The 2017 season and this terrific World Series will get one more game. Thanks to a sixth-inning rally off a previously untouchable Justin Verlander, the Dodgers dashed the Astros’ championship hopes in Game 6 to force a do-or-die Game 7 on Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
Here are three thoughts from the Dodgers' 3-1 win on Tuesday evening.
1. Saved in the Sixth Inning
For the first five innings of Game 6, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Dodgers had never left Houston. Just like he had in Game 2, Verlander was magnificent early on, easily stymying Los Angeles with an array of fastballs, sliders and curveballs. He allowed only one base runner—Yasiel Puig on a bloop single into centerfield—in his first 16 batters faced and struck out eight of them. Thanks to a solo blast from George Springer in the third, he was working with a lead, albeit a narrow one. And at just 69 pitches through five, he was primed to go deep into the game and help Houston avoid its exhausted and ineffective bullpen.
It all turned in the sixth, and all from a cast of characters you never would have expected. Austin Barnes—who began the season as a backup catcher but took over as the primary backstop in the postseason—started things with a single. Up came Chase Utley, who had started the night on the bench but was up as part of a double switch. The 38-year-old veteran entered this World Series more as a clubhouse totem than a contributor, having gone hitless in 17 plate appearances across the month. But after falling behind 1–2, he took a Verlander changeup off the leg after it bounced in the dirt, putting two on with none out.
The top of the lineup did the rest. First it was Chris Taylor, who ripped a fastball into rightfield to score Barnes and tie the game. Then came Seager, who lofted a ball to right that would have carried into the bleachers on a warmer day but settled into Josh Reddick’s glove at the wall. No matter: It was deep enough to score Utley and give the Dodgers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Los Angeles tacked on an insurance run in the seventh via Joc Pederson’s third home run of the series—if the Dodgers win, he’ll be a strong candidate for MVP honors—but the game was decided in that sixth. Not to be overlooked, though, was the Astros wasting a precious opportunity in the fifth, when a Brian McCann single and a Marwin Gonzalez double put runners on second and third with no one out. But two strikeouts (one by Verlander, as manager A.J. Hinch likely cursed the lack of the DH), an intentional walk and a bases-loaded grounder later, Houston had failed to take advantage of its chance. The Dodgers didn’t, and that was all the difference.
2. Dodgers Bullpen Bounces Back
It was only a matter of time before manager Dave Roberts had to go to his bullpen in Game 6, but the hope was likely that he could hold off for as long as possible. His beleaguered crew was battered in three games in Houston, forced to work overtime after Yu Darvish’s disaster start in Game 3 and thrashed in Game 5. But with Rich Hill on the mound, Roberts had no choice: The lefty has yet to go past five innings in any start this postseason, and the Astros’ would-be rally in the fifth—which he left with the bases loaded and two out—extended that streak.
From there, Roberts had to play with fire, trusting relievers who got a day off on Monday but likely could have used a month. Curiously, his first choice was Brandon Morrow, who gave up four runs on six pitches without getting an out in Game 5 and had pitched in all but one of the Dodgers’ games this October. Asking for outs from his ragged and surgically-repaired right arm was risky enough; to do it in a bases-loaded situation, as Roberts did on Tuesday, was borderline insane. But with every reliever exhausted and the likes of Brandon McCarthy or Josh Fields untrustworthy, Morrow was the best of a battered lot.
It worked out, as did every spin of the chamber from that point forward. Morrow got Alex Bregman to ground out and end the fifth-inning threat and then got two more outs in the sixth. Lefty Tony Watson gave the Dodger Stadium denizens heartburn by allowing two of his three batters faced to reach, but nothing came of either. Kenta Maeda, whose stuff looked flatter than Kansas in Game 5, had to dance through the seventh, getting Bregman to fly out and Jose Altuve to ground out with two on and one out.
And then came Kenley Jansen. Roberts had said before the game that his closer—who has blown two saves this series and thrown nearly 200 pitches in three weeks—would be asked to get no more than three outs. That promise evaporated with the sight of Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel due up in the eighth, even with a two-run lead. The fear had to be that Jansen’s effectiveness would be so compromised by all his tough innings in the last week that six outs would grind him to dust. But Jansen looked like his usual self, needing only seven pitches to get through the eighth, then carved apart the bottom of the Astros’ order in the ninth to finish it.
3. Game 7 Awaits
There are no two better words in existence than “Game 7,” and for a second straight year—and third in the last four—we get that glorious winner-take-all to determine baseball’s champion. How lucky we all are.
It will be, as you can imagine, all hands on deck for each team. The starters will be Darvish for the Dodgers and Lance McCullers for the Astros. The former was abysmal in his lone Fall Classic turn, getting knocked out in the second inning; the latter dealt 5 1/3 solid innings in Game 3, with two of the three runs on his line scoring after he departed in the sixth inning. Behind them will be everyone but Verlander and Hill. The most intriguing option: Clayton Kershaw, who labored through a terrible Game 5 but will likely be Roberts’ first option if Darvish again exits early—or, perhaps, his last option, as he told the lefty.
The situation likely favors the home Dodgers, though the Astros caught a break in that their best relievers—Will Harris, Brad Peacock and Chris Devenski—all weren’t used in Game 6 (nor was closer Ken Giles, though it’s hard to imagine Hinch turning to him in all but the most dire of circumstances). Roberts, meanwhile, had to use all of his top pitchers, though he has Kershaw and Alex Wood available for length. But in a Game 7, there’s no such thing as favored; there’s only chaos. A World Series this brilliant, this crazy, this plain fun deserves it.