Game 2 on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium looked like a repeat of the first, a 3-1 Dodger lead heading into the eighth inning. Over an hour later and the tables turned, Dallas Keuchel told us this game was the type we all wanted, and one we ended up getting. He waxed lyrical about the ball being juiced, while Alex Bregman shouted to the world that it was the best game ever.
However great or terrible you think the sport is, this World Series turned into a blazing mass fireball in midweek. Following the quickest Fall Classic in 25 years through the left arm of one Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday, the ‘equaliser’ for the Houston Astros a day later clocked in at four hours, 19 minutes and a ghastly 14 pitchers. That’s a lot of ‘calls to the bullpen sponsored by’ (fill in the blank). At one point spectators were offering their services to hit the bump and were willing to drop their Dodger Dogs to save the arms of their team, yet this still felt like a quicker game than the first.
Not only that, there was romance. Yes, the Kiss Cam played on but the topper was the Astros collecting their first ever World Series victory, in front of baseball legends Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Sandy Koufax no less. The latter gave up just two home runs against 213 batters in his World Series career and on this night watched eight go out in 54.
It gets crazier, as you’ll find out here.
Please excuse the aforementioned trio in the stands if they viewed this game as an entirely different version to the one they used to play. They’d be right.
It’s 2017, so baseball has to be played in 100-degree heat. The 11 home runs in this series have accounted for 82% of the total runs, a complete normalcy considering there was an MLB-record 6,105 of them during the regular season. Oh, and we saw the first back-to-back home runs in extra innings of a World Series game, ever.
It’s not Yankees-Dodgers. Nor should it be.
Here are the things that truly matter heading into game three in Houston and the series tied 1-1.
The Astros are OK at Minute Maid Park
How about this? The Astros are 6-0 at home this postseason, where they’ve outscored their opponents 31-7 via 10 home runs, while their pitchers have a combined 1.17 ERA. Just imagine if Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander were on the mound the next 48 hours.
Instead, and you might not have heard of them, Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton are going for Houston in games three and four, countered by Yu Darvish and Alex Wood for the Dodgers. Consider the giant bowl of orange the road team are about to take the field in, coming from it waving white towels and a long exhale of momentum having witnessed the Astros’ improbable comeback in game two. Houston is an emotional city after Hurricane Harvey and will carry that pain, temporarily turning it into a furnace of energy and noise for the next three encounters.
The Astros had 48 wins at home in the regular season and 53 on the road, so it’s not an exact science, but if you had have told the Dodgers they would score six runs in a Verlander game and hold a 3-1 lead after seven frames - Los Angeles is now 98-1 this season with a lead after eight innings - the road team may have packed their bags and headed to the airport. Except that’s an utterly stupid thing to write (not the first time) because Houston kept their bags in the clubhouse and fought back to win.
One other point, folks. It’s at least ten degrees cooler in Houston, which will affect the long ball. Pop-ups were carrying over the fence in LA like kids aiming paper aeroplanes at their favourite target, exemplified by the fact that each of the eight home runs in game two were being hit every sixth or seventh batter up.
The Astros know this ballpark better and with that deadly offensive lineup, they have the edge for the next three.
Charter needed for 1-100 celebrities
As the star-studded Chavez Ravine boots up the charter for a three-hour flight to the Lone Star State, the Astros' faithful will be screaming in droves that Beyonce was born and raised in Houston, Texas. “Beyonce is ours, LA! She probably won’t be at the stadium, but she’s still ours!”
If you were drafting two celebrities from the mammoth roster spotted in LA this week to go to a game with, who would you take? It was so deep that Peyton Manning and Lady Gaga might have to be bottom of the pile and even if you wanted to take Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he might be too tall to sit with over nine innings, something Dodger fans actually do in the postseason. Aaron Rodgers was there but no one needs an injury curse at this point. No, if Dodger fans are taking two lucky charms to match up with Beyonce and Chamillionaire - uh, I mean, Hilary Duff … oh, forget it. Just make sure Justin Timberlake makes the cut.
Yasiel Puig is a changed man, and it’s weird
Yasiel Puig lasered a home run to leftfield to put the Dodgers within a run in the bottom of the tenth inning off Astros closer Ken Giles in game two and flipped his bat into the third row carefully placed his baseball-shaped glass ornament onto the ground, puffing out his chest in a show of maturation around the bases. Inside the mind of that mammoth, a new man has been born. ‘That’s right, Dodger nation, I have hit a home run and we are back in this game!’.
Rumour has it that Dodger minor league staffers snuffed out any acts of aggression from the fiery Cuban last year with a rendition of ‘Serenity now, Puig!’
The 26-year-old is batting .351 in the playoffs and almost certainly had a change of heart after this terrible non-bat flip blunder when he did the next best thing and praised the fellow flip of opponent and Latin American Carlos Correa, despite the latter rarely showing this kind of emotion and his home run costing Puig’s team victory.
“I loved it”, Puig said. “It was a little bit higher than the bat flips I normally do.”
Was that a prediction for what’s to come? Just be patient and breathe deeply, like October Puig is doing. His next bat flip will clear the bleachers.
Justin Verlander’s secret weapon
Mr. Verlander, now we know the secret to those sliders. It isn’t just finger grip and spin that concoct such masterful dipping pitches. Oh no, your recipe for success was revealed in game two.
