By HAL McCOY
For the first time in its 56 years, or the first time ever, members of the Houston Astros will be wearing gaudy diamonds on their fingers, a ring emblematic of a World Series championship.
And they earned every carat.
With a 5-1 victory in Game 7 over the Los Angeles Dodges in Game 7 Wednesday night in Dodger Stadium, the Astros captured one of the most competitive and convoluted World Series in baseball history.
The Astros wear a star on their blue caps and, indeed, nearly every one of them was a star, none bigger than leadoff hitter George Springer, the World Series MVP.
He tied a World Series record with five home runs, including one each in the last four games, a World Series record.
And his last one was huge both in dramatics and in length. His two-run 438-yard blast off LA starter Yu Darvish in the second inning gave the Astros a comfortable 5-0 lead.
For the second time in this World Series, Darvish pitched only 1 2/3 innings. He gave up five runs (four earned), three hits and a walk, throwing only 43 pitches.
Clayton Kershaw, who threw 93 pitches in Game 5 just two nights ago, came on in the third to quell the riot, but the inmates already had control of the yards.
Kershaw pitched four innings and gave up no runs and two hits and no walks, leaving it at 5-0.
The Astros jumped on Darvish for two runs in the first inning, started by Springer with a double. Alex Bregman grounded between first and second and first baseman Cody Bellinger stopped it, then threw it into the Houston dugout for a run-scoring error.
Bregman took second on the error, stole third and scored on Jose Altuve’s ground ball to first for a 2-0 Houston lead.
The Astros pushed it to 5-0 in the second when Darvish started the inning by walking Brian McCann. Marwin Gonzalez doubled to put runners on third and second with no outs. McCann scored when pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., grounded to second.
Then Springer unloaded his home run — not only his fifth of the World Series but his eighth extra base hit, setting another World Series record.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers had chance after chance after chance in the first three innings against McCullers and didn’t score.
In the first three innings, their leadoff hitter singled each time and McCullers hit a batter with a pitch in all three innings. But the Dodgers stranded three in the first, one in the second and two in the third. They were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.
In the first, Chris Taylor doubled and McCullers hit both Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig. But Joc Pederson grounded out to second.
In the second, Logan Forsythe led with a single. Third baseman Alex Bregman made an outstanding play on Austin Barnes, but McCullers walked pinch-hitter Kike Hernandez to put two on with one out. Alex Taylor lined hard into a shortstop-to-second base double play.
In the third, Corey Seager led with a single and Justin Turner was hit by a pitch for the second straight time. Two on, no outs. Cody Bellinger struck out for the 16th time, a World Series record. And his next time up he struck out again, extending his record to 17 in the World Series and 29 whiffs in the post-season.
That was the end of McCullers and Houston manager brought in Brad Peacock. He retired Puig on a fly to center and struck out Pederson. Again, no runs.
The Dodgers threatened again in the fifth, another idle threat. With one out, Seager walked and Turner singled. But Bellinger hit into a fielder’s choice. Chris Devenski replaced Peacock and induced a soft line drive to first from Puig to end the inning.
And it was still 5-0.
But with a Houston’s shaky bullpen, the 5-0 lead did not seem insurmountable.
Houston manager A.J. Hinch brought in starter Charlie Morton to start the sixth and the Astros were quickly in boiling water again.
Morton gave up a single to Joc Pederson and walked Logan Forsythe — two on, nobody out. Austin Barnes popped up. Finally, though, pinch-hitter Andre Ethier singled home a run, ending LA’s 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
Morton quickly put a lid on it by striking out Chris Taylor and retiring Corey Seager on a dangerous ground ball to shortstop on which his bat was reduced to ten boxes of toothpicks, leaving it at 5-1.
Even though Morton had made only one relief appearance in his career before Wednesday, Hinch stayed with him and he retired the last 10 in a row, not only getting credit for the win, but preserving the World Series championship.
The Dodgers, trying to win their first World Series since 1988, won a major-league best 104 games this season, put up the good fight against a team that won 101 games during the season.
But the rebuild the Astros constructed, paid off. During the process, the Astros lost more than 100 games three years in a row (2011-2013).
And they were not about to be rebuffed in their second World Series appearance after they lost four straight to the Chicago White Sox in 2005. To win the World Series, they won three elimination games, two against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series and Game 7 Wednesday night against the Dodgers.