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George Springer, who aspired to be like Willie Mays as a kid, wins MVP trophy bearing his name

Center fielder ties World Series record with his fifth home run to lift Astros in Game 7

LOS ANGELES — George Springer used to go in the backyard with his father, George Jr., and have his dad hit fly balls to him. The former 1976 Little League World Series player and UConn football player was trying to help his son live out his dream of emulating his favorite center fielder.

Springer wanted to be like San Francisco Giants legend Willie Mays, and when he played backyard baseball with his dad, that is exactly who he was pretending to be.

Well, after hitting a three-run homer in the second inning of Game 7 to give Houston a 5-0 lead, which the Astros would protect in their 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, Springer sealed his Willie Mays World Series MVP Award. This is the first year the MVP award bore the name of Mays — the owner of the play known as “The Catch,” which he made in the 1954 World Series as a New York Giant.

Houston, a city decimated by Hurricane Harvey only a few months ago, has its first World Series championship in franchise history.

“To earn this is great,” Springer said. “It’s an honor. But it’s not about me. It’s about the team and what the team has done tonight. And I’m just, I’m extremely happy for the team.”

Springer was in a pitiful slump coming into this Fall Classic, hitting just 3-for-30 in the Astros’ seven-game American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. After Springer went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in Game 1, Houston manager A.J. Hinch was still fielding questions about his decision to put Springer on the World Series roster.

In major league baseball’s final series, Springer finished 11-for-29 (.379) with 8 extra-base hits, the most in a World Series, 7 RBIs and 5 home runs. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he’s the first player to send the ball deep in four consecutive games in a single World Series.

Every time Springer hit a long ball it gave the Astros the lead or tied the game. His five home runs from the leadoff position tied Lenny Dykstra for most all-time. Springer owned a third of Houston’s 15 home runs.

The 28-year-old center fielder matched Reggie Jackson (1977) and Chase Utley (2009) for the most home runs in a single World Series. Jackson and Utley each did it in six-game series. With 29 total bases, Springer, the Astros’ 2011 first-round draft pick, broke Willie Stargell’s (1979) and Jackson’s record of 25 and became the first player to have at least one extra-base hit in six consecutive World Series games.

“It’s crazy,” Springer said. “I think as a player when things don’t start to go well, you tend to press. You tend to do things that you wouldn’t normally do. And after the first game I had a talk with Carlos Beltrán, and he told me to just go out and kind of enjoy the moment, because he’s been playing for 20 years and this is his second time here. He told me to go out and be who you are and kind of enjoy it.”

Said Hinch: “If you watch us play, you know guys like George, José [Altuve,] Carlos [Correa] really bring it every night. And so when the stage got big and the anxiousness started, you just rely on your guys. And George, as one, when he goes, we all go. And I think that was seen the rest of the series: When he got going, it gets pretty scary, and he can do a ton of damage. But he’s at the top of the lineup for a reason. He’s the first hitter that we send up there to set the table for these guys in the middle of the order. But to get through a seven-game series, you’re going to have some good games. You’re going to have some games that aren’t your best. But the belief in him in specific, or our players in general, will never go away from my chair.”

In his first at-bat of Game 7, Springer hit a leadoff double off Dodgers starter Yu Darvish and eventually scored thanks to a throwing error to first base.

An inning later, Springer smashed a 3-2 fastball from Darvish, which forced Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to pull Darvish in the second inning. The right-hander became only the second pitcher (New York Yankee Art Ditmar in Game 1 and Game 5 of the 1960 World Series) to not get through the second inning in multiple starts in a single World Series.

“Even though we beat him up a little bit twice this series, it is not going to take away how good he is,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen him a lot in Texas. And obviously he’s a difficult pitcher. And you have to pick a pitch. You have to find an area of the zone that you feel comfortable with and stay in the strike zone the most you can.

“You have to be very disciplined. And we did that two games in a row where we got hittable pitches and did damage.”

Maybe Springer’s moment has been etched in the universe since he appeared on that fateful 2014 Sports Illustrated cover that predicted the Astros would win the 2017 World Series after 100-loss seasons in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that Springer was the hero of the World Series, as not only Houston but also his mother’s native Puerto Rico continue to fight and overcome the crushing aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and could use any sort of uplift.

Maybe Darvish explained it best.

“I had a bad day. That means somebody had a great day,” he said.

Springer just made Nov. 1, 2017, the greatest day in Astros history.

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.