A World Series Champion Opens Up About the Pressures (and Joys) of Winning (Guest Column)

MLB Network analyst Al Leiter, who played on two championship teams, recalls his time on the mound on baseball's biggest stage.
Courtesy of MLB Network
Al Leiter

The 2017 World Series begins Tuesday as the Houston Astros take on the Los Angeles Dodgers in a matchup between teams that both won more than 100 games during the regular season. The Dodgers, with ace Clayton Kershaw, are seeing their first World Series championship since the Kirk Gibson series in 1988. The Astros, meanwhile, are looking to take home their first trophy since moving to the American League in 2013 thanks in part to the Aug. 31 acquisition of right-handed starter Justin Verlander. Below, MLB Network Al Leiter, who won two championships during his 19-year Major League Baseball career, opens up about taking the mound with the world watching.

Playing in the World Series is the most exciting opportunity that any Major League player can have. I remember playing with my buddies in the backyard and dreaming about competing in the World Series, and when the dream became a reality, it was the pinnacle of my career. No matter what you do during the regular season, no matter what accolades you get, no matter what statistics you pile up, it ultimately is about the postseason. While I had some nice regular season moments, many people cite my games that I pitched in the World Series and it’s something I’ll never forget.

I can visualize striking out the Phillies’ John Kruk with the bases loaded to end the sixth inning of Game 1 of the 1993 World Series. I remember Toronto’s SkyDome going bananas with its crazy, deafening crowd noise, and I remember throwing a perfect slider to get Kruk out. It was intense, and still to this day I remember the incredible emotions walking off the mound.

Speaking of pitching, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw is one of the best, and anytime you get your superstar players on the big stage, it’s great for all of us as baseball fans. Since Kershaw has been in the big leagues, he’s been the game’s elite starting pitcher and his numbers and hardware back it up. But now if he delivers in the World Series, it will cement his all-time greatness with the likes of World Series champions Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver. He can’t think about the big picture and he can’t let it swallow him up into, “Holy crap, this is a World Series game. I gotta have a good game.” No, you don’t. You just go out and do what you do best.

This World Series is loaded with intriguing storylines. You have the 104-win Dodgers and its storied history. The charismatic Yasiel Puig, the best closer in baseball in Kenley Jansen, the rising Cody Bellinger. And they’re going up against the Astros, who cruised through the regular season, beat the mighty Yankees in the ALCS, and feature some of the game’s greatest players like the 5-foot-6 AL MVP candidate Jose Altuve and their aces Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel. This is going to be a tight series that will come down to who can come up with a clutch hit and get a big out in the late innings.

When I walk into the beautiful, classic, historic Dodger Stadium tonight, I’ll be thinking about growing up and watching the Dodgers’ Steve Garvey and Ron Cey compete in the World Series. I’ll be thinking about my time in the World Series and how those memories will never leave me. Playing in the World Series was one of the greatest thrills in my life and I can’t wait for this one to get started.

Leiter can be seen on MLB Tonight as part of MLB Network’s more than 30 hours of live coverage from the World Series.