A 90 percent blockage in the axillary artery in his shoulder essentially ended his career. McCullers Sr. was 26 years old and had pitched 301 games for San Diego, the Yankees and Detroit. He would pitch just five more, all before his first son was born.
He was out of the game by 1996, when the Yankees opened a spring training ballpark near the family’s home in Tampa, Fla. McCullers Sr. took a hard-hat tour during construction, and once took Lance Jr. to meet the players in the clubhouse. The family still has tickets, eight rows behind the Yankees’ on-deck circle.
“I grew up watching those guys; I love those guys,” said McCullers Jr., who went to Jesuit High School on North Himes Avenue, the same street as the Yankees’ minor league complex. “But tonight, I had to do what I had to do.”
The Astros envisioned a night like this in 2012, at the first draft for their general manager, Jeff Luhnow. They used the No. 1 overall pick on shortstop Carlos Correa, who signed for a reduced bonus that allowed them to meet the asking price of two other coveted prospects: McCullers and infielder Rio Ruiz, who was eventually traded to Atlanta for designated hitter Evan Gattis.
In Game 7, Gattis lashed a homer for the Astros’ first run. Correa singled twice and scored. And McCullers authored just the third four-inning save to clinch a postseason series, after Oakland’s Vida Blue in the 1972 A.L.C.S. and San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner (five innings) in the 2014 World Series.
On the podium behind second base on Saturday, as the Astros received their A.L. championship trophy, Correa draped an arm around Luhnow and reminded him of that first draft.
“It’s crazy,” Correa said later. “I got drafted with Lance; we grew up together through the minor league system. And now to be here, tasting the World Series, it’s just surreal. That curveball was working, it was nasty, he was confident. It doesn’t get any better than what he did today.”
A. J. Hinch, the Astros’ manager, said he had not known McCullers would be so dominant on Saturday, when he was pitching on three days’ rest. But he knew he would thrive in the setting. McCullers rises to the moment, Hinch said, with a ravenous killer instinct.
That assessment got back to McCullers later, in the soggy, smoky home clubhouse. He was proud to explain why.
“It comes from how I grew up, man,” he said. “My dad taught me to be a bulldog. This game was, in a way, kind of stolen from him. He got hurt a lot toward the end of his career, and he had a lot left to give.