All the Times That That Game Seemed Over

I don’t know exactly what it is we just watched. From almost the very first pitch, Game 5 was unrelenting, and it didn’t let up for five hours and seventeen minutes. Even now, I’m afraid it might not be finished — if I turn the feed back on, the Astros and Dodgers might be in the 81st inning. It doesn’t feel right that the game is completed. It also very much needed to end, because it was becoming a matter of survival. I don’t mean that as a figure of speech.

I’m still not entirely sure that was a good baseball game, in one sense of the word. It was driven by homers, some of them silly, and I wouldn’t call the pitching quite sharp. Each of the bullpens was an absolute nightmare, after the starters threw a combined 8.1 innings, and the overall aesthetics left something to be desired. It wasn’t a game marked by its crispness. The only thing that stopped it from being the longest-ever nine-inning baseball game is that it had to progress to the tenth. The allotted nine innings weren’t enough. They should’ve been enough.

But they weren’t enough, and for that reason, and for so many others, that was a good baseball game, in the other and more obvious sense of the word. Every baseball game asks two things: that you play, and that you play to the end. Every game has a winner, and every game has a loser, and as with any such competition, the drama’s a product of probability swings. Game 5 had more than almost any other World Series game on record. On several occasions, it seemed like it was over. The winning run scored on the game’s final pitch, which was pitch number 417. Hopes were dashed, over and over and over again, as the World Series went completely off-script. That was a contest that spiraled out of control.

As with Game 2, it’s an impossible assignment to do the game justice through writing. We are mostly just fortunate that this series has been so evenly matched. But Alex Bregman won it with two outs in the bottom of the tenth. Here are the times the game seemed over before that.

Dodgers up 4-0

It feels so distant now, but the Astros couldn’t have gotten off to much of a worse start. One would’ve figured that, going up against Clayton Kershaw, the Astros didn’t have much of a margin of error. Yet they opened making a number of mistakes. Dallas Keuchel, in the top of the first, had trouble finding the zone. When Logan Forsythe knocked an RBI single to left, Marwin Gonzalez booted the ball, allowing a second run to score. When Keuchel had Forsythe picked off, Yulieski Gurriel made a bad throw to second, allowing not just Forsythe to escape an out, but also allowing another run to score from third. After the teams traded some zeroes, the Dodgers added a fourth run when Austin Barnes singled on a fly it seemed like Gonzalez might’ve been able to catch. When Charlie Culberson followed with another single in the fourth, Keuchel was yanked. It was suggested by many, quite seriously, that the Astros might elect to go the mop-up route, trying to save bullets for Games 6 and, hopefully, 7.

Fortunes turned, and they turned abruptly. Luke Gregerson kept the Dodgers where they were by getting Chris Taylor to strike out against what would’ve been ball four. And after the Astros got a couple on, Carlos Correa brought their first run home, pulling his hands in to yank a Kershaw fastball off the plate.

Kershaw hardly had time to bemoan his bad luck. The Correa double was just a good piece of hitting. Gurriel followed. Kershaw delivered such a pitch that didn’t require a good piece of hitting.

The first-pitch slider never broke, and the game was tied up. It was around here that we knew the game wouldn’t go according to plan. Keuchel, already, had come out in the fourth. He couldn’t find the spots that he wanted. But Kershaw also looked nothing like his earlier self. In Game 1, Kershaw threw 32 sliders, and he generated six whiffs. In Game 5, he threw 39 sliders, and he generated one whiff. Gurriel went yard. Kershaw wound up with his lowest single-game swinging-strike rate since 2010.

When you’re a manager, and you’re starting Dallas Keuchel or Clayton Kershaw, you assume certain things. The managers, for this game, were helpless. They might not have known it as early as the fourth, but they would’ve at least had an inkling.

