Houston Astros

Phillies prospect Mark Appel stepping away from baseball

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Phillies prospect Mark Appel stepping away from baseball

Mark Appel, the former No. 1 overall pick acquired by the Phillies from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade, is stepping away from baseball.

Four months after being removed from the Phils' 40-man roster, Appel is taking an "indefinite break."

"I don't know what the future holds. I'm pursuing other things, but also trying to become a healthy human," Appel told Bleacher Report.

"I'm 26, I have a Stanford degree, I have many interests beyond baseball, which I still love, but I have a lot of things I care about. I enjoy challenging my mind. My last four years in baseball have challenged my mind."

Appel's entire professional career has been a struggle. In five minor-league seasons, he had a 5.06 ERA and 1.52 WHIP, allowing nearly 10 hits per nine innings.

While he was in the Phillies' system, strike-throwing was a huge issue. In 122⅓ innings over two seasons on the Phils' farm, he walked 74 and struck out 94.

Appel, who missed most of 2016 after requiring elbow surgery, had consistent problems going deep into games, something that didn't sit well with an organization that has become increasingly focused on economy of pitches.

The Phillies acquired Appel from Houston on Dec. 12, 2015 along with Vince Velasquez, Tom Eshelman, Brett Oberholtzer and Harold Arauz in exchange for Giles. At the time, it looked like a shrewd move for the Phils. Unfortunately, two years later, Appel is out of baseball and Velasquez is still very much a question mark, both from a health and efficiency standpoint.

As for Giles, he's a World Series champion. He pitched poorly in the playoffs but did have a 2.30 ERA with 34 saves in the regular season.

The Phillies pushed to acquire Appel in the Giles trade because of concerns over Velasquez's health history, per sources. The initial return package included Velasquez and young outfielder Derek Fisher, but because of the concerns with Velasquez, the Phils chose to fortify their return with more pitching. Appel was a prime change-of-scenery candidate, but the Phils swung and missed.

In two seasons with the Phillies, Velasquez has been limited to just 39 starts, going 10-13 with a 4.48 ERA and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He's had three stints on the disabled list and was shut down at the end of the 2016 season.

Eshelman has progressed through the Phils' farm system and could end up making some starts in the majors in 2018. Last season, he went 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 23 starts, 18 of which came at Triple A Lehigh Valley. Eshelman, whose calling card is his control, struck out 102 and walked just 18 in 150 innings.

As for Appel, barring a surprise comeback, he will go down as one of the biggest busts in recent history. To his credit, he seems to be mentally moving past that.

Astros beat Dodgers in Game 7 to capture 1st World Series title

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Astros beat Dodgers in Game 7 to capture 1st World Series title


LOS ANGELES — From laughingstock to lift off.

George Springer and the Houston Astros rocketed to the top of the baseball galaxy Wednesday night, winning the first World Series championship in franchise history by romping past the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 in Game 7.

Playing for a city still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, and wearing an H Strong logo on their jerseys, the Astros brought home the prize that had eluded them since they started out in 1962 as the Colt .45s.

"I always believed that we could make it," All-Star slugger Jose Altuve said. "We did this for them."

For a Series that was shaping up as an October classic, Game 7 quickly became a November clunker as Houston scored five runs in the first two innings off Yu Darvish. Hardly the excitement fans felt during the Cubs' 10-inning thriller in Cleveland last fall.

Well, except for everyone wearing bright orange. Back in Houston, a huge crowd filled Minute Maid Park to cheer as fans watched on the big video board, and the train whistle wailed when it was over.

"We're coming home a champion, Houston," Springer said after accepting the World Series MVP trophy named this year for Willie Mays (see story).

Star shortstop Carlos Correa turned the party into a proposal. After doing a TV interview, he got down on one knee and asked girlfriend Daniella Rodriguez, a former Miss Texas USA, to marry him (see story).

"Yes?" he said, putting a ring on her finger as she cried.

Altuve, one of four holdovers from a club that lost an embarrassing 111 times in 2013 after switching from the NL to the AL, and this collection of young stars silenced Dodger Stadium from the get-go, taking a 5-0 lead in the second inning.

Altuve was in perfect position for the final out, a grounder by Corey Seager to the 5-foot-6 second baseman.

"I caught the last out for the Houston Astros to become a world champion. It was a groundball to me, I threw to first, and I think it was the happiest moment of my life in baseball," Altuve said.

The Astros streamed from the dugout and bullpen to go wild, tossing their gloves in the air. A thousand or so fans crowded behind the first base dugout, chanting "Hou-ston! Hou-ston!"

Later, some little Astros kids ran around the outfield grass dressed in Halloween outfits. Their dads, meanwhile, were putting on championship hats and shirts.

At last, they had completed the ascent some predicted after a rebuilding club purged payroll and stripped down to bare bones a few years back.

