HOUSTON — How could anyone not love baseball? Even in a world of possibilities as wide as umpire Bill Miller’s strike zone, the course of this game would have been unfathomable. The Dodgers won and lost Game 5 of the World Series one, two, three, nearly four times before the Astros finally took a 3–2 series lead. Fans grew delirious as the game stretched into its 10th inning and sixth hour. Even the players began to laugh at the absurdity.
Four days after the instant-classic Game 2 featured five lead changes and a Fall Classic–record eight home runs, we improbably saw an even wilder affair.
The 18th World Series meeting of two former Cy Young Award–winning pitchers ended with a 13–12 final score. A man who was nearly 20% worse than league average at the plate this year drove in the two runs that—quaintly—back at 8 p.m. Central seemed they might be enough. The best pitcher in the game, whose team was 100–1 when it scored four runs behind him, got shelled. A rookie who until 48 hours ago looked like he was swinging blindfolded hit a homer and a triple. A reliever who had never allowed a run of his own or anyone else’s gave up three. A player who had struggled the first two games offensively but continued to contribute on defense cost his team the go-ahead run in centerfield, then hit a home run an inning later to re-tie it. An idiot in a pair of sparkly American flag shorts ran onto the field and, handcuffed and escorted by two police officers, danced off it to Jump Around. A reliever who had allowed two earned runs in a month threw six pitches and gave up four. A powerful slugger hit a lazy fly ball that would have been caught 2/3 of the time—and watched it drop into the leftfield stands.
And then extra innings began.
Game 5 could have ended so many times. Judging by the quiet crowd at Minute Maid Park early, it seemed over by about 7:45 p.m. Clayton Kershaw’s team staked him to a 4–0 lead on a pair of line drives by third baseman Logan Forsythe, so little feared at the plate that manager Dave Roberts had pinch hit for him with a 38-year-old two days earlier.
Kershaw dazzled early, retiring the first six hitters on just 24 pitches. It was not unthinkable that he could take a no-hitter deeper than teammate Alex Wood’s five innings a day earlier. Houston manager A.J. Hinch appeared to concede the game when he removed starter Dallas Keuchel in the third and replaced him with Luke Gregerson, who was throwing his first pitches of the Series. And then suddenly the order turned over in the fourth and Kershaw lost command. Walk, single, double, home run, tie game.
Or what about an inning later, when rookie first baseman Cody Bellinger, who has finally rediscovered his stroke, lofted a curveball into the seats in rightfield, scoring three? Instead Kershaw walked two of the first four hitters he saw, and then replacement Kenta Maeda—a converted starter who had dominated to that point—gave up a home run to Astros second baseman José Altuve that tied it back up.
And then surely the Dodgers had it won in the seventh, when DH Justin Turner led off with a double. But no: Leftfielder Enrique Hernández—he of the 1.200 OPS this postseason—bunted into a fielder’s choice. (He said after the game that the coaches had chosen the play.) But yes: Bellinger tripled him home on a ball that got by centerfielder George Springer, who unadvisedly dived for it. But no: Dodgers righty Brandon Morrow, who had pitched in 10 of the team’s 11 postseason games, called Roberts in the top of the inning to pronounce himself available. Morrow had never worked in three consecutive games in his major league career, but he has been near unhittable this October and he wanted the ball.
“Everybody’s fatigued this time of year,” Morrow said after the game. “I don’t feel it when I’m throwing the ball. It was probably selfish of me to try to push through that.” Roberts disagreed with that assessment—“It’s a credit to him,” he said—but either way, there he was, giving up three hits with exit velocities over 100 mph. Roberts pulled him, but not before Houston led 11–8.
It seemed it would end with that margin after the teams traded runs in the eighth. Even with a decaying Houston bullpen waiting for three outs—in such shambles that Hinch largely eschews his relievers in favor of starters on their off-days—it had to be over. This was truly exhausting, and the team flights to Los Angeles for Game 6 beckoned.
So of course Bellinger walked. Rightfielder Yasiel Puig deposited a changeup inches beyond the short leftfield wall. Catcher Austin Barnes doubled. And fate intervened again: At the stroke of 12 a.m., one strike away from the fasten-seatbelt sign, centerfielder Chris Taylor singled to make it 12–12.
For anyone without a rooting interest, this was the best-case scenario. These teams have battled so thrillingly that it’s a shame we will get a maximum of two more of these games. Be they juiced or slick, the baseballs have flown out of the parks at an incredible pace—the 22 thus far have already broken the World Series record—which means that no lead ever feels safe. It’s hard to imagine a more enjoyable matchup … as long as your happiness does not depend on the outcome.
All game the Houston crowd had oscillated from rafter-shaking to so quiet you could hear the pockets of Dodgers fans. By this point the 43,300 in attendance just looked stunned. And who could blame them? The players were equally overwhelmed. The win-expectancy chart had begun to resemble an EKG. And between the field stormer and the strike zone that had them barking at Miller all night, there were plenty of distractions. When shortstop Corey Seager doubled in the eighth, he and Altuve commiserated about their mutual exhaustion. Bellinger had so lost track of things that he could not remember the results of Games 3 and 4. After Springer walked in the 10th, he turned to Bellinger and said, “I need a sandwich.”
One pitch later, it was over for good.
The Astros spilled over the railing and onto the field, screaming and jumping and releasing energy pent up over a game that shortstop Carlos Correa said made him feel like he was on the verge of a heart attack. They reminisced joyfully about how Correa had told Altuve seconds before the fifth-inning home run, “This is your moment,” and then, just before third baseman Alex Bregman hit the single that ended it, told Bregman the same thing. Springer described the “angry swing” he had taken after that seventh-inning misplay. Hinch said it was his favorite game of all time.
The Dodgers trudged back to a visitor’s clubhouse rapidly being emptied of its contents. They answered questions in whispers or, occasionally, barbs. Barnes appeared to be holding back tears. They had been quick after Game 2 to acknowledge what a great game it had been, how privileged they felt to play in it. That was not the mood as Sunday became Monday. “There’s no way to get around it,” Barnes said. “This one kind of hurts.”
An off-day awaits, and then these teams will play one or two at Dodger Stadium. Let’s root for two.