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Sean Doolittle saves a World Series game

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A beloved former Athletic gets a big moment on the national stage.

Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to watch the Oakland A’s play in the World Series. If you’re under 30 years old, then you’ve never seen it. But along the way, countless great players and fun personalities and beloved favorites have worn the green and gold, and sometimes we get to see some of them play in the Fall Classic with their new teams.

Sean Doolittle is near the top of that list of 21st-century A’s icons, as both a star player and a memorable presence off the field. He was traded to the Washington Nationals in 2017, and now he’s on the sport’s biggest stage, facing off against the Houston Astros with a championship on the line.

It’s cool to see an old favorite get his chance to play in the World Series, but it was even cooler to see him get the job done in Game 1. With the Nats clinging to a late one-run lead, Doo was called on for a four-out save, and he delivered by retiring all four batters he faced. And even that description sells him a bit short.

Doolittle entered in the 8th inning, with one run already in and a precarious 5-4 lead. There were two outs, a runner on second base, and All-Star Michael Brantley at the plate. He got Brantley to line out to strand the potential tying run, and then in the 9th inning he needed just nine more pitches to strike out Alex Bregman and induce lineouts from Yuli Gurriel and Carlos Correa.

All four of those hitters had wRC+ marks between 132 and 168 this year, and three of them are righties against the southpaw Doo. Brantley and Bregman were both All-Star starters this year, and Correa was two years ago (and only missed out on berths the last two summers because of injuries). Bregman is the front-runner for the MVP this year. And Doo got through all of them in just 13 pitches in the biggest game of his life to date.

*** Click here to see all four of Doolittle’s outs at Baseball Theater ***

As an aside, Doo’s opportunity was set up partly by George Springer, who nearly tied the game in the 8th off Daniel Hudson. Springer blasted the ball to the wall, but his failure to hustle out of the box (while admiring what he thought might be a homer) meant he only made it to second base when he could have easily reached third. The next batter, Jose Altuve, hit a liner to the outfield that may have allowed Springer to score (on a sac fly) if he’d been on third. Instead, Doo came in and stranded him, with the lead intact.

Springer was still probably the best player on the Astros in Game 1, but he needed to make this one more play for the win and instead he committed a crushing fundamental mistake at the worst moment. It’s a little disappointing that he chose not to own that error, offering an explanation that made zero sense.

The Nats and Astros are back tonight for Game 2, with a legendary pitching matchup of Justin Verlander against Stephen Strasburg.

*** More links: Game 1 box score, and Game 1 video highlights ***