Famously, now, there was the Sports Illustrated cover in 2014 — after Houston had lost more than 100 games for three straight seasons — that proclaimed: "Your 2017 World Series Champs" and featured a picture of Springer in a bright Astros jersey.

On the other side, ace Clayton Kershaw and several Dodgers leaned against the dugout railing, watching the Astros celebrate. Los Angeles led the majors with 104 wins and a $240 million payroll, and rallied to win Game 6, yet it didn't pay off for part-owner Magic Johnson and his team.

"Obviously, this one hurts," manager Dave Roberts said. "And like I told the guys, when you put everything, every ounce of your being into something and you come up short, it hurts. And it's supposed to hurt."

Normally a starter, Charlie Morton finished up with four stellar innings of relief for the win.

"We held down a really tough lineup," Morton said. "For my teammates, for the city of Houston, it's just unbelievable."

Springer led off the evening with a double against Darvish, and soon it was 2-0.

Springer hit his fifth homer — tying the Series mark set by Reggie Jackson (1977) and matched by Chase Utley (2009) — when he connected for a record fourth game in a row, making it a five-run lead.

That was plenty for Houston manager A.J. Hinch. He pulled starter Lance McCullers Jr. soon after the curveballer crazily plunked his fourth batter of the game, and began a parade of four relievers that held the lead.

Throughout the postseason, Hinch and the unconventional Astros overcame a shaky bullpen by using starters in relief.

"I knew yesterday I didn't have much," said McCullers, the Game 3 winner. "I knew I didn't have much to give other than to gut it out as long as I could."

In a dramatic Series marked by blown leads and late rallies, when Houston twice outlasted the Dodgers in extra innings, McCullers did enough.

Forever known for their space-age Astrodome, outlandish rainbow jerseys and a handful of heartbreaking playoff losses for stars like Nolan Ryan, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, these Astros will be remembered as champions, finally, in their 56th season.

The club that wears a star on its hat also filled out the Texas trophy case. Teams from the Lone Star State had won most every major crown — the Super Bowl, NBA and NHL titles, championships in college football, and men's and women's hoops — except the World Series.

Built on the skills of homegrown All-Stars Dallas Keuchel and more, helped by veteran offseason acquisitions such as Brian McCann and 40-year-old Carlos Beltran, who won his first ring, and boosted by the slick trade for ace Justin Verlander, general manager Jeff Luhnow oversaw the team's resurgence.

Houston won 101 times this year to take the AL West, then won Games 6 and 7 at home in the AL Championship Series against the New York Yankees. The Astros joined the 1985 Royals as the only clubs to win a pair of Game 7s in the same year.

When it was over, Bagwell and Biggio posed for pictures together with the World Series trophy.

For the Dodgers, the quest to win a Series for the first time since 1988 fell short.

Kershaw provided four shutout innings of relief for Los Angeles, but it was too late. What the Dodgers really needed was a better starter than Darvish, someone more like the lefty who tossed out a ceremonial first ball: the great Sandy Koufax.

Acquired from Texas on July 31 for these big games, Darvish lasted 1 2/3 innings in both his World Series starts — the two shortest of his career.

"This pain is going to stay in me for a while," the four-time All-Star said through a translator.

After Springer lined a leadoff double, Alex Bregman hit a bouncer that first baseman Cody Bellinger threw past Darvish for an error, allowing a run to score. Bregman aggressively stole third and scored on Altuve's grounder, and it was 2-0 after eight pitches.

A double by Marwin Gonzalez helped set up perhaps McCullers' biggest contribution, a slow grounder for his first pro RBI. Springer followed with a no-doubt, two-run drive into the left-center field bleachers.

That was the Series-most 25th homer in a Major League Baseball season that set a record for home runs. It was easily enough for the Astros to offset pinch-hitter Andre Ethier's RBI single in the Los Angeles sixth.

Only once have the Dodgers clinched a crown at home, that coming in 1963 when Koufax outpitched Yankees star Whitey Ford to finish a sweep. They've never won Game 7 of the Fall Classic at their own park, dating more than a century ago to their days on the streets of Brooklyn as the Trolley Dodgers.

As pockets of Houston fans got louder and louder in the later innings, the crowd at Dodger Stadium was left to repeat the sad, but hopeful cry that used to echo in Brooklyn: Wait till next year.

Just 106 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

World Series: Dodgers rally to force deciding Game 7

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World Series: Dodgers rally to force deciding Game 7


LOS ANGELES -- Joc Pederson sliced a drive over the left-field wall, pounded his chest and danced around the bases, taking as many twists and turns as this World Series itself. Of course, the Los Angeles Dodgers forced the Houston Astros to Game 7.

Chris Taylor hit a tying double off Justin Verlander during a two-run rally in the sixth inning, Corey Seager followed with a go-ahead sacrifice fly and the Dodgers beat the Astros 3-1 on Tuesday night to push this dramatic Fall Classic to the ultimate game.

