LOS ANGELES -- The Astros, just four years removed from the low point in their bold rebuilding project, capped their remarkable turnaround and delivered a World Series championship to the city of Houston.
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When All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve fielded a grounder off the bat of Corey Seager and threw to teammate Yuli Gurriel at first base in the ninth inning, the Astros had a franchise-defining victory by beating the Dodgers, 5-1, in Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium to win their first championship.
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Houston, which pulled out heart-stopping wins in Games 2 and 5, took some drama out of Game 7 when it built an early 5-0 lead, capped by George Springer's two-run homer in the second off starter Yu Darvish, who recorded only five outs for the second start in the Series. The Astros kept the Dodgers at bay with a steady stream of relievers to finish piecing together the biggest 27 outs in franchise history. Los Angeles was 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
"I got the last out for the Houston Astros becoming world champions," said Altuve. "It was a ground ball to me. I threw to first, and I think this is the happiest moment in my life in baseball."
The Fall Classic triumph in seven games came on the heels of a dramatic victory over the Yankees in the American League Championship Series that also took the full seven. The Astros and the 1985 Royals are now the only two teams to win two seven-game series in the same postseason.
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"It's hard to draw it up any better," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I don't care who we beat or where we beat them, I just want to be the last team standing, and we're taking this trophy, this championship vibe we've got going back to Houston. We'll forever be a championship city."
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The franchise that began play in the National League in 1962 -- and endured numerous postseason heartbreaks -- won its first World Series just four years removed from losing a franchise-record 111 games during an ambitious rebuilding project that netted several key contributors on this year's 101-win team.
"We had some rough years, but we stuck to our plan," said Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. "I want to thank ownership for supporting us the whole way and giving us the freedom to go out and get this group of players. We did it. We knew we had a plan that could get us here, and we got it. World championship."
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After missing the postseason last year, the Astros stormed to their first AL West division title before knocking off the Red Sox in the AL Division Series and Yankees in the ALCS, in which they rallied from a 3-2 series deficit. Beating the Dodgers, who won an MLB-best 104 games, in a hard-fought Fall Classic brought the city of Houston its first major sports title in 22 years. In eliminating the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers, the Astros beat the teams with the three largest payrolls in the Majors.
"You look around this ballclub and we're going to be coming into Spring Training next February with most of the guys here, so really good chance of defending it, and I think we all realize that trophy could stay in Houston for a few years," outfielder Josh Reddick said.
Three pitches into the game, Darvish was in trouble, as Series MVP Springer doubled into the left-field corner. A fourth pitch and Darvish trailed, as first baseman Cody Bellinger fielded Alex Bregman's bouncer in the hole and threw it behind a covering Darvish and into the Astros' dugout, putting Bregman at second. Bregman stole third on a slider in the dirt to Altuve and then scored on Altuve's groundout.
Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers helped himself with the bat in the second inning. Brian McCann worked back from 0-2 to walk leading off, was doubled to third by Marwin Gonzalez and, with one out, McCullers bounced slowly enough to second base to allow McCann to score. Springer followed by crushing a 3-2 pitch, becoming the first player to homer in four consecutive games of the same World Series, to make it 5-0.
From there, Hinch pieced together the outs. Brad Peacock threw two scoreless innings, and Charlie Morton fired four innings in relief to get the win, allowing one runs and two hits.
"Twenty-seven outs is hard to get," Hinch said. "We proved that in a lot of different ways, but the 27th one felt pretty sweet tonight."
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was asked if he regretted letting Darvish face Springer.
"No, you look up to that point, there were two balls that were hit hard," he said. "There was the first ball off Springer's bat, the double and then Gonzalez -- outside of that we made an error, the stolen base, and then some soft grounders. I think anything but the homer you've got to kind of let the game -- I understand it's Game 7, but I just felt his stuff was good. And I think anything other than a homer would have been considerably better.
"I was surprised again [by Darvish's second consecutive implosion.] I thought that the stuff was good, and there were a couple balls hit hard through the first time through. The walk, the double, and the next thing you know, Springer hits a homer, and you're down, 5-0. It happened quick. We did what we could to kind of damage control and keep us in the ballgame, but we really couldn't break through tonight."
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In the clubhouse after the game, Springer clutched the World Series trophy and said he couldn't wait to bring it back to Houston.
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"This is a dream come true," said Springer. "It's an honor [to win Series MVP]. But you know what? It's about the Houston Astros tonight and our city and our fans. We're coming home a champion, Houston."
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Darvish didn't survive the second inning for the second time in this World Series. The Astros tagged him for five runs (four earned) and three hits in 1 2/3 innings.
"I didn't make adjustments, or the stuff that I didn't have hurt," said Darvish. "It hurt the team. But this pain is going to stay in me for a while. I've just got to learn from it and just go from there."
Los Angeles, appearing in the World Series for the first time since beating Oakland in 1988, used starters Clayton Kershaw (four scoreless innings) and Alex Wood (two scoreless innings) in relief and closer Kenley Jansen in the seventh inning trailing by four runs.
"At the end of the day," said Kershaw, "we got beat by a team that probably deserved to win."
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Escape artists: McCullers only lasted 2 1/3 innings, but he worked his way out of jams in the first and second innings. McCullers pitched around a leadoff double and a couple of hit-by-pitches to strand the bases loaded in the first, then escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the second with a double-play liner by Chris Taylor. McCullers allowed three hits, but he hit a World Series-record four batters.
"I don't think you can put it into words what it means to the people of Houston," said McCullers. "We wear [the Houston Strong] patch and we wore it proudly. The people in Houston are never far from our minds. We know they're at Minute Maid watching, they're going crazy for us. … They deserve this as much as we do, man, and we're going to party hard."
Springer's biggest dinger: Springer changed the dynamic and tone of the game with his two-run homer off Darvish, which gave Houston a 5-0 lead. He belted five home runs in the World Series, and he set records for extra-base hits (eight) and total bases (29) in the Fall Classic. Springer hit .379 in the World Series with three doubles, seven RBIs and eight runs scored.
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"It's crazy," Springer said. "I think as a player, when things don't start to go well, you tend to press. You tend to do things that you wouldn't normally do, and after the first game, I had a talk with Carlos Beltran, and he told me to just go out and kind of enjoy the moment, because he's been playing for 20 years and this is his second time here. He told me to go and be who you are and kind of enjoy it."
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With neither starter getting the win, this is the first seven-game series (out of 39) in Fall Classic history in which starting pitchers recorded just two wins (Kershaw in Game 1 and McCullers in Game 3). As recently as 2011, we saw a seven-game series in which starters got three wins, and that has happened five other times (2002, 1979, '75, '72, '47).
"We were at the bottom. Nobody wanted to come here. It was an open tryout, and now it's a destination for players to come. We've got MVPs wanting to come here, we've got Cy Youngs wanting to come here. We're on top of the world ... literally." -- Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel
"There's always going to be second-guessing. We felt good with Yu starting the game." -- Roberts, on suggestions he should have started Wood or Kershaw on short rest.