After their rousing extra-inning comeback victory in Game 2, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park on Friday and put their home unbeaten streak— six postseason wins without a loss—on the line.
The lineup that broke out for six runs over the final four innings of Wednesday night’s game kept rolling, putting up four quick runs against Dodgers starter Yu Darvish, and sending him to the earliest shower of his major league career. Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. bent but didn’t break, and Brad Peacock added 3 ⅔ innings of shutout ball for a save reminiscent of McCullers’ own ALCS closeout against the Yankees. The Astros now lead the Series two games to one, and if they can continue to hold serve for the next two games, they’ll be able to celebrate on their home field.
Here are a trio of takeaways from Game 3.
1. Darvish’s disaster start
Darvish came into the game on a run of dominance, having allowed just four runs (three earned) in 30 ⅔ innings over five starts—the last two of them in the postseason—with a 35/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His only two runs allowed in 11 ⅓ postseason innings came via solo homers.
The Dodgers righthander was anything but dominant on Friday night, over-amped enough to reach 98 mph with a first-inning fastball and failing to generate the usual bite with his slider. He had to work around a leadoff double to George Springer in an 18-pitch first inning, and when he fell behind 2-1 to Yuli Gurriel to lead off the second, he left a 94.6 mph sinker too high, and the 32-year-old Cuban first baseman lined it to leftfield for a 379-foot homer.
(After the homer, Gurriel was shown sitting in the Astros dugout, appearing to mock Darvish with a slant-eye gesture and an apparent slur, an incident that should draw the attention of Major League Baseball.)
The hits kept coming for the Astros. Josh Reddick doubled down the leftfield line, and after Evan Gattis worked a seven-pitch walk, manager Dave Roberts took the rare step of visiting the mound himself to try to impart words of wisdom on his struggling starter—to no avail. Marwin Gonzalez’s long single off the left-centerfield wall scored Reddick. Brian McCann won another seven-pitch confrontation by singling home Gattis, and after Springer lined out to second base—the first out of the inning, on Darvish’s 28th pitch—Alex Bregman brought Gonzalez home with a sacrifice fly for a 4-0 lead. Jose Altuve rung a double off the left center wall, and while it didn’t plate a run, that was more than enough for Roberts. He pulled Darvish in favor of Kenta Maeda, who needed just two pitches to retire Carlos Correa on a fly ball, and wound up giving them 2 ⅔ innings of shutout work to stop the bleeding.
The outing was the shortest of Darvish’s major league career in terms of both innings (1 ⅔) and pitches (49), and it was his first without a strikeout. Tellingly, he got just one swing and miss, and 31 strikes, including just eight from among his 14 sliders thrown. If the series extends to Game 7, he’s lined up to start, but given the way the Astros squared up so many of his pitches, the Dodgers can’t feel particularly secure in that thought.
2. McCullers catches the breaks
Still trying to recover the form that made him one of the AL’s most effective starters in the first two months of this year before being sidelined due to a back injury and struggling upon returning, McCullers made just his second start of the postseason Friday night, and his fourth appearance. He came up big during the ALCS against the Yankees with a six-inning, one run start in ALCS Game 4, and four shutout innings in relief to nail down the series in Game 7 just three days later.
The 24-year-old righty handled the Dodgers efficiently in the first two innings, needing just 25 pitches and allowing only a two-out single to Logan Forsythe. The third inning was another matter. After sitting for 30 minutes while his teammates went to town on Darvish, he walked the bases loaded on 19 pitches, turning over the lineup in the process. Up came Corey Seager, whose two-run homer off Justin Verlander in Game 2 would have stood as the game’s big blow had Kenley Jansen been able to hold the lead.
On a 1-1 count, Seager hit a hard grounder to Gurriel, setting off a 3-6-1 double play, with McCullers barely grazing the bag in time. Joc Pederson, who worked a nine-pitch walk, scored, but the twin killing defused the situation considerably, and McCullers escaped after inducing a Justin Turner ground out.
McCullers continued to catch breaks. With one out in the fourth, Yasiel Puig’s hot smash deflected off Bregman’s glove and into foul territory. Sprinting through the bag, Puig was unaware there was no throw; belatedly realizing, he took a wide turn at first base, but the delay and the extra distance doomed him to be thrown out on a close play. With one out in the fifth, Pederson doubled, then took third on a groundout. Chris Taylor lined a pitch to centerfield, but George Springer’s diving catch saved a run.
After the Astros gave him another run thanks to a pair of singles and a throwing error by reliever Tony Watson, McCullers’s luck ran out in the sixth, when he walked Seager and allowed a Turner double to start the frame. He struck out Cody Bellinger—running the rookie’s World Series line to 0-for-10 with 6 K’s—then departed, having thrown 87 pitches, 53 of them curveballs, that after finishing his save with 24 straight. The Dodgers swung and missed at eight of them, with Bellinger accounting for four, including three strike threes.
3. The battle of the bullpens
Both runners McCullers left behind scored on the watch of Peacock. Puig brought home Seager with a grounder and then Turner scored on a wild pitch, trimming the lead to 5-3. But Peacock, who did strong work as a swingman for Houston during the regular season, particularly as a rotation patch when McCullers went down, took the Astros the rest of the way. He retired 11 of the 12 batters he faced, with a two-out walk in the seventh by Andre Ethier the exception. Considering that Houston’s bullpen had turned in a 4.91 ERA in the postseason to that point, it was a huge performance.
Peacock’s 3 ⅔ innings save tied for the second longest in World Series history since the save became an official stat in 1969; Madison Bumgarner’s five-inning effort to close out the 2014 World Series is the longest, with Peacock equaling the Dodgers’ Steve Howe going 3 ⅔ to close out the 1981 World Series. Five other pitchers had saves of at least that length going all the way back to 1944.
By and large, the Dodgers’ bullpen did a great job of keeping their team in the game as well, albeit not without some moments that must have grayed Roberts’ hair. Maeda continued his run of success in relief, running his postseason totals to nine shutout innings with just two hits and one walk while striking out nine. Watson, Brandon Morrow, Tony Cingrani and Ross Stripling combined for 3 ⅔ innings with six hits and two walks allowed, and Watson did allow a run, but that quartet stranded seven runners, four of them in scoring position.
Morrow struck out both Altuve and Correa with runners on first and second to end the sixth. Stripling, who came on with the bases loaded, retired Springer on a 408-foot fly ball to dead centerfield that everyone in the ballpark thought was out. And with good cause. Via MLB.com Statcast guru Mike Petriello, only one ball out of 19 with that combination of exit velocity and launch angle (108 mph and 32 degrees) has failed to leave the yard during the Statcast era.
Still, the Dodgers’ failure to get length out of Darvish will have repercussions, particularly with Alex Wood, who lasted just 4 ⅔ innings in his NLCS Game 4 start, going on Saturday. Maeda, who threw 42 pitches, will likely be unavailable, though the others threw 18 or fewer, with Morrow—who has pitched in 10 of the team’s 11 postseason games—throwing 13.