent as possible, particularly in the everyday lineup.
“We had a process and we stuck to it,” Astros owner Jim Crane said.
For the second straight year a team that followed essentially that path — the Cubs last season and the Astros in 2017 — won the World Series. Chicago captured its first World Series since 1908. Houston its first ever.
The first game ever played by this franchise, as the Colt .45s, occurred on April 10, 1962, the same day Dodger Stadium opened — the day before “West Side Story” won Best Picture at the 34th Oscars. In this venerable stadium’s history, there had never been a Game 7 before Wednesday and despite the best record in the majors, home-field edge and the largest payroll for the fourth straight year, the Dodgers continue without a title since 1988.
They got tantalizingly close. Ten playoff wins. Game 7 of the World Series. But the frustration persists as the Dodgers were unable to end a drought like the Royals (since 1985) did in 2015, then the Cubs and now the Astros.
Darvish had been acquired at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline with a championship as the lone focus. The Dodgers, after all, were leading the NL West by 14 games, all they did was designed to help not only get them to their first World Series since 1988 — but win it.
Darvish, though, started twice in the Fall Classic and devastated the Dodgers both times, lasting 1 ²/₃ innings (four runs) in Game 3 and 1 ²/₃ innings (five runs) in the decisive Game 7. Springer, the last first-round pick of the old Astros regime and a cornerstone for this one, doubled leading off the game and scored, and then blasted a two-run homer in the second to knock out Darvish, make it 5-0 and assure he would win the series MVP.
“This is Game 7, this is what you dream of as a kid,” Springer said.
Springer is part of a young core with Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa that should fortify the Astros for years. As Brian McCann said, “I am a baseball fan and the view I get everyday and the talent I see every night, we are going to look back in five, 10 years and say I can’t believe they were all on the same team.”
McCann, Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick were imported last offseason to be veteran glue to a team ready to win. Charlie Morton was also brought in last offseason because the analytic-heavy front office loved his spin rate and felt there was more there in him.
Many teams built super bullpens, but Houston won by essentially using starting pitchers in relief. Morton, throwing “97-mph wiffleballs” in McCann’s estimation, dominated the final four innings to suffocate the Dodgers, ending with the co-aces Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander warming in the ninth, but never getting in.
The last piece for the Astros was Verlander, obtained at the waiver deadline on Aug. 31 for the same reason the Dodgers had acquired Darvish — as a championship push. He honored that. “He changed the dynamic of the team,” McCann said.
Together this group brought the first major team title to Houston since the 1994-95 back-to-back Rockets.
The Colt .45s, the Astrodome, the ghastly uniforms and their NL status are gone. But for the first time the Astros have what they always wanted.
To finally be champions.
Astros put wacky, painful past in rear-view mirror – New York Post