Game 7 was still in its infancy as the third pitcher for the Dodgers took to the mound. Los Angeles was losing five to nothing in the top of the third. For Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, it was a coup de grâce to a terribly handled World Series that neutered the best team in baseball and provided opportunity after opportunity for the Houston Astros.
Astros leadoff batter George Springer started the game off with a lead-off double. In a winner-takes-all finale, the hard hit ball should have sent shivers down the spine of the Dodgers skipper. Throughout the six previous games, Roberts showed a no-nonsense approach to his pitchers.
In Game 2, Roberts pulled Rich Hill after four innings, three hits and one run off 60 pitches. It was a quick tug from the Dodger’s second best pitcher. In Game 4, Roberts yanked Alex Wood after five and two thirds innings, one hit, one run and 84 pitches. Yet as two runs scored in the top of the first, providing unneeded confidence to the best offensive team in baseball, Roberts stayed quiet in the bullpen.
The Dodgers failed to answer in the bottom of the first despite having the bases loaded. As Los Angeles ran onto the field to start the second, with everything on the line and everyone available in the bullpen, Roberts — unlike the entire series up to that point — showed faith in his starting pitcher. Hill and the Dodgers dugout have the evidence.
It was clear to everyone watching at home, the analysts broadcasting the game and millions watching at home that Darvish did not have the quality to make outs. Yet Roberts stayed paralyzed in the moment. He didn’t take him out after the lead-off walk. Roberts stood there as the seventh batter screamed a double. There was no change made after the eighth batter made the first out. (It’s important to note, that at this point, Dodgers set-up man, Brandon Morrow as already warming up in the bullpen).
Darvish gets 5 outs in each World Series start. In the span of two games and 10 outs, he gave up nine runs #WorldSeriesGame7
— Kevin Baxter (@kbaxter11) November 2, 2017
Roberts, given the opportunity to bring the infield in with the pitcher up, failed to do so. Lance McCullers Jr. hit a soft shot to second; had Roberts made the decision to bring the infield in, it would have prevented the third run from scoring. Instead, McCullers Jr. became the first pitcher to notch an RBI in a World Series game in over 30 years.
The bleeding had not yet cauterized.
The hottest baseball player and World Series MVP, George Springer finally put Darvish and the Dodgers out of their misery…in the second inning with a 2-run homer, effectively ending the game, before it ever really got started.
Roberts would finally bring in Morrow who would get the final out. The damage was done, however and Houston’s name would be etched on the World Series trophy soon enough.
The rest of the game would have many questions, left unanswered.
Clayton Kershaw would start the third, leaving many to wonder why he didn’t start the game if the intention was to have him come in this early in the contest. Kershaw starting a game seven over Darvish would usher in more confidence than dentists picking a common toothpaste. The Dodgers ace threw four innings of shut out ball, giving up only two hits.
Again, about aces pitching in relief: If Kershaw is able to pitch 3-4 innings today, why not start him, and then go all-hands-on-deck after?
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 2, 2017
Kershaw’s performance however, leads to a bigger point: did the moment get too grand for Roberts?
For all the build up of two 100-win teams going toe-to-toe for the first time in 47 years, it was never about the Astros overpowering the Dodgers, but rather the Dodgers making mistakes and the Astros taking advantage.
Leading up to the World Series, Morrow had pitched 17 innings in 18 appearances in the months of September and October. Roberts pulled Hill after four innings and stretched his bullpen. After a quick seventh inning, Roberts left Morrow in for the eighth. Astros third baseman Alex Bregman knocked a ground rule double to right just out of Yasiel Puig’s diving outstretched glove. Roberts then made the move to Jensen. The automatic closer would give up a single, but it would be enough to score Bregman from second.
Why did Roberts wait?
If you intended to bring Jensen in the eighth, why wouldn’t you start him?
Jensen gave up one hit but it scored a run, thanks to Roberts’ unsound decision. Jensen would give up another run in the ninth and awaken a Houston Astros beast that would never fall back into its slumber.
There were more Roberts mistakes. His constant reliance on the Dodgers bullpen led to an army of “gumby” arms. A once untouchable weapon was now mortal, like Rocky Balboa finally drawing blood from Ivan Drago.
When looking at how these two teams matched up and their regular season tendencies, the Dodgers gave away Games 2 and 5. Roberts, a novice in big games, buckled under the pressure. Houston played the role of the ultimate counter puncher.
Every time Roberts and the Dodgers made a mistake, Houston took advantage. They did so in Game 2 when Roberts failed to start the eighth with Jensen.
The Astros’ bats came alive again in Game 5 as well. Roberts before the game said Morrow would be unavailable, only to insert him in the bottom of the seventh and watch him relinquish a lead the Dodgers would never gain back.
Confidence seemed to be sky high for the Dodgers after a come-from-behind victory in Game 6. Another epic game in an out-of-this-World Series.
Here’s the thing with a team struggling on the road though, you cannot give them a reason to believe. That’s what Roberts did by starting Darvish, the only starter the Astros were able to connect against.
Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan, ’till they get punched in the mouth.” The Astros threw a haymaker in the first inning and Roberts stood motionless like “Chris” in Get Out.
It was an unfortunate end to a unforgettable series.
This has already been a season for the record books. We witnessed The Streak — Los Angeles’ unprecedented 50-game stretch. We also experienced the sequel — The Streak 2 –Cleveland’s 22-game win streak. Aaron Judge made us “All Rise,” breaking Mark McGwire’s rookie home run record.
Judge wasn’t the only one; Major League’s best as a whole hit 6,105 homers this season, demolishing the previous record of 5,963 from 2000.
The World Series continued Major League Baseball’s rise back into the American sports lexicon.
Sunday’s Game 5 throttled Sunday Night Football’s ratings. People across the nation were experiencing the same fatigue that threatened productivity during Michael Phelps’ 2008 Beijing Olympics run.
A season marked by unmatched power continued in the postseason and with Springer. He would finish the series with 29 total bases and five homers.
Men who hit a HR in 4 straight WS games: Lou Gehrig, Reggie Jackson & George Springer! Did it in the SAME World Series: Just Springer!
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) November 2, 2017
Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch, never had to make any game changing decisons. He watched as Roberts did the work for both of them. Making the Dodgers road to a title tougher and his easier.
In the end, Houston received its deserved ending. A city ravaged by Hurricane Harvey, a World Series title will not replace the loss of loved ones, the billions of dollars lost or the thousands of misplaced Houstonians. But It can provide a little bit of levity in the face of uninterrupted darkness. We can thank Roberts for that.