LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Houston Astros’ best, making good on Yasiel Puig’s promise that there will be a Game 7 at Dodger Stadium.
After managing only one baserunner in five innings against starter Justin Verlander, the Dodgers scored twice on the Astros’ ace in the sixth, and the Kenley Jansen-led bullpen held on for a 3-1 win on Tuesday to force a seventh game to decide the World Series.
World Series. Game 7. It’s a magical combination of three simple words and one lucky number.
“After Game 5, [I said] it’s not going to be done today,” Puig said. “It’s going to be done tomorrow. [Someone] is going to win the World Series tomorrow.”
Entering the series, we knew this was a meeting of baseball’s best offense (Houston) and its best run-prevention unit (Los Angeles). The Astros’ thrilling 13-12 win in Game 5 was their kind of contest. But Game 6, with its solid pitching, timely hitting, airtight defense and spotless bullpen work — that was the Dodgers getting back to the formula that has been so successful for them during the entire month of October.
And because they got back to playing Dodger baseball, L.A. will play its first game in November, and Dodger Stadium will host a World Series Game 7 for the first time in its long history. On Sunday, we wondered, how could the Dodgers possibly recover from such a gut-punch of a loss in Game 5? The answer: by playing like the Dodgers, that’s how.
“The whole year we’ve been talking about trying to win a championship, having the goal to win a championship,” Jansen said. “We’ve all got to believe. To see my teammates, we didn’t hang our [heads]. We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves. And we all believe. We knew it was going to be tough to score runs on [Verlander], but we believed we were going to get him.”
Rich Hill pitched effectively in a short outing, holding Houston to George Springer’s solo home run in the third in four-plus innings. It was the same scenario as in Game 2. Hill pitched well. So did Verlander, but he ultimately departed with his team behind.
In Game 2, the Dodgers’ bullpen couldn’t nail it down. In Game 6, it did.
“It’s great to see the way the guys threw the ball,” Hill said. “We attacked, threw strikes. We grinded the entire game and that’s been the makeup of this team the entire year.”
Brandon Morrow, who gave up four runs and failed to retire a batter during Game 5, inherited a bases-loaded, two-out jam when he came in for Hill. He responded, getting Alex Bregman to ground out to shortstop Corey Seager. Morrow has pitched in all six games of the series.
“We’ve asked a lot out of our bullpen this whole postseason,” pitcher Clayton Kershaw said. “The way [Morrow] looked tonight, the way Kenley looked tonight — that’s them. [Morrow] went back to what he does and Kenley is always amazing. It’s good to have those two guys for tomorrow, too.”
Lefty Tony Watson came on for Morrow and after hitting a batter, he got Marwin Gonzalez on a soft liner with two on to end the sixth. Kenta Maeda escaped a two-on jam by getting Jose Altuve to ground out to end the seventh.
That left it to Jansen to get the last six outs, just as he aimed to do in Game 5 when he gave up a run for a third straight outing, matching a career high. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before the game that he preferred to limit Jansen to a conventional three-out appearance, but he opted to go with his stopper early once again.
“I’m not trying to be a hero or anything, but there is no tomorrow,” Jansen said. “We’ve got to go out there and fight. He asked me how I feel and give him my honesty that I’m good to go. The adrenaline and everything, I feel great. I didn’t feel tired at all out there. I go out there to compete and help my teammates and try to pick them up, to force a Game 7.”
The fevered crowd at Chavez Ravine exploded when the opening notes of “California Love” blasted from the ballpark’s formidable sound system, signaling Jansen’s entrance. It’s a ritual the fans have shared with their closer countless times over the years but never has it meant more than it did Tuesday.
Jansen said moments after he took the loss in Game 5 that he had already moved on and was “looking forward to Tuesday.” He pitched like it.
Jansen dispatched the Astros with only seven pitches in the eighth. Then he got the last three outs in order as well, this time on 12 pitches, finishing up with three strikeouts among his six outs. His efficiency was crucial, not just for Tuesday’s game but for Wednesday’s winner-take-all game as well.
“Kenley is the best closer in baseball,” Hill said. “To see him come out and throw like that, everybody was really excited. We needed him. He wanted to come back and prove himself, to go out there and win it for everyone. There is nobody else we would want to have on the mound late in the game.”
After Sunday’s exhausting loss, everyone agreed that Monday’s day off was of great benefit.
“The day off was great, no question,” Jansen said. “It was tough in Houston. Those guys did what they were supposed to do. But we also did what we were supposed to do, to take one and get our home-field advantage back and force a Game 6. They were tough there.”
Verlander mowed down the Dodgers for five innings, giving up only Puig’s second-inning single and striking out eight. Out of nowhere, the L.A. offense came to life in the sixth. Austin Barnes greeted Verlander with a solid single. Chase Utley, who entered the game 0-for-14 in the postseason, was hit in the foot by a pitch. Chris Taylor flipped an opposite-field double to score Barnes. And Seager drove Houston right fielder Josh Reddick to the fence to drive in Utley with a sacrifice fly.
Just like that, the Dodgers had the lead and Verlander was done after he was replaced by a pinch hitter in the bottom of the inning.
Joc Pederson gave the Dodgers a precious insurance run in the seventh, taking Astros reliever Joe Musgrove deep with an opposite-field shot to left. He became the first Dodger with extra-base hits in five straight World Series games. Not bad for a guy who was sent to Triple-A late in the season to overhaul his approach.
“It’s never fun being demoted,” Pederson said. “But the league showed me a lot, the stuff I needed to work on. So, yeah, it was very humbling, and I needed to go learn how to hit, basically.
“I’ve still got a lot of work to do, but it’s encouraging to see some of the process and all the hard work turn into some results in the game.”
Besides Springer’s homer, Hill mostly matched Verlander pitch for pitch on a cool evening when the ball wasn’t jumping out of the park as it did last week when the games were starting with temperatures in triple digits.
But let’s get back to Puig’s brash comments in the wake of the Dodgers’ devastating Game 5 loss, when he stood before reporters and said, “This is not going to be finished Tuesday. There’s going to be Game 7.”
Puig singled in his first at-bat Tuesday but otherwise had a quiet night. Nevertheless, he proved to be more soothsayer than braggart after his team returned to the sort of stifling run prevention that got them 104 wins during the regular season and 10 more — so far — in the playoffs.
“Everybody has prepared all year for this moment,” Puig said. “Houston is a good team and nobody expected that this is going to be over in four games. It’s going to be a crazy game tomorrow.”
One crazy moment could be the Dodgers’ franchise starter trotting in from the bullpen. It almost happened on Tuesday. Kershaw was just beginning to stretch late in case Jansen’s pitch count spiraled out of control which, obviously, it did not. So he’s ready to do as much as is required in Game 7 for his team to finally get over the hump. Kershaw even joked about getting 27 outs.
“I know that he was up in the pen today,” Roberts said. “One reason I wanted to stay away from him is so we could get him a little bit more tomorrow. So when you’re talking about Clayton Kershaw, Game 7, I think anything’s within reason.”
The Dodgers have lost all six World Series in which they trailed 3-2. They haven’t won a championship in 29 years. Kershaw has never won a championship.
On Wednesday, the Dodgers have a chance to erase all of that bad history in the highest-stakes game ever played at Dodger Stadium. Just as Puig said they’d have a chance to do.
“I think it seems fitting,” Roberts said. “You’ve got the two best teams in baseball going head to head. Like we’ve talked about from the beginning, these two teams mirror one another, and the compete and fight in both teams is the most important thing I see as similarities.
“But, again, we worked all year long to have home-field advantage, and here we are. It’s only fitting for this series.”
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