Astros-Dodgers World Series: Springer’s bat comes alive at perfect time for Houston
Via CBS Sports
First things first: Holy smokes,on Wednesday night. It was one of those where you just drop to you knees and thank the good lord you are a baseball fan (assuming you aren’t a Dodgers fan, in which case there was plenty of cussing to go around). This was just two great teams punching and counter-punching for 11 innings. Every time it seemed like one team had a decent hold on the game, the other team proved us wrong — until the bottom of the 11th.
For the Astros, the big blow eventually came from leadoff man George Springer. He came through with a two-run shot in the 11th to finally, mercifully for the Houston fans who had never before seen a World Series victory, put his team up for good.
“For us to come into a tough place to play and play a very, very, very good team and split is absolutely huge,” Springer said afterward. “For us to be going home to our environment, to our crowd, is huge to have it tied up at one.”
It doesn’t happen without Springer’s dagger in the top of the 11th, either. They would hold on to win 7-6.
Springer’s dinger is the shot that will get all the attention and rightfully so, but prior to that Springer was having an under-the-radar great night at the plate.
Springer worked a very good plate appearance for a walk to lead off the game. His next time up, he singled to left as part of the rally that got the Astros their first lead. Next time up, Springer lined out to center. That looked like the hardest ball he hit of the night. It was an out, but of the “loud out” variety. Springer did ground into a fielder’s choice next, but again he hit it hard. In the ninth, a few hitters after Marwin Gonzalez had tied the game with a solo shot off Kenley Jansen (again, this game was insane), Springer doubled off Jansen.
Then we had the 11th-inning homer.
Altogether, Springer was 3 for 5 with a walk, double, home run and two RBI. That’s an incredibly productive day. Even the balls that found the defense were hit hard. By no means am I in love with exit velocity, but this reading came before the home run:
George Springer has hit balls tonight of:
He’s heating up
Basically, Springer hit everything hard in Game 2.
It couldn’t have come at a better time for the Astros. They needed their leadoff man in the worst way and he’d been struggling.
In the ALCS, Springer was 3 for 26 with no extra-base hits. His .115 average and .233 on-base percentage are pretty unacceptable for a leadoff man. Then, in Game 1, Springer struck out four times. He looked totally lost, flailing wildly at pitches outside the zone on occasion.
This along with the 0-1 series deficit caused some to wonder if Astros manager A.J. Hinch should try a different approach with Springer, including possibly moving him down in the order.
“George Springer has way more good days than bad days, and way more good stretches than bad stretches,” Hinch said before the game about his struggling (at the time) leadoff man. “So I’m going to continue to encourage him. He’s going to lead off. He’s going to be a big part of an offensive approach tonight against a good pitcher. If he carries the burden of what he’s not doing with him, then that’s not going to him. The only thing that helps is getting out and competing.”
Moving Springer out of the top spot would have been an overreaction to a relatively small sample. Springer was in a rut for sure, but players go through bad stretches and, as Hinch said, Springer’s had a lot more good stretches than bad. We’ve seen managers rearrange the furniture during offensive funks in the postseason and sometimes it works, but it has to make sense.
Springer hit .412/.474/.706 in the ALDS win over the Red Sox. During the regular season, he was their regular leadoff man, never starting a game in a different lineup slot. He’s an All-Star who ranked second in the AL in runs scored while boasting a .283/.367/.522 (144 OPS+) line.
To Hinch’s line of thinking, you don’t change anything with that guy based on an eight-game funk. He’s bound to snap out of it eventually and he just rewarded Hinch’s confidence with a huge Game 2. Springer noticed the public support, too.
“It’s huge,” he said of Hinch’s support. “Obviously I didn’t have the best game last night and as a player you tend to know. And you can press. You want to do things that you can’t do. For him to have my back and to say that, ‘hey, you’re still going to hit first and you’re still going to set the tone for us,’ it slowed me down. I was doing things I don’t normally do and for him to have my back, it means the world to me. I’ll always have his back. That just shows who he is.”
After the game, Hinch wanted to reiterate his thoughts on Springer.
“I was getting questions about him four hours ago,” Hinch said and the quotes above prove as much. “He’s an incredible player. I don’t really ride the roller coaster with players. You have to believe in what they can do, not what they are doing. If you respond to every bad game or tough game, you’ll bounce these guys around and ruin their confidence in a heartbeat. This is one of our best players.”
He stuck with his man and it paid off in a big way.
Now the Astros go home, tied 1-1 in the World Series. They are 6-0 at home so far in the playoffs. They have their leadoff man “back,” too. Things are looking way up for the Astros after the pure insanity that was Game 2 and one of the many reasons was a manager’s unwavering support of a player who was in a slump. Good on Hinch and good for Springer.
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