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Unmemorable Game 7 Shouldn't Take Away From Astros' First World Series Win

November 2, 2017
There will be plenty of time to pick apart the many ways in which Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts let a World Series title slip through his fingers. 

The Dodgers' World Series drought  -- they haven't even appeared in a World Series since their epic win in 1988 against the Oakland Athletics -- will continue, but the story is the Houston Astros and their special championship win -- the first in franchise's 56-season history.

To start with, the 2017 World Series marked the first time since 1970 -- when the Baltimore Orioles faced the Cincinnati Reds -- in which two 100-win teams squared off. It figured to be a heavyweight fight, and it was.

And you can't forget the Houston Strong angle, where the great city of Houston rallied around its gutsy and resilient team to help the country's fourth-most populous city begin the healing and recovery process from Hurricane Harvey in August.

For much of the first-half of the 2017 season, the Astros were by far baseball's best team. They didn't fall behind the Cleveland Indians and Dodgers until injuries to Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton crippled their starting staff, and then shortstop Carlos Correa's torn thumb ligament put him on the shelf for six long weeks (July 31-Sept. 4).

In fact, things looked bleak for the Astros when a July 31 trade deadline deal for Orioles closer Zach Britton fell through. The players, led by Keuchel, openly groused about the fact that the only addition made was left-hander Francisco Liriano.

But, let's give Astros owner Jim Crane and his general manager Jeff Luhnow credit. They took to heart the grousing and focused on adding the one player who could lift them back into the class of the Indians and the Dodgers: right-hander Justin Verlander.

While he failed to win a game during the World Series, it was Verlander's presence that lifted the self perception of a team to the point where it could envision winning it all.

Houston dominated the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series, winning in four games. Then it had what in some ways what was its toughest task: taking on an upstart New York Yankees team, which was riding high after ousting the Indians in five games.

The Astros were thrown off by playing a team other than the Indians, and it showed, as the Yankees forced the Astros to Game 7 in the AL Championship Series.

For the Dodgers, from late-May to late-August, they were the best team during a brilliant 80-game stretch. And they had a much easier time of it during the postseason than the Astros, sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks in three games in the National League Division Series and the Chicago Cubs in five to get to their first World Series in 29 years.

With Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw well-rested and the club's bullpen on an incredible postseason run, things looked promising after Kershaw threw seven dominant innings and struck out 11 in Game 1.

Game 2 was where things started to unravel for the Dodgers and Roberts. Leading 3-1 against Verlander, Roberts brought in right-hander Brandon Morrow to pitch out of trouble in the seventh inning. However, when Morrow gave up a lead-off ground-rule double to Astros third baseman Alex Bregman in the eighth, Roberts turned to closer Kenley Jansen for a six-out save.

Jansen, who had only one six-out save in his career, allowed the inherited run to score in the eighth, and then gave up a game-tying, lead-off home run to Astros left fielder Marwin Gonzalez in the ninth. Gonzalez's homer was probably the most important hit of the series. Ultimately, a 3-3 tie after nine innings turned into a 7-6 Astros win, as Roberts opted to go with right-hander Brandon McCarthy, who had not pitched in 24 days, in the 11th inning instead of making a key switch to proposed Game 4 starter Alex Wood.

As great as the Astros were in winning this seven-game series, it may be remembered more as a series that Roberts let get away.

Even an anti-climactic, 5-1, win in Game 7, however, can't take away what this group of Astros did for their city and community in winning their first World Series.