Two Teams, Two Very Different Paths to the 2017 World Series

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Well, the time is nearly here.  As I write this we’re some 14 hours from the first pitch of the World Series.  Enough time to buy a week’s groceries, enough adult beverages to make the games enjoyable and though it pains me to say so, play bingo. Before I set out to do any of the above, I’ll briefly mention the past histories and World Series records of these teams.

The Dodgers’ first World Series took place in 1916 when they played in Brooklyn at shiny new Ebbets Field, named for their owner Charles Ebbets. The field held 30,000 then and would never hold more than 35,000 fans. It had no press box for the men of the Fourth Estate who covered the series between the Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox, which Boston won in 5 games. The Dodgers were also known as the Robins in that era when team names were more fluid than they would become.  The name Robins paid homage to manager Wilbert Robinson, who the Yankees tried to acquire at one point. The Dodgers returned to the Fall Classic in 1920, losing to the Indians.  They languished for the next couple of decades, playing so badly that the question was raised “Is Brooklyn Still in the League?”  That would change when Larry McPhail took the reins.  Under his baton they won the 1941 pennant, though they lost to the Yankees in 5 games.  The highlight that has survived the decades is Mickey Owen’s passed ball which ignited a Yankee rally in game 4, one of 3 games of that World Series which survives in recorded form. Starting in 1947 they would face the Yankees 6 times through 1956.  Their only winner was 1955.  They lost to the Giants in two NL playoffs-in 1951 and again 11 years later when both teams played in California.  The Dodgers won the World Series in 1963 by a 4-game sweep of the Yankees, then lost in 1965 to the Twins and 1966 to the Orioles in 4 straight.  They lost twice more to the Yankees in 1977 and 1978 before taking the Yankees down in 6 games in 1981.  7 years later the Dodgers faced Oakland as heavy underdogs.  In game 1, Kirk Gibson gimped his way to home plate on injured legs and hit the home run that brought the phrase “walk-off” into baseball’s lexicon.  The Dodgers never looked back, winning in 5.  This is their first World Series since then.

The Astros’ history is much shorter.  They began as the Houston Colt .45’s in 1962 with a gun on their caps and a minor league team called the Colt .22’s.  The name and the logo would never work today when gun control is a phrase on everybody’s lips but the 45’s changed their name even before the Texas Tower shootings.  They became the Astros in 1965 when the Astrodome opened. Baseball’s earliest indoor stadium was huge and very few balls left the lot. The early Astros were dogged by tragedy-pitcher Don Wilson died before turning 30 and pitcher J. R. (James Rodney) Richard had a stroke at age 30 ending his career.  The Astros won 2 NL west pennants-in 1980 and 1986 but didn’t make the World Series either time.

In 1986, game 6 against the Mets was a 16-innning battle for the ages which the Mets finally won 7-6 sending them to the World series. A move to the new NL Central division led the Astros to wins from 1997–99 but they lost all 3 times in the NLDS. The Astros would make the 2004 NLCS, losing to the Cardinals.  They finally reached their first World Series after 43 years of existence in 2005.  En route they won game 4 of their NLDS against the Braves in 18 innings, then took out the Cardinals to reach the World Series where They were swept in 4 by the White Sox. One highlight of that World Series was the  fact that Milo Hamilton, who had been a baseball broadcaster since the late 1950’s was able to broadcast a World Series.  10 years later I wrote an obituary for him in this forum.  Another highlight of 2005 was game 3, the first World Series game ever played in Texas.  Living up to the slogan “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” the game was larger than life-a 14-inning tussle that took nearly 6 hours to complete.  With today’s recording techniques still a few years away, I forced myself to stay upright all through that game, changing tapes every 45 minutes and pouring down orange juice to stay wakeful.

The Astros dropped off sharply after the 2005 season.  From 2011 to 2013 they lost 106, 107 and 111 games. They were moved from the National to the American League before 2013 began.  The 2013 season ended with 15 losses in a row. That makes it that much harder to believe that shortly after 8 PM tonight in Los Angeles the Astros will take on the Dodgers in game 1 of this year’s World Series.

The Dodgers, who took out the Cubs in 5 games have been lying in wait for whoever would win the ALCS, which ran to 7 games. It will surprise no one that Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher on the planet will get the ball tonight for the Dodgers. He lost six weeks to a back injury earlier in the season but has looked like his old self since his return. Kershaw, age 29 is a Dallas native who has been a fixture in the Dodgers’ rotation since 2008. He has an utterly insane 144–64 record and only needs to last through the end of 2018 to be eligible for the Hall of Fame. Hopefully with modern medical care he can last longer than another Dodger lefty with inhuman stuff, Sandy Koufax.  Number 32 gave up the game at age 31 rather than take cortisone (a relatively new drug) for his arthritic elbow. Kershaw has 3 Cy Young awards, the last in 2014 and has been an All-Star every year since 2011. In spite of his long absence he still led his league in wins and ERA this year, making him a contender for yet another Cy Young award. On his back he wears number 22 for his youth baseball idol Will Clark.

Kershaw’s foe tonigh  will be Dallas Keuchel.  Most pitchers look average when stacked up against Clayton Kershaw and Keuchel is fairly average unless he’s facing the Yankees.  He had one insane year in 2 015, then regressed in 2016 before bouncing back somewhat this year.  He and all his teammates have a daunting task before them as they face the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine.

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