LOS ANGELES — Justin Verlander called it an instant classic. But it lasted 4 hours and 19 minutes.
Some games defy words. Some games just mock them. When both teams slug six home runs in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings, and when Justin Verlander’s Houston Astros score twice in the 10th and twice in the 11th and still have a tying run at the plate to deal with, this game you’re watching has escaped its moorings.
Maybe a World Series has, too.
Houston won Game 2, 7-6, in 11 innings. By then both closers had been devoured. The Dodgers were trying to make it to shore with Brandon McCarthy, who had pitched six major league innings since July 20. It didn’t take long.
Cameron Maybin singled and George Springer, who had struck out four times in Game 1, capped a three-hit night with the game-winning home run, although Charlie Culberson of the Dodgers homered in the bottom of the 11th and romped around the bases as if he’d tied the score. By then, who was counting?
Atmospherics had a lot to do with this home run derby, and by the time Verlander was raving about his teammates, the audience had forgotten that he had absolutely squelched the Dodgers in the first six innings with only two hits. But the hits were a solo shot by Joc Pederson and a two-run homer by Corey Seager that gave the Dodgers a 3-1 lead after six.
That’s where you begin reconstructing this mess and realize how damaging this could be for the Dodgers.
If you lead Verlander, 3-1, you need to win that game.
If you give the ball to Kenley Jansen with a 3-1 lead in the eighth, you need to win that game.
Primarily because you have won those games so very often, and because a win would put Houston down 0-2, having fired the guns of Verlander and Dallas Keuchel in Los Angeles.
Now it changes completely. Now Keuchel is guaranteed a Game 5 start. If the Dodgers win only once in Houston, there will be a Game 6 back here on Tuesday, and it will feature Verlander again.
The other aftereffect is that the cloak of invincibility has now been removed from the Dodgers’ bullpen and especially Jansen, who had blown one save all season in a game the Dodgers eventually won.
Jansen did not pitch poorly. His 0-and-2 cutter to Marwin Gonzalez started high but then settled down by a few inches, into a more comfortable spot, and it did not get in on Gonzalez’s hands. Gonzalez had 23 home runs and 90 RBI this season with a .907 OPS, sixth in the American League.
“I told him he was going to have a chance to win it,” Verlander said. “It’s easy to lose confidence in this game. The TVs are on before the game and everybody’s talking about the Dodgers’ bullpen and how tough they are. It’s like nobody thinks we can win. I just tried to tell the guys how good they are. I know, I’ve pitched against them.”
Jansen has no trouble working two innings, but he has rarely entered an inning with someone on base. Alex Bregman had just doubled off Brandon Morrow to begin the eighth, and Roberts remembered a tough at-bat Bregman had given Jansen after Game 1.
Bregman wound up scoring on Carlos Correa’s single. That run will be ignored but it broke the bullpen’s reccord streak of 28 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason. It also gave the Astros evidence that Jansen was no unstoppable Cyborg.
“He’s human,” Corey Seager said. “You always think he’s going to get the job done, but he’s our guy. We get into that situation again, that’s the guy we want out there.”
The problem, as Verlander noted, is that the Dodgers emptied their relief bucket somewhat recklessly. It began when Roberts lifted Rich Hill after four terrific innings, with the only run unearned.
“We had a few scoreless innings after that,” Roberts said, “and I wanted Kenta (Maeda) to pitch to the top of the lineup.”
But the Dodgers ran through Maeda and then Tony Watson, for a one-pitch double play, and Ross Striping mysteriously started the seventh and walked Gonzalez. Morrow bailed out the Dodgers and, in truth, they got where they needed to be, although it was by the circle route.
But at this point Hill deserves to be entrusted when he’s pitching well. Seeking the ideal matchup for every out in every inning requires a bigger pitching staff that MLB allows teams to have.
Josh Fields had to clean up after Jansen and it wasn’t pretty. Jose Altuve homered in the 10th and so did Correa, who turned and flipped his bat defiantly. When Yasiel Puig hit his 10th-inning homer before Hernandez’s single re-tied the score, he conspicuously, delicately laid the bat on the ground.
“I think it’s great to get excited and play with that kind of joy, especially for Latino players,” Puig said.
Meanwhile, Houston got nice work from Will Harris and Joe Musgrove in its oft-criticized bullpen and was able to summon Chris Devenski, an All-Star, after the Dodgers drove out closer Ken Giles. Devenski gave up Culberson’s homer but managed to get three outs, a one-small-step-for-man accomplishment in a game like this.
The Astros became the first team in postseason history to hit three home runs in extra innings. The Dodgers lost in extra innings for only the fifth time this season. They also forgot to lock down a victory that was safely inside the door. They will consider themselves fortunate if all they lost was a game.
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