Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What else can you say after a baseball season that ended like that.
That’s the lead for a column I wrote after the World Series of 2011 when the Wild Card St. Louis Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the World Series. I thought that that post season had had it all and would be a hard act to follow.
I used that opening again in 2014 when two teams that had barely made it into the Playoffs as Wild Cards met in Game 7 that year and thought I had seen it all. After this year’s World Series proved to me that there is no limit to the excitement and drama that a World Series can throw at you, I dusted it off again.
This year’s opponents, the Astros and Dodgers put on quite a show. Games two and five have to be rated as among the most exciting of all time. Both were extra inning games, Game 2, 11 innings and Game 5, 10 innings and both won by the Astros.
In Game 2, the Astros came from 3-1 behind to tie it with runs in the eighth and ninth and both teams scored twice in the tenth. The Astros took the lead back with two in the tenth and Charley Culberson homered in the eleventh to make it 7-6 but the Astros held on for the win. There were eight homers in the game, four by each team. All but one of the seven runs scored in extra innings was a result of a home run.
In Game 5, the teams hit another seven homers in a 13-12 slug fest, with the winning run scored against Dodger Closer Kenley Jansen on a walk off single by Alex Bregman which capped a rally that started with two outs and no one on in the tenth. In a game that had promised to be a pitchers’ duel between the two Aces, Dallas Keuchel and Clayton Kershaw, each team used seven pitchers in trying to stop the bleeding.
The Series marked only the second time only two games were won by starting pitchers despite the fact that Houston had Keuchel and Justin Verlander and Los Angeles had Kershaw and Alex Wood, four of the best starters in the game. Houston center fielder, George Springer, who had been a star player at the University of Connecticut, got the Most Valuable Player Award after hitting five homers and three doubles while batting
.373 and scoring eight runs and driving in seven. He was the first player ever to hit home runs in four consecutive Series games and his eight extra base hits and 29 total bases were also new records. He became the third player in history, along with Reggie Jackson and Chase Utley, to hit five homers in one series.
Game 7 was almost an antclimax as the Astros got off to a 5-0 lead, mainly on Springer’s double and two run homer in the first two innings. Astros’ starter, Lance McCullers, faltered but he and three relievers held that 5-0 lead through the fifth and then Charlie Morton, who hadn’t relieved in a game since 2008, closed the door on the Dodgers the rest of the way.
The Astros, whose payroll was $150. million dollars, according to Spotrac, an online service which tracks that type thing, paid less than the Major League average of $152. million per team. In getting to the World Series, they beat the Boston Red Sox with a payroll of $222.6 million, third highest in baseball, in the ALDS. They then went on and beat the New York Yankees, with a payroll of $224.4 million, second highest in baseball, in the ALCS and, as we now know, beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, with a payroll of $265.1 million, the highest in baseball, in the World Series. The Astros worked their way up through the three highest payrolls in baseball, in reverse order, on their trip to the World’s Championship.
They won the Western Division regular season title and four of the other five regular season Division Winners all had higher team salaries than the Astros. In addition to the Red Sox and Dodgers, the other Division winners, in the National League, the Washington Nationals, winners in the East, had the seventh highest payroll at $189.3 million and the Central Division winning Cubs had the tenth highest payroll at $182.4. In the American League, the Central Division winning Cleveland Indians, had the eighteenth highest payroll at $139.2 million, the only Division winner with a payroll lower than the Astros.
Of course, it is not unusual for a team with the highest expenditure for salaries not to win the World Series. Since 2000, the team spending the most on players’ salaries has won the World Series only twice. The New York Yankees, in 2000 and 2009 were the only teams to be first in salary and win the Series. Only twice has the team with the second highest salaries won the World Series and those were the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox and the 2013 Sox were the only team with the third highest salary level to win the Series. In eight of the 18 years, a team ranked 10th or lower in salary spending won the World Series.
It would appear that, in terms of success in baseball in the Post Season, the old adage ‘You get what you pay for’ does not hold true. The Dodgers have been the biggest spender for the past four years and have won their regular season division each year but lost in the NLDS twice, in the NLCS once and in the World Series once.
With virtually their entire starting lineup of position players locked in for at least another year in Houston and Verlander, Keuchel, McCullers and Game 7 hero Charlie Morton coming back, with the bulk of the bullpen also returning, the Astros are not going away for awhile.
The team that lost 111 games just four years ago has the potential to be the first repeat World Series winner of this century. Keeping this talented crew together will be an expensive proposition as Altuve becomes the first eligible for Free Agency next year and Springer, Correa, Gonzalez and others become eligible for arbitration over the next couple of years.
Their rise has been a Cinderella story though and has proven, once again, that there is no limit to the excitement that baseball and the World Series, the greatest event in sports, can provide.