Because baseball. That phrase is used by fans of the game when any longer explanation would make no more sense, when, in fact, no explanation can make much sense.
The 2017 World Series provided lots of excitement for fans of the game. First and foremost, it ended with a cherished seventh game, making it only the 39th in the long history of the annual event (this was the 113th) that has gone to the limit (with the Champions required to win four games). On a personal note, it provided me with the tenth World Series game I have attended and the first since 1988, when my team, the Dodgers, last made an appearance.
This year’s Fall Classic was also the first in 47 years to pit teams that had each won at least 100 regular season games. The last was in 1970 when the Baltimore Orioles (108 wins) defeated the Cincinnati Reds (102 wins) in five games. This time it was the Dodgers (104 wins) against the Houston Astros (101 wins). To put that win total in perspective, understand that the teams play 162 games over six months to decide the teams eligible for the playoffs. They then must prevail in two elimination series that reduce a field of eight playoff teams to the American and National League pennant winners.
The Dodgers had to beat, in order, the Arizona Diamondbacks (93 wins) and the then-defending Champion Chicago Cubs (92 wins) to get to the Series. They did so in relatively easy fashion, only losing one game while winning seven, and they seemed primed to run the table as they awaited their AL opponent. The Astros had a slightly longer route to get to the Series. First they beat the Boston Red Sox (93 wins) in four games (best of five series), but then they went the full seven in besting the New York Yankees (91 wins) to get to the big stage.
The Series opened with a fairly traditional win by the home team Dodgers. The game ended 3-1 with all the runs scoring on home runs and Clayton Kershaw beating Dallas Keuchel. The second game (also in L.A.) was the game I attended, and it was a doozy. It easily could have ended with the same 3-1 score, as the Dodgers were ahead by that score at the start of the eighth inning. But manager Dave Roberts had perhaps gone to his bullpen too early in the contest (that, at least, was my feeling, a feeling shared by more than a few in Section 28 Reserved, where I sat with a sea of Dodgers faithful).
In any event, the bullpen gave up the lead, first allowing a run in the eighth and then a pivotal home run to start the ninth (served up by the Dodgers’ ace reliever Kenley Jansen, who was in his second inning of work). That home run, struck by the Astros Marwin Gonzalez, may have been the pivotal hit in the Series, as it propelled the Astros to a win they probably shouldn’t have gotten. And almost didn’t get anyway, as the teams went into extra innings.
The tenth featured back-to-back home runs for the Astros to start the inning (off of that now-depleted Dodgers’ bullpen). But the Dodgers came back, scoring two of their own in the bottom half of the inning (one on a Yasiel Puig home run), the other on a hit by Kiké Rodriguez that was greeted by the loudest and most exultant cheering I have ever witnessed at any baseball game I’ve attended (and I’ve attended a bunch).
But the Dodgers couldn’t push the winning run across, and the game went to the 11th. At that point, the Dodgers had only one pitcher left, and that pitcher, Brandon McCarthy, had been on the disabled list for the last three months of the season. He quickly gave up a double and a home run to put the Dodgers behind again by two runs. The Dodgers came back with another home run of their own in the bottom of the 11th but the game ended with Puig striking out after an epic nine pitch at bat.
Many have called Game 2 one of the best ever. I can’t disagree, even though my beloved Dodgers were on the losing end. Now that the Series is over, I realize that it was also the pivotal game, for if the Dodgers had won it, there would never have been a Game 7, but they didn’t because … baseball.
Anyway, the Series then moved to Houston, where the Astros won Game 3 when Yu Darvish, the Dodgers rent-a-star (acquired late in the season just to help them win a World Series) gave up four runs before the second inning was over. L.A. lost 5-3. They rebounded, however, to win Game 4, 6-2, although the game was much closer than the score suggests. It was tied 1-1 after eight innings. The Dodgers broke out in the ninth with a five-spot that the Astros were unable to match (scoring only once in the home half). And so, the Series was tied at 2 apiece. And then came Game 5.
The Dodgers had to be feeling pretty good with their ace, Kershaw again starting. He had, after all, been masterful in Game 1, going 7 innings, striking out 11 and only allowing three hits (zero walks). And they had to feel even better when they staked him to a 4-0 lead after three and-a-half innings. But then, suddenly, he lost it as Houston tallied four in the bottom of the fourth. And he lost it again in the fifth, when, after the Dodgers scored three more in the top half, Houston equaled that total in the bottom half, knocking Kershaw out in the process. From there the game got increasingly crazier. The Dodgers took a momentary lead in the 7th, when they pushed across a run. But the Astros answered with four in the bottom half of the inning to lead 11-8. Each team scored a run in the 8th to make it 12-9 going to the ninth, when, as had to happen in a game like this, the Dodgers scored three to tie the game.
The pitching in this game, to put it mildly, left something to be desired. The teams hit seven home runs (five by the Astros), each team had 14 hits and made one error. In total they combined to use 14 pitchers (7 for each side). The Astros, in case you were wondering, finally won it in the bottom of the 10th. Final score: 13-12.
The teams returned to L.A. for Game 6, with the Dodgers facing elimination. But the script said there had to be a Game 7, and the Dodgers obliged with another 3-1 win, which would have made three by that score if they had held the lead they had after seven in Game 2 (remember Game 2). Anyway, the stage was set for a memorable finish, but that’s when the script didn’t hold.
As a life-long Dodger fan, I could have tolerated a close-fought down-to-the-last pitch loss, like Game 2. (I’d have tolerated it as a fan of the game and hated it as another in a long line of heartbreaking Dodger losses I’ve suffered over the many years I’ve rooted for them.) But Game 7 wasn’t that kind of a game. It was a disaster from the start as Yu Darvish (yeah, that guy again) blew up again, exiting with two outs in the second and behind 5-0. That the Dodgers won the rest of the game, scoring one run to the Astros none, was no consolation, as the Astros celebrated a 5-1 win for the World Championship.
In the end, it was a memorable Series. It went seven games, and all but one of them (the last) were essentially nail-biters. Two were historic. And if you tried to explain its many weird twists and turns to someone who missed it all, the simplest explanation would be those two words.
Because … baseball.