First rule of slasher movies: Don’t stop fighting until you know Leatherface is dead. Don’t just hit him in the face with a pipe and run away, don’t just run him over with your car, and don’t just plug in your closer for six outs with a two-run lead and hit autopilot. If you’ve tossed him in the lake, wait to make sure he doesn’t crawl up onto shore. If you’ve pushed him down the stairs, lock the door and light the house on fire. If you’ve hit one go-ahead homer, make sure you get some insurance runs. Kill Leatherface, then kill him again just to be safe.
For the first time in their 56-year history, the Houston Astros won a World Series game, a 7-6, 11-inning Game 2 spectacle that started with 4 2/3 no-hit innings from Justin Verlander and ended with a rapid-fire barrage of home runs—a World Series record–setting eight—that by game’s end made Verlander’s mere involvement feel like something you remember vaguely from a survey history lecture you slept through a decade ago. This game, contested between two titanically talented teams made up of conspicuously athletic men with a fondness for bat flips and complex handshakes, had as many heroes and goats as participants.
“That's an incredible game on so many levels, so many ranges of emotion,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. “If you like October baseball, if you like any kind of baseball, that's one of the most incredible games you'll ever be a part of.”
It was part baseball game, part ballet, part generational epic novel, part two giraffes beating each other up with their necks. The word “thriller” hardly does it justice.
Rich Hill threw a pitch behind the game’s first batter, George Springer, who walked, but the Astros got nothing out of the inning when the next two batters, Alex Bregman and José Altuve, got aggressive enough to allow Hill to settle down and regain his command. When we were young and callow, it felt like that wasted opportunity would matter, the way children feel like Santa Claus will judge them for being naughty.
The Astros finally broke through against Hill in the third when Bregman’s line drive fell between Joc Pederson and a diving Chris Taylor in left center, and instead of bouncing past them and rolling to the wall for a triple, it ticked off the bill of Taylor’s cap and right to Pederson, holding Bregman to a single and just one RBI.
Two innings later, it was time to check Verlander’s pitch count to see if he’d be able to see his no-hitter through to its conclusion. But with two outs, Pederson, who hit just .102/.254/.169 from August 1 through the end of the regular season and was just 1-for-5 in these playoffs before Wednesday, came out of his shoes swinging at a hanging 2-1 slider and tied the game.
Hill lasted just four innings as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts attacked Houston’s righty-heavy lineup early with Kenta Maeda. And with two out in the sixth, Taylor drew a difficult two-out walk, just as he had in the same inning and situation the night before. In Game 1, Justin Turner followed with the decisive two-run homer. By Game 2, Corey Seager—who’d missed the NLCS because he started missing time with a weak back about two weeks back—had been restored to the two-hole after hitting sixth in Game 1.
Verlander worked Seager 0-2, then came in with a fastball that missed the plate, then tailed another fastball over the outside corner. Seager popped an opposite-field wall scraper into the first row of the left-field bleachers to put the Dodgers up 3-1.
The way Seager celebrated—mouth agape in a crow, bat held at his waist like the most obvious phallic symbol of the might he’d just exhibited—reflected what we all thought we knew at the time: The game was over. Brandon Morrow, who’d looked unhittable in Game 1, got three outs in the seventh, and even when Bregman doubled to lead off the eighth, in came Kenley Jansen, one of the best relievers in baseball, who’d picked up the save in Game 1.
But where the game should have ended is where it truly began, because the Dodgers’ bullpen, imperious and untouchable as it had been throughout the month of October, didn’t make sure Leatherface was dead.
“[The Astros] fight to the last out,” Roberts said. “They play 27 outs. And that's the same thing we do. And it was one of those games that just ran out of outs. But those guys, to their credit, against a very good bullpen, they tacked on runs, kept going.”
Roberts had parceled out his best postseason relievers—four outs from Maeda, two on one pitch from lefty specialist Tony Watson, and after a four-pitch dalliance with Ross Stripling, Morrow—to get to precisely this point, where Jansen could put the game to bed for good.
Even Bregman’s double was nearly the first out of the inning thanks to what was almost a superhuman catch by Yasiel Puig. But the ball ticked off Puig’s glove and into the seats, leaving a frustrated Puig to hurl the implement that had betrayed him into the warning track dirt. Two batters later, Carlos Correa bounced a ball over Jansen’s head to plate Bregman and cut the lead to one, but that didn’t seem to matter: The Dodgers still had Jansen in the ninth against the Astros’ 7-8-9 hitters, a group that had done little to inspire confidence through the series’ first 17 innings.
But this Astros lineup—which led baseball in runs, hits, batting average, OBP, and SLG, and finished second in home runs while striking out less than any other lineup in baseball—is a killer as deadly as any horror movie monster, and by getting out of the eighth while allowing Bregman to score, Jansen had merely wounded them.
Up came Marwin González to lead off the top of the ninth. Over the course of his six-year Astros career, González had evolved from a light-hitting shortstop to a middle-of-the-order masher, though in the Astros’ first 12 postseason games he’d behaved more like the former, hitting just .150/.227/.200 in 44 plate appearances. But when Jansen left an 0-2 cutter over the middle of the plate, González put it in the center-field seats.
MARWIN IN THE 9TH! TIE GAME.— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 26, 2017
Suddenly the manager with the best bullpen in this