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Column: Astros should vacate 2017 World Series title, although Dodgers’ drought continues

For three years we’ve wondered, and now we know.

How did the Houston Astros hitters so easily pound three of the Dodgers hottest pitchers in two key games in Houston in the 2017 World Series?

How did they so easily wreck Yu Darvish for four runs in the second inning of a Game 3 Astros victory? How did they so effortlessly score 10 runs against Clayton Kershaw and Brandon Morrow in the Game 5 victory?

They cheated, that’s how.

They used technology at Minute Maid Park to steal the Dodgers signs. Their hitters knew what pitches were coming. They gleefully pounced on them. They accumulated 18 runs with 26 hits and five home runs in two series-changing victories that have now indelibly stamped an asterisk on an event forever marred by a sickening truth.

The Dodgers were cheated out of the 2017 World Series championship.

This is not sour grapes. This is not revisionist history. This is now and forever fact after a Major League Baseball investigation revealed Monday that the Astros used technology to cheat during their championship season.

MLB suspended both Astros general manager Jeff Lunow and manager A.J. Hinch for one year. They were quickly fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. MLB also fined the organization $5 million, and stripped them of two seasons worth of first and second-round draft pick, yet still didn’t address the true damage.

The Dodgers were jobbed out of a championship that would have ended a 29-year drought, and what is MLB going to do about that?

The Dodgers won’t get to claim the title, that damage has already been done, that parade has already been lost. But the Astros should be forced to hand the Commissioner’s Trophy back to Commissioner Rob Manfred, right now, vacate the title, and forever leave that space in the record books as empty as the organization’s integrity.

The Dodgers didn’t win it on the field, but history should forever note that nobody beat them.

Clearly, nobody knows what would have happened if the Astros didn’t cheat. And, yes, the record will show that the Dodgers eventually lost the World Series in a Game 7 meltdown at Dodger Stadium that did not involve confirmed Astros technological cheating.

But judging from the oddities of those middle three games in Houston — something was eerily wrong with Darvish, Kershaw and Morrow — there never should have been a Game 7. If the Astros had not cheated in Houston, it says here the Dodgers would have won the series in six.

The nine-page commissioners report details how the Astros stole catchers’ signs throughout the 2017 season by picking them up on a television feed and relaying them to batters by banging on a trash can, confirming an earlier admission by former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers to the Athletic.

Most cruelly, perhaps, the report notes that former Dodgers player Alex Cora, who was then an Astros coach, set the whole thing up when he, “arranged for a video-room technician to install a monitor displaying the center-field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros dugout.”

Players could easily see the catcher’s signs, decode them, then relay the information by banging a trash can with a bat to indicate which pitch was coming.

This could not only help explain how the Astros won eight of nine games at home during that postseason, but also specifically how they could have so badly beaten three hot Dodger pitchers.

Darvish entered his Game 3 start with a 1.58 ERA in two previous postseason starts. Yet with noise from the trash cans apparently filling the dugout, he allowed four runs in the second inning.

Kershaw had pitched the best big game of his career in the series opener by allowing one run over seven innings while striking out 11 and walking none. Yet in Game 5, with the dugout TV glowing, he gave up a four-run lead and a three-run lead while being hammered for six runs in 4 2/3 innings.

Morrow allowed two runs in 12 1/3 previous postseason innings, but then suddenly in Game 5 he couldn’t get an out, allowing four runs on a homer, single, double and homer.

The Dodgers lost two of three in Houston, limped back to Los Angeles trailing three games to two in the series, and never regained their mojo.

In stealing the series, the Astros also stole pieces of reputations. The two losses in Houston furthered the narrative that Darvish was a choker, Kershaw could not pitch in October, and manager Dave Roberts struggled in big games because he overused Morrow.

Granted, Darvish blew Game 7, Kershaw has since continued his October heartaches and Roberts is still under fire. But if the Dodgers had won that series, wouldn’t the heat have been lifted off everybody? Would the ensuing two postseason failures have been viewed with such disgust?

The Houston Astros cheated the title-starved Dodgers of far more than a championship. They stole a legacy. They robbed history. They changed the sports narrative of this city forever.

Seriously, why is that Commissioner’s Trophy still in their Houston offices? Why can’t they at least have the decency give it back?

Better yet, the worthless thing should be tossed in a dugout trash can that the Dodgers can bang with a bat.

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