Dodgers up 7-4

The Dodgers had all the momentum, then the Astros caught up with four runs. And so the Astros seized all the momentum, then the Dodgers surged ahead with three runs. I’ll say this for momentum: it doesn’t, objectively, seem to make any difference, yet it does still seem like it exists. It’s just…fleeting, fickle, so fragile it might as well not even have a name. Why concern yourself with something so delicate it can hardly survive a few minutes? The Astros caught up to the Dodgers, and Minute Maid Park came alive. Then Collin McHugh started the fifth by walking both Corey Seager and Justin Turner. Momentum abhors the leadoff walk, to say nothing of additional walks that follow. Two batters later, Cody Bellinger went deep.

It was only three runs, and the Astros had just scored four, but the ballpark fell silent again. Remember, the game wasn’t yet completely insane. It didn’t seem like the Astros could get Kershaw again. And the Dodgers could get their bullpen involved. A three-run lead in the fifth inning is significant. It’s a major deficit, for even the best offense in either league.

But Kershaw got in trouble again. After recording two outs, he failed to put away George Springer over eight pitches, and then he failed to put away Bregman over 10. Without his good slider, Kershaw was human, and he was relieved by the equally human Kenta Maeda. Maeda, like other Dodgers relievers, has been an October success. Yet this game made one point abundantly clear: everyone’s gassed. Everyone’s gassed, and so the names mean practically nothing. The Dodgers used someone in Kenta Maeda’s uniform to pitch to Jose Altuve. On the sixth pitch, Altuve hit a home run, just foul. On the seventh pitch, Maeda tested him with his first fastball. As a playoff reliever, Maeda had gotten up to 95 and 96. Altuve saw a hair under 94, and he hit a home run, this time very fair. Tied up. Again. The hitters were winning.

It’s said that the playoffs prove that good pitching beats good hitting. I don’t agree with that. I think the playoffs prove that great pitching beats good hitting. But when the playoffs approach their conclusion, the great pitching can be awfully tired, allowing the good hitting to catch up. Adrenaline can do only so much when you’ve been pitching since the middle of February. I think, by the middle innings, A.J. Hinch and Dave Roberts knew what was going on. Their bullpens each had plenty of pitchers to use. They didn’t know what they’d get from a single one of them. No one had anything, so there was hardly any managing to do, but for sending the next jersey to the slaughter, and hoping for some at-’em balls.

Dodgers up 8-7

There was a bunt. It was a bad bunt. Turner led off the seventh with a double off the top of the fence, and that brought cleanup hitter Kike Hernandez to the plate against Brad Peacock. Somewhat puzzlingly, Hernandez tried to bunt Turner to third, even with a 2-and-1 count. It was a failure. Even worse than had Hernandez done nothing at all. In Hernandez’s defense, he’s long been terrible against righties, whereas Peacock has his own massive platoon splits. But it didn’t feel like a game to play for one run. This had a chance of being the featured second-guessing of the night. The Dodgers would just have to lose, without scoring in the frame.

Bellinger then hit a sinking line drive. Springer tried the play you’re always told not to try.

Springer knows what he’s doing better than I do, but it’s considered a baseball fundamental that you don’t dive forward for a liner. He didn’t make the catch, and it might’ve been a small miracle Bellinger didn’t get all the way around. He stopped at third, but he still had a good chance of scoring, doubling the sudden lead. Based on our own win-expectancy numbers, the Dodgers’ chances leaped to 76%. Kenley Jansen loomed, maybe one inning away.

Forsythe struck out looking, at a perfect full-count fastball. Yasiel Puig flied out. It then took Springer one pitch to make up for his misdeed. He greeted Brandon Morrow with a tying home run.

Astros up 11-8

Morrow, more than anyone else, became the guy to feel bad for. Since reemerging this year in the majors, Morrow has been exceptional, and the Dodgers have used him as such in the playoffs. As unimaginable as it would’ve been months ago, Morrow’s been the October bridge to Jansen. He still is, perhaps, for the game or two remaining. But, at least Sunday, Morrow was feeling it. He was feeling everything. He was still throwing hard, nearly as hard as he usually does, but something just plain wasn’t there. Morrow had been reduced into something less than he normally is.

