In the home run-hittingest postseason in baseball history, 24 of the Astros’ 27 dingers were hit by their own homegrown players. This championship doesn’t happen without all the miserable seasons required for a run of high draft picks, but even that doesn’t tell the story—the baseball draft is notoriously unpredictable, and Houston had a run of successful top picks unmatched by anything in recent memory. And it all begins, in a couple senses of the word, with George Springer.
Springer was the 11th overall pick in 2011, an All-American outfielder out of UConn touted for his defense (he grew up idolizing Torii Hunter, and catching fly balls in his backyard and pretending to be Willie Mays) who after being drafted spoke not of the then-moribund Astros as a team with a thinkable chance at glory, but as a team where young guys like him would just have the chance to play. Those young guys would arrive in short order. That same year, international signing Jose Altuve made his debut. The next year, the year Dallas Keuchel debuted, Houston drafted Carlos Correa. The year after, Mark Appel, who would be traded for closer Ken Giles. The next year, Brady Aiken, who they did not sign and received a compensatory pick that they used to get Alex Bregman. The core of this team was in place, and everyone could see it coming. There’s a reason Springer was on that now-famous SI cover.
Of all the players who helped the Astros hoisted their first franchise championships, it was Springer who earned the series MVP, and it wasn’t close. Even after going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in Game 1, the 28-year-old leadoff man finished the World Series 11-for-29 with five home runs and seven RBI. He became the third player ever to go deep five times in a World Series, and the first to homer in four straight games. His eight extra-base hits and 29 total bases are both World Series records.
Springer’s greatest gift to Houston fans, the gift of coronary health, came in the second inning of Game 7, a two-run home run off of Yu Darvish that shifted a series that had been emotional whiplash into a straight, staid victory lap. Springer had gotten into a slider that didn’t slide for a double in his first at-bat, and now, with two strikes, Darvish went to his fastball instead. It was a meatball, in the middle of the plate, a little on the low side, perfect for Springer to extend his arms and line it 438 feet into left-center. It was, ultimately, more than the Astros would need; it was over.
“I remember swinging and hearing the sound of the bat. I knew it was a good sound,” Springer said. “Then I saw the flight of the ball. And I got to first base and I rounded third, and got home and that’s a crazy feeling. It’s a very surreal feeling because this is Game 7.”
The arc of the Astros is easy to trace—certainly easier to see in retrospect than it was to engineer. Three straight hundred-loss seasons between when Springer was drafted and when he hit the majors, and now a championship. “When Springer arrived in the big leagues,” Jeff Luhnow said. “...from that point I knew it’d be up, not down.” It began with him, and ends with him too, raising a trophy of his own.