The result cannot be considered unthinkable, because October baseball expands the realm of possibility and exposes the soul to untold anguish. The Dodgers had avoided this fate for so much of these playoffs. They were the team who broke hearts, who snuffed out dreams. Except until this week, they had not stared down an opponent like the Houston Astros.
On Wednesday evening, in the final innings of Game 2 of the World Series, the veneer of invincibility surrounding the Dodgers bullpen shattered beneath the might of Houston’s offense in a 7-6 defeat that tied this series at one victory each.
Kenley Jansen blew a save by yielding a solo homer in the ninth. Josh Fields surrendered two more in the 10th. After scoring two runs in the bottom of the 10th, the Dodgers turned to Brandon McCarthy for the 11th.
There was no one left in the bullpen. McCarthy had appeared in only five games since the All-Star break. The Astros pilloried him. George Springer boomed a two-run shot. McCarthy seethed with anger afterward. Jansen contemplated the fallibility of man.
“I’m human,” Jansen said. “You can’t do nothing about it.”
The concept of vulnerability had eluded these Dodgers this postseason. The bullpen was an unbreakable machine. The lineup was a relentless storm. Their manager operated without flaw. On Wednesday, the machine broke down and gave up its first runs of these playoffs. The Dodgers stormed to a 3-1 lead through seven innings and hit four homers, but the Astros answered with four blasts of their own. Manager Dave Roberts could not maneuver his bullpen after removing starter Rich Hill after four innings.
Six outs away from a commanding two-game lead, the Dodgers felt the wrath of the Astros, the purveyors of baseball’s most ferocious offense. Brandon Morrow allowed a leadoff double to third baseman Alex Bregman in the eighth, despite a diving attempt from right fielder Yasiel Puig. That brought in Jansen. Two batters later, shortstop Carlos Correa rolled an RBI single up the middle. An inning later, Marwin Gonzalez led off and Jansen fed him a cutter at the belt. Gonzalez stunned the crowd with a tying homer.
In the 10th, Fields served up a pair of mammoth home runs to second baseman Jose Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa. Correa punctuated his blast with a prodigious bat flip — the lumber landed in the grass in stereo with the ball in the left-field pavilion.
As the homers soared through the night, the aroma of a nearby brushfire wafted over Chavez Ravine. It felt like a metaphor. Until the bottom of the 10th, when the Dodgers offered a reminder of their own ability to singe a bullpen.
Puig greeted Astros closer Ken Giles with a solo home run. Logan Forsythe took a two-out walk, and Enrique Hernandez incited bedlam with a game-tying single through the right side of the infield.
An inning later, after Springer’s homer, Charlie Culberson cut the lead in half with a two-out solo homer. The two teams set a World Series record with eight home runs. None would follow Culberson’s. The Dodgers had run out of comebacks.
“All year long we’ve done a nice job of recovering, turning the page, whether it’s a big win or tough loss,” Roberts said. “It’s a tough loss.”
The madness of the final innings outweighed the import of the game’s beginning. Roberts cast the die with his bullpen when Hill was removed after four innings. At that moment, the Dodgers trailed by a run and had yet to record a hit against Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
Hill had permitted a run on an RBI single by Astros third baseman Alex Bregman in the third. With the Astros batting order due up for a third time in the fifth, Roberts replaced Hill with Kenta Maeda. The decision matched the team’s thought process throughout this postseason, even if Hill held opposing hitters to a .408 on-base plus slugging percentage on the third trip through the order in the regular season.
“The competitor in you wants to keep going, keep fighting,” Hill said. “But if you step outside yourself, it made sense.”
Heading into the fifth, Verlander had still not bent. In time, the Dodgers came as close to breaking him as any other team has this October.
Joc Pederson tied the score by hitting a hanging slider over the right-field wall with two outs in the fifth. An inning later, after a two-out walk by Chris Taylor, Corey Seager smashed a two-run homer.
Upon contact, Seager screamed. He unleashed another yell when the baseball soared over the wall in left. In the dugout, Clayton Kershaw lifted his arms and howled with delight.
After Tony Watson got a double play to end the sixth, Roberts sent Ross Stripling to start the seventh. Stripling issued a four-pitch walk, which forced Roberts to utilize Morrow for the second night in a row. Morrow escaped the seventh, but Bregman smoked a ground-rule double off Puig’s glove to start the eighth.
The Dodgers were six outs away. Roberts trusted Jansen to get them. Two batters into his appearance, Jansen watched Correa thread an RBI single up the middle that slashed the lead to one.
To start the ninth, Jansen pumped a pair of cutters to Gonzalez. A third cutter trickled down the middle. Gonzalez did not miss.
“I wanted it to be up and in,” Jansen said. “And it just flattened out. He fought it off and hit a line drive. The ball carried the whole night tonight. You can’t do anything about that.”
As the 10th inning loomed, Roberts went with Fields, choosing a right-handed pitcher to face the right-handed hitters at the top of the Astros lineup. Houston laughed at the concept of a platoon advantage. Altuve demolished a fastball. Correa clobbered a curveball, then sent his bat aloft.
Silence pervaded the ballpark. It would not last. After Puig went deep off Giles, he laid his bat gently in the grass. Forsythe set the table for Hernandez, who stroked a single into right field. Forsythe dived across the plate.
The ballpark reeled in response. Like everything else on this night, euphoria felt fleeting. After giving up a single and stolen base to former Angel Cameron Maybin, McCarthy got punished by Springer for a hanging slider. “With both teams going back and forth, it sucks to be on our end of it,” McCarthy said.
By that point, the crowd sounded exhausted, even after Culberson’s homer. A strikeout by Puig ended the night after four hours and 19 minutes, the last four innings an exercise in chaos. The Dodgers do not believe it will break them — but now they have felt the might of an opponent who can.
Inside a gloomy Dodgers clubhouse, Jansen still managed to smile. He relished the thought of another chance to close a game. He accepted a hug from Roberts and another from franchise legend Sandy Koufax. As he walked into the night, Jansen uttered a familiar refrain from Kendrick Lamar.
“We gon’ be alright.”
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