Astros’ George Springer ties homer record, wins Series MVP
LOS ANGELES - When the grueling, thrilling, stress-filled seven games ended, George Springer ran toward his teammates from right field. The Astros had just done it. They’d won the World Series.
Three years ago, Springer’s photo on the cover of Sports Illustrated predicted the moment. And he never doubted it would happen. Through ups and downs, wins and losses, hurricanes and floods, injuries and comebacks, the outfielder and leadoff hitter has been a constant and steady force for the Astros.
He put together a World Series for the ages in 2017 and celebrated the sweetness of victory after the Astros subdued a beast of a Dodgers team with Wednesday night’s 5-1 victory in Game 7.
After the clincher was over, he stood on a podium in the middle of Dodger Stadium to collect the Willie Mays trophy, given to the Most Valuable Player of the Fall Classic.
“We did this for Houston,” an emotional Springer said while holding the hardware and standing with his teammates, a World Series Champs hat sitting on his head. “We are coming home champions.”
Dispelling the doubters
After the Series opener, people were calling for Springer to be moved down in the lineup. He struck out four times in Game 1 against Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen. Before that, he had hit .115 (3-for-26) against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
A.J. Hinch shrugged it off. The manager never worried about Springer, and neither did anyone else in an Astros uniform. They knew Springer would show up, that he would come through at the plate.
Springer didn’t just prove naysayers wrong. He silenced them by becoming the best Astros player in the final six games of the season. On a team with so much talent, that is no small feat.
He hit five home runs - tying the record shared by Reggie Jackson and Chase Utley for a single World Series - including one in each of the last four games. He had extra-base hits in the final six games en route to 29 total bases - a record for any postseason series - and finished with a .379 batting average and 1.471 OPS in leading the charge past a 104-win Dodgers team.
Unlike some of the other Astros who have come along amidst the organization’s rise, Springer has been around for several years. Drafted in the first round in 2011, he was expected to play a key role for the rebuilding franchise.
He made his Astros debut on April 16, 2014. The night before his first major league appearance, he went 3-of-4 with a grand slam and scored four runs for the Class AAA Oklahoma City Redhawks.
To say Houston was excited about Springer would be an understatement. The Astros had lost more than 100 games the previous three seasons. Fans were eagerly awaiting the turnaround. Springer would be a part of it.
The Astros promoted it heavily on social media. It was Springer Day! They hoped the fans, who had started to show up to the ballpark less and less, could rally around the young talent.
He started in right field and went 1-of-5 with a walk and run that day in a loss to Kansas City. But his debut was exciting for the franchise.
“It’s kind of like opening day all over again,” general manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters that day.
Keeping cool is the key
Before he took the field just hours after arriving in Houston, Springer told reporters he was trying to keep his cool in the biggest moment of his life.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m (nervous),” Springer said. “Kind of the only way I can explain it: My coach at school would always say, ‘You want to be like a duck. You want to be calm above the water, but underneath, his feet are just kicking and going and going and going and going.’ So that’s my plan: to be calm but just go out and play.”
Since that day, Springer has certainly kept his cool, and he’s had huge moment after huge moment. His two-run, 11th-inning homer was the difference in the Astros’ 7-6 victory over the Dodgers in a classic Game 2. And he started the Game 7 clincher with a double to ignite a two-run inning, then smashed a two-run homer in the second to put the Astros up 5-0.
Coming back to Dodger Stadium for a Game 7 with your back against the wall isn’t easy. But Springer made it look that way out of the gate and set the tone for his team, which followed his lead.
After every game, he was calm and collected, win or lose. He wanted to win the World Series. And he wouldn’t stop until his team did it.
In spring training, he was ready. He and the Astros had some success in 2015. But when he looked around, he saw that the team Luhnow was building for years was together. He believed right away that the Astros had everything they needed. And he never stopped.
When he missed 13 games with a quad injury in July and Carlos Correa missed 44 with a fractured thumb, Springer remained positive. When the Astros went through stretches where their starting pitchers were injured, he didn’t worry.
“A lot of things have to go right in 162 games,” Springer said. “But we always believed. Through every stretch, through the tough times. And here we are. I always believed in this team.”
And his team believed in him.
Long before he was featured on a Sports Illustrated cover. Long before he was making defensive plays that were back breakers for the opposition. Long before his name appeared in the World Series record book.
The Astros saw something special in Springer years ago.
Now the rest of the world has seen it, too.