Verlander emerged from the clubhouse in the top of the eleventh inning, his stint on the mound long gone and the game tied at 5. He came out to amp up the troops and what we witnessed was a picture of him being weighed down by a ridiculous amount of arm hair. What a sensational tactic, and by golly was it on show in the tight vest he had on. This was just before admitting he nearly passed out when celebrating Springer’s go-ahead home run, surely not true when you consider the soft landing spot supplied by both his arms. A man of many talents and the first ‘David Ortiz pep talk moment’ since, uh, David Ortiz gathered his Red Sox during the 2013 World Series in St. Louis, he has built a new legacy since leaving Detroit earlier this year.
If the Astros win the series, I am predicting 9,758 columns about how the Verlander motivational speech ‘changed this series more than any other moment’. Actually, he just said “let’s go!”, a popular mantra throughout the world of rallying - and winning - teams.
Jose Altuve has surpassed ‘not human’
Does anyone have a friend who is five foot six and can hold a baseball bat half his size and hit a 100mph pitch 400 feet into the sky?
No, me neither.
What Altuve has done this season - a man who agreed game two was the best game he’d ever played in - has been astonishing, mind-boggling, and there is absolutely no doubt he is the best hitter in the league at the moment. His head actually looks like it weighs him down with a helmet on, yet he is batting .360 with six home runs and a 1.168 OPS during the postseason. He surpassed 200 hits, 20 home runs and 80 RBIs during the regular season marathon and is now carrying his team in critical moments. Like Justin Turner - or ‘Red October’ as he is now known - on the Dodgers side, Altuve is expected to come up big in the clutch.
Before game two, the Astros second baseman sat next to Hank Aaron, the true all-time leader in home runs if you don’t believe what Barry Bonds did was authentic, received the ‘Hank Aaron award’ for the American League and was then told by Aaron himself that he would ‘pay to watch this guy play’. What an honour. Altuve was born 14 years after Aaron retired.
Fast forward to the top of the tenth in game two, Josh Fields pitching to Altuve in a 3-3 ballgame. The little man goes deep. Astros euphoria, which dropped down before coming up again shortly afterward.
Houston’s big three reads Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer. Ladies and gents, a hand to those scouts.
Dodgers bullpen must forget about the last outing
The Dodgers are all about numbers. Rich Hill, the starter in game two, had pitched four innings, striking out seven and giving up just one run in the process. But Dodgers manager Dave Roberts yanked him, in the nicest possible way. The reason? Roberts didn’t want Hill facing the top of the Astros lineup for a third time, so he got the wheels in motion on the best ‘pen in the game.
That decision unraveled after a few outs.
Roberts used five relievers in a span of eight batters at one point. Kenley Jansen was asked to record a six-out save for the second time in his career but gave up a single to Correa in the eighth to make it 3-2 and a game-tying home run to Marwin Gonzalez in the ninth.
Roberts reached the last of his nine relievers in the eleventh, Brandon McCarthy, who hadn’t pitched in 24 days. Cameron Maybin walked, Springer homered and the rest, as they say, is the bullpen’s fault. Sorry, history.
Kershaw needs one more great game to banish so-called postseason demons
Kershaw, who struck out 11 in game one while giving up just a single run, is likely going in game five in this one. He might send the series back to LA, or clinch the title, or lose to the Astros and hand them the ‘17 championship. All outcomes are right now on the table but after the long-lasting narrative that the best pitcher in baseball can’t pitch in the postseason, he surely needs just one more start like the last - and the Dodgers to win the World Series - for all of that to disappear. In the scenario, he pitches a gem and the series goes back to the City of Angels - where’s Mike Trout, by the way? - don’t be surprised but instead, expect Dave Roberts to go to Kershaw one more time either from the bullpen or on two days rest start his third of the series.
That’s the advantage he has from throwing just 83 pitches in game one.
The millennials are taking over the world, and baseball!
Did everyone see Corey Seager scream in jubilation a second after hitting his would-be home run in the sixth inning in game two? That’s a 23-year-old attitude right there. All this talk of launch angle and all we really need to say is ‘the kids love to hit, and they’ll do anything to go yard’.
All eight home runs in game two were hit by spotty-faced young bucks 28 or younger, including one each from 23-year-old’s Carlos Correa and Corey Seager.
Get off my lawn, you two!
This LA team might not even be great
Austin Barnes. Alex Wood. Logan Forsythe. Chris Taylor. Enrique Hernandez. No offence to those guys, but how great are these Dodgers? How much of it is top notch roster construction and scouting and how much is it a case of everything clicking at the right time? Perhaps it's a mixture of the two and there is a tonne of young talent, but Roberts has managed the game as well as anyone strategically and there have been a handful of career turnarounds in guys like Taylor and even Justin Turner over a longer period.
Even if you think this team can return to the big stage with the pool of riches they have, there’s definitely something in the water this year and you only have to look at the Cubs and their one-and-done campaign for proof. The Dodgers, it must be said, haven’t won a World Series since 1988.
On the other side of the equation, the fact that Sports Illustrated anointed the Astros ‘17 world champions in their 2014 magazine adds spookiness to a series that could end on Halloween night.
One last thing. More home runs were recorded in game two than 46 entire World Series. In other words, remember to keep watching later.