Friday, November 3, 2017
Darvish Wasn’t the Only Game 7 Culprit
Give Yu Darvish credit. He owned this one and didn't flinch. He went out to start Game 7 of the World Series, got torn apart in an inning and two thirds, and felt even worse for letting down the team he appreciated for giving him another postseason shot in the first place.
Especially because his previous Series start, in Game 3, went the same way, only with one less run against him.
Red-eyed and looking for all the world like he'd come home to catch his wife in bed with someone else, Darvish admitted he'd lost some of his passion for baseball until the Dodgers dealt for him in July. "They gave me goals," Darvish said of his new team. "They gave me the goal of not wanting to lose until the end. Then my goal became to perform well in the World Series."
He said his breaking balls failed him in Game 3 and he spent much of his time until 7 working on them. "Over the last four days, I made adjustments and was able to get them to the point where I could throw them for strikes," said the right-hander who won a division series game and a National League Championship Series game. "But I wasn't able to get them to the point where I could dominate hitters. It's disappointing I wasn't able to do that in the last two games."
Darvish may also have been the victim of a maddening habit — tipping his pitches. The Astros knew him only too well from his seasons with the Rangers, their American League West rival. Watch some of the video capturing him in Game 7. Darvish kept his glove wrist still when preparing to throw a fastball but wiggled the glove just so when preparing to throw a slider. The Astros probably caught on early and often.
George Springer put paid to Darvish's Game 7 and, possibly, his life with the Dodgers (he becomes a free agent now), with a 2-run homer in the top of the second Wednesday night. It won't comfort Darvish to be reminded he was only the first, not the last or worst Dodger failure.
Dodger hitters went 1-for-13 with men in scoring position and left ten men on base. They couldn't even cash it in when Astros starter Lance McCullers, Jr. looked early and often enough like he was trying to hand them runs on a plate to make things a little more even between the two sides.
Chris Taylor opened the bottom of the first with a double to match Springer's game-opening double. McCullers drilled the bases loaded, hitting Justin Turner with one out and Yasiel Puig with two out. But Joc Pederson, the Dodgers' best Series hitter, grounded out to second base for the side.
In the second, with Logan Forsythe on second after being moved there on an infield out, McCullers drilled pinch hitter Enrique Hernandez to set up first and second, but Taylor lined out to shortstop Carlos Correa, who doubled Forsythe off second with a toss to Jose Altuve.
And in the third, Corey Seager led off with a base hit and McCullers hit Turner again. McCullers struck out Cody Bellinger — whose first inning error, ranging too far right to get a grounder Forsythe would have had a better chance of turning into an out, then throwing wild to let Springer score the first Astro run — and yielded to Brad Peacock. Peacock got Puig to fly out and struck out Pederson and there went that idea.
The Dodgers went in order in the fourth, but a one out walk and a follow-up base hit in the fifth chased Peacock for Francisco Liriano, who got Bellinger to force Turner while Seager took third. Chris Devenski came in and got rid of Puig for the side on a soft liner Altuve could have caught barehanded.
It was almost dumb luck that the Dodgers scratched a run out of Charlie Morton in the sixth. That was as generous as Morton and the Astros planned to be. Morton retired the Dodgers in order in each of the final three innings.
And with Clayton Kershaw pitching four shutout relief innings, Kenley Jansen pitching one — the eighth — and Alex Wood pitching one in the ninth, the second guessers are already trying to figure out how manager Dave Roberts could have stuck to the plan for Darvish starting Game 7.
Especially knowing Kershaw told anyone who'd listen and publish, the day before, that he was willing to pitch 27 outs if need be. And working his four Game 7 relief innings like he had the tools still at hand to back it up.
Sure, a big reason the Dodgers made the move to get Darvish was to keep Kershaw from having to work on short rest, as happened in too many previous postseasons with disaster ruining what were usually solid outings otherwise.
If Kershaw went to the mound Wednesday night with ideas of proving he'd finally figured out what to do and not to do on short rest, it's no wonder the second guessers are guessing.
That doesn't explain the Dodgers feeling so desperate after just a 2-0 deficit in the middle of the first, never mind 5-0 in the middle of the second, that they started trying to hit six-run homers with every swing of the bat.
Or Bellinger, the likely National League Rookie of the Year Award winner, making a AA-level fielding mistake to let the Astros start on the board (throwing wild, letting Springer open the scoring, when he ranged to his right to get a ground ball second baseman Logan Forsythe would have had an easier time fielding), while breaking Aaron Judge's postseason strikeout record — in the same postseason in which the Yankee bombardier set it.
Or the Dodgers hitting .208 as a team all Series long with their biggest guns — Turner, Puig, Bellinger, Seager, and Taylor — combining to hit .168 in the set, while Pederson rebounded from a horror of a regular season (including a minor league demotion at one point) to hit .333 with three homers, five RBIs, and a 1.344 Series OPS.
The Astros didn't hit that much better as a team (.230), but Springer and several others — especially big sticks Altuve, Correa, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel — found ways to get the big hits when needed the most. And there was almost no way to stop Springer's mayhem without making him hit from inside a phone booth.
"Tonight I'll probably just hang out with these guys, just try to remember the season and the guys,'' said Kershaw, who's become deeply religious without thumping a Bible in front of anyone who gives him the opportunity, after Game 7 ended. "Right now we're just trying to kind of, without being too emotional, just kind of embracing each other a little bit. Just understanding we're all feeling the same hurt."
Even with the prospect that the Dodgers just might be back in next year's postseason, since they're too good not to be, Darvish couldn't seem to shake Game 7 off that simply.
"When I have an awful day, what I think about is how for every awful day I've had, I've had a great day and I've added another wonderful person to my life," he said. "When I think like that, it's easier. But what I did today affected everyone on the Dodgers, so I don't know if that's going to work."
It's a terrible weight to carry when your awful day puts paid to a season in which yours was the National League's best team and had no reason to lose a World Series that looked like it was going to go right down to the last inning. When your awful day let the Astros look better than your team for two fateful innings that turned out to be the ones that mattered too early.
Darvish has said he wants to return to the Dodgers even as he hits free agency. Nobody knows just yet if the feeling is mutual. Maybe wait until the World Series loss is a month old?
Things could always be worse. Just ask Puig. He went home from Game 7 to discover his home in nearby Encino, California was burglarized during the game. All the burglars broke was a window, without actually robbing the place. That proved nothing compared to Dodger hearts broken by Astro bats.