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Tampa’s Lance McCullers Jr. Takes Series Biggest Stage

By Martin Fennelly

He will take the mound at Dodger Stadium tonight with no tomorrow in sight. It's Game 7 of the World Series for the Houston Astros against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Tampa's Lance McCullers Jr. will get the start for Houston.

It's a stage unlike almost any other, starting pitcher in a World Series Game 7. It's a stage all its own. McCullers. 24, will be on it, armed with a curveball and that befuddles hitters and a drive that he partially got from his father, Lance Sr., a former big-league reliever whose career was cut short by shoulder problems. Lance Sr. never threw in a postseason, let alone the Series. He'll be watching tonight

Lance McCullers Jr.'s friend Jose Fernandez never threw in the Series, either. Fernandez, who played at Alonso High while McCullers threw for Jesuit, died in September 2016 in a boat accident on a Miami jetty, all that wondrous talent gone. Fernandez was legally drunk, with cocaine in his system, and was eventually ruled to have been driving the boat that took three lives on those rocks. Fernandez and McCullers always talked about their dreams of making the big leagues, of facing each other and of just this kind of stage.

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 27: Lance McCullers Jr. #43 of the Houston Astros reacts after a groundout to end the top of the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game three of the 2017 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 27, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX *** 775063337
Lance McCullers after a groundout in Game 3 of the World Series [Getty Images]
Lance McCullers will take the mound tonight. Who knows how it will turn out. The Dodgers forced this night by winning Game 6 on Tuesday. It will be all hands on deck for both the  Houston and Los Angeles pitching staffs. But McCullers will get it started for the Astros.

Starting pitcher in Game 7 of a World Series. No one from Tampa Bay has ever done that.

McCullers has been great for Houston this postseason. He pitched six innings of two-hit ball against the Yankees in Game 4 of the ALCS before trouble. He closed out the series in Game 7, with four shutout innings of relief, his last 24 pitches nothing but curveballs. He won Game 3 of the World Series in Houston. He has a 2.95 ERA in four postseason appearances.

There have been a lot of major leagues from around here who've been in a Series Game 7. Dwight Gooden was in one with the Mets. Wade Boggs was in one with the Red Sox. Fred McGriff was in two with the Braves. Tino Martinez was in one with the Yankees. Gary Sheffield was in one the Marlins. Luis Gonzalez won the 2001 Series for the Diamondbacks with a bloop hit off Yankees closer  Mariano Rivera in Game 7 in Arizona.

There have been so many Series moments for locals. Lou Piniella won two World Series as a Yankees player and one as a Reds manager. Tony La Russa won three Series, one with Oakland and two with St. Louis. Steve Garvey won a Series with the Dodgers. Pat Borders of lake Wales was World Series MVP with the Blue Jays in 1992. The moments go on and on.

There have been athletes from our area who have played in Super Bowls and Final Fours and college championship games. The are athletes who've won Olympic gold medals.

And there is tonight.

Lance McCullers will climb the hill. He'll be in a place where so few people have been. He'll try to help win a world championship. He was born after his father left the game in 1992. Lance Sr. never made it to the biggest show. His son did. Jose Fernandez never made it. His friend did.

This has been a wonderful World Series. That remarkable Game 2. That unforgettable Game 5. This Series was destined to go the distance.

Now comes a Game 7.

A stage all its own.

Lance McCullers will start on it.