What a night. In one of the craziest World Series games you’ll ever see, the Astros rallied in the ninth, took a two-run lead in the 10th, gave it up in the bottom-half of the frame, then rallied again with a George Springer two-run homer in the 11th and almost blew it again before finally finishing off the Dodgers, 7–6, in World Series Game 2. It goes down as Houston's first-ever win in the Fall Classic, evening up the series as it moves to Minute Maid Park for the next three.
1. Weird, Wild Stuff
It all looked so simple—and so similar—as the ninth inning began. Just as in Game 1, the two starters dueled. Once again, the Dodgers had solved the unhittable starter in the sixth with a two-out, two-run home run. Once again, Kenley Jansen was in the game, ready to finish it and send the fans home happy from Dodger Stadium and his team to Houston with a 2–0 series lead.
Then everything went supernova. Six homers, two blown saves and a taco-gifting stolen base later, it was the Astros who had stunningly won Game 2 thanks to an unexpected stumble from a Dodgers bullpen that had been nearly untouchable all postseason. And after slumbering through Game 1 and the first eight innings of Game 2, it was the Astros’ fearsome lineup erupting for five runs in the final three frames, with the top and middle of the lineup doing its part.
It all began in the ninth, though, with Marwin Gonzalez. His task was as tough as any imaginable: Get things started against Jansen, who had given up a single run and struck out 13 in nine innings this postseason coming into Game 2. He had blown one save all year. His cutter is maybe the most unhittable pitch in the game. And despite giving up a run in the eighth after being called upon for a six-out save by manager Dave Roberts, he still had a one-run lead, which he makes feel like 10.
No sweat. Down 0–2 in the count, Gonzalez belted a cutter to the opposite field off Jansen for a solo homer to tie the game at three. It’s as impressive a feat as it is unlikely. Jansen had faced 258 batters in the regular season and given up only five homers, and none since Sept. 22. Opposing hitters had posted a mere .189 batting average off of his cutter this year. In his career, batters have hit a microscopic .082/.088/.123 when put in an 0–2 hole.
All of that was no matter to Gonzalez, who spoiled the Dodgers’ best-laid plans. And after Ken Giles successfully navigated the bottom of the ninth, it was the more likely duo of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa who put the Astros ahead. Facing little-used Josh Fields, Altuve started the 10th by blasting a fastball to left-center for his sixth home run of the postseason to make it 4–3. Two pitches later, Correa launched a curveball to the same part of the park to push the lead to two.
But given that advantage, Giles couldn’t close it out. Leading off the bottom of the 10th, Yasiel Puig took him a mile deep to left to cut the lead to 5–4. The Astros’ closer got the next two outs, but he walked pinch-hitter Logan Forsythe with two outs to put the tying run on, then whipped a slider into the dirt that got past Brian McCann and pushed Forsythe into scoring position. NLCS hero Enrique Hernandez cashed him in, slapping a single through the right side of the infield to tie the game at five.
A gut punch like that could crush some teams completely, but the Astros stood strong. Against Brandon McCarthy—the last man in the Dodgers’ bullpen—in the 11th, defensive replacement Cameron Maybin led off with a single, swiped second, and trotted home on Springer’s blast to make it 7–5 Astros. And while Chris Devenski did his best Giles impersonation by giving up a solo homer to Charlie Culberson (!) in the bottom of the inning, he rebounded to strike out Puig and end the madness.
2. Verlander Vanquished but Vindicated
For the first four innings of Game 2, it looked as if the otherworldly force that is Justin Verlander would lay another team low. Making his first World Series start since 2012, the 34-year-old righthander continued his dominant run this postseason by holding Los Angeles hitless into the fifth. With his fastball humming along at 98 mph and his slider dipping like a rollercoaster, Verlander struck out four of the first six batters he faced and allowed only one base runner over his first four innings.
Then came the fifth, and a home run from the unlikeliest source. When he stepped to the plate with two outs and no one—his team down 1–0—Joc Pederson had taken only five at-bats all postseason. Once an integral part of Los Angeles’ brilliant future, his awful 2017 (a .212/.331/.407 line and a brief midseason demotion to Triple A) had made him an odd-man out in the Dodgers’ World Series run. But with a righty on the mound, there was Pederson, starting in left and hitting sixth against Verlander. “I think in this one case, he’s going to put some at-bats together against him,” said Roberts before the game.
Roberts should consider playing the lottery. Pederson struck out looking in his first at-bat against Verlander, but in the fifth, he got a slider that hung in the middle of the plate and launched it to left, where it landed just a few feet past the wall to tie the game.
The toppling blow came an inning later, and it looked awfully familiar. With two out, Chris Taylor worked Verlander for a six-pitch walk, just as he did off Dallas Keuchel in Game 1. On Tuesday night, his free pass was followed by a two-run home run by Justin Turner. This time around, it was Corey Seager who did the deed, taking an outside fastball that flew in at 97 mph and pushing it to the opposite field for the go-ahead blast. A stunned Verlander could only shake his head as Dodger Stadium erupted.
Verlander gave way to a pinch-hitter in the seventh, then watched from the bench as the Astros rallied to save the game. That has to be a relief for Houston, which was all set to waste two strong outings from him and Keuchel. And if the Astros can hold serve at home, that pair will be waiting in Games 5 and 6.
3. Home Is Where Houston’s Heart Is?
For the Astros, the road has been a source of woe all postseason. Despite the Game 2 comeback, they’ve won only two times in seven tries away from Minute Maid Park this postseason. In the ALCS, they lost three straight at Yankee Stadium, looking as lost as a bunch of tourists in Times Square. And in the World Series, they were briefly blinded by the Dodger Stadium lights (or maybe felled by the searing heat), totaling only three runs in the first 17 innings of play.
Home has been a different story, though. The Astros haven’t lost there this postseason, going 6–0, including the do-or-die Games 6 and 7 in the ALCS, though five of those games were started by Keuchel and Verlander. They won’t get the benefit of either in Games 3 or 4—those belong to Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers, the co-heroes of Game 7—but the lineup, at least, will welcome the familiar settings. The difference for Houston’s hitters has been stark: The Astros are batting .276/.346/.495 at Minute Maid Park this postseason as opposed to .196/.273/.291 away (before Game 2, anyway).
It won’t be easy for the Astros to keep that up: For starters, they’ll have to solve former AL West foe Yu Darvish—who has 118 strikeouts in 84 innings and 14 starts against Houston in his career—in Game 3. But at the very least for Houston, home field will be theirs, and that may be the biggest factor as the series heads to Texas.