Pederson homered in the seventh against Joe Musgrove, connecting off the right-hander for the second time in three games to make it a record 24 long balls hit in this Series. Pederson pranced all the way to the plate, pointing at the Dodgers' dugout and rubbing his thumbs and index fingers together to indicate what a money shot it was.

Mired in a major slump earlier this season, Pederson was demoted to the minors -- and teammates began offering to pay him for opposite-field home runs in an effort to get him to hit the ball the other way.

"I kind of black out in a situation like that," said Pederson, who has three homers in the Series. "I'm going to have to re-watch it to see what I did."

Yu Darvish starts Wednesday for the Dodgers, trying to win their first title since 1988, and Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will be ready in the bullpen. Lance McCullers Jr. goes for the Astros in the first World Series Game 7 ever at Dodger Stadium.

"It's only fitting," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

Darvish was chased in the second inning of Game 2, when McCullers pitched Houston to a 5-3 victory.

"Two incredible teams, trying to get to the finish line," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

Two nights after a 13-12, 10-inning slugfest under the roof at Minute Maid Park, pitching dominated.

George Springer's third-inning home run against starter Rich Hill had given a 1-0 lead to Verlander and the Astros, trying for the first championship in their 56-season history. On Halloween night, a championship for a team with orange in its colors seemed appropriate.

But it served only to set up the 10th blown lead of the Series, the fifth by Houston, as Verlander fell to 9-1 with Houston.

Dodgers relievers combined for 4 1/3 scoreless innings. Brandon Morrow retired Alex Bregman on a grounder to strand the bases loaded in the fifth, winner Tony Watson got Marwin Gonzalez to fly out with two on and two outs in the sixth, and Kenta Maeda escaped two-on trouble in the seventh when third baseman Justin Turner gloved Jose Altuve's grounder and threw a one-hop throw that first baseman Cody Bellinger scooped just in time.

After wasting a ninth-inning lead in Game 2 and losing Game 5, Kenley Jansen retired six straight batters for the save and ended by striking out 40-year-old pinch-hitter Carlos Beltran.

This will be the third World Series Game 7 in four years. Ten of the last 12 teams that won Game 6 to force a seventh game also won the title, but the Dodgers lost the previous six World Series in which they trailed 3-2. They have won just one of their six championships at home, in 1963.

A heat wave over, the temperature dropped to 67 degrees at game time from 103 for last week's opener. The San Gabriel Mountains were occluded by heavy clouds.

Los Angelenos with a laid-back reputation were more energetic and on their feet for two-strike counts against Astros batters, a wave in Pantone 294 -- also known as Dodger blue. Stadium organist Dieter Ruehle greeted the Astros with "Hotel California" for the start of batting practice, but there was an un-LA-like drizzle in the middle innings.

"We feed off the crowd, for sure," Taylor said. "We feel we have a huge home-field advantage."

Yuli Gurriel, who made a racist gesture toward Darvish in Game 3, was booed loudly during introductions and each time he batted,

Verlander has 11 postseason wins but dropped to 0-4 in the Series with Detroit and Houston, which acquired him from the Tigers on Aug. 31 to win on nights like this.

The 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, Verlander allowed just one baserunner before Austin Barnes singled leading off the sixth. Verlander bounced a pitch that hit Chase Utley on the front of his right foot, and Taylor sent a 97 mph fastball down the right-field line as Barnes came home. Seager followed with a sacrifice fly to the right-field warning track, a ball that likely would have landed in the pavilion in last week's hot air.

Verlander prevented more damage when Turner fouled out and the right-hander fanned Bellinger, who struck out four times for the second time in the Series.

Springer homered for the third straight game and fourth time in the Series, one shy of the record set by Reggie Jackson in 1977 and matched by Chase Utley in 2009. While it silenced the Dodger Stadium crowd, Astros fans erupted at a watch party in Minute Maid Park. Los Angeles has allowed home runs in all 14 of its postseason games.

Brian McCann singled leading off the fifth and Gonzalez doubled past Turner and down the left-field line. Hill struck out Josh Reddick and Verlander, and Springer was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Morrow relieved as the crowd booed Roberts' decision, and Hill slapped at four cups of liquid in the dugout, sending them spraying against the wall.

"With Verlander on the mound, I felt that was going to be the game," Roberts said.

Appearing in his sixth straight Series game, Morrow got Bregman to ground to shortstop on his second pitch.

Watson walked Reddick leading off the seventh, Evan Gattis pinch hit for Verlander and Maeda relieved. Gattis bounced to shortstop, just beating Utley's throw from second to avoid a double play. Springer reached on an infield single that bounced off Seager's glove at shortstop and into left field, and Bregman's fly to deep center allowed pinch-runner Derek Fisher to tag up and advance to third, bringing up Altuve. Walking down the dugout steps after his groundout, Altuve slammed his helmet.