Within six pitches, Morrow turned an 8-7 lead into an 11-8 deficit. Correa hit a home run that wouldn’t have been out in any other ballpark, but the contact was still good, and Morrow was removed. He’d allowed two home runs in six pitches. He’d allowed no home runs in the regular season.

It seemed like defeat. With the Astros having surged ahead, it felt like the story was that the Dodgers paid the price for leaning too hard on their best arms. Two doubles and a hit batter in the eighth gave the Dodgers another opening, but they managed just a single run, which the Astros took right back when Brian McCann went yard off Tony Cingrani. 12-9 is safe. Even with everyone torched, 12-9 in the ninth inning is safe. A fatigued playoff reliever still shouldn’t run a 27 ERA.

It wasn’t safe. Ken Giles wasn’t going to close, and Chris Devenski wasn’t able to close. Puig hit his own silly homer, a two-run shot that got out by a sneeze. Barnes followed with a double, and then Joc Pederson chopped a ball to short. Correa’s throw to first was low and in the dirt. The tying run just about scored on an error.

Instead, it scored on a single. It scored on a Chris Taylor single, with two strikes and two outs. This was a result Devenski didn’t deserve, but the game itself deserved it. Needing to throw just one more good pitch, Devenski threw it. Taylor still beat him.

Devenski is building a career out of keeping hitters from staying on his changeup. Taylor stayed on it, and the game was alive.

The Dodgers seemed to have the trump card, so to speak. What they had was Jansen, and Jansen could probably cover two innings. He only barely escaped the bottom of the ninth, because no one’s immune to overuse, but in the tenth, Bellinger had another almost-moment. For an instant, off the bat, it appeared the Dodgers were up by two runs.

Bellinger’s body language gave it away, and it was reminiscent of Bellinger’s almost-walk-off in the ninth of Game 2.

One fly left the bat at 92.1. The other at 92.9. One fly sailed 365 feet. The other 369. Bellinger was off by only a hair. He’s unlikely to let himself forget it.

Say this for Jansen — he was almost able to push things along. He retired, after all, the tenth inning’s first two batters. He hit McCann. In the season, he hit only two guys. He walked Springer. In the season, he walked only seven guys. The walk pushed McCann to second, which turned McCann into Derek Fisher; suddenly, a run, to Hinch, felt possible. And it scored on the first pitch to Bregman, Jansen’s 33rd. A cutter up was instead a cutter at the knees, and Bregman did what Taylor had done. Andre Ethier took one step too many.

I have no way of knowing what Game 6 might bring. I have no way of knowing what the pitchers might have, given a day of rest. It might just be the day that they need, and maybe there’s one more second wind in all of those elbows and shoulders. What I know is that, in Game 5, the pitchers had nothing. The Astros, the Dodgers, the starters, the relievers — they did what they could, but what they could was insufficient. It wasn’t their fault. The season for the best teams is excruciatingly long. But with the spotlight at its brightest, we had two pitching staffs on fumes. The names were all the names that we know, but the pitches were delivered by strangers. Strangers who were hoping just not to be noticed.

Some people treat the playoffs as a time for second-guessing. And, absolutely, these games are the most important. Decisions that are made are made at a time of dizzying leverage. But this one — this one was out of Hinch and Roberts’ hands. There was nothing for either one of them to actually manage. In a game where track records mean basically nothing, a manager is little but a fan with good seats. Those fans, and the others, watched a hell of a ballgame.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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5 years ago

Can someone please point me to a link where I can watch a recording of last nights game? Seems to have been poor timing for a family emergency. 🙁

Thank you very much in advance!

5 years ago
Reply to  ajaf804

You can find many-a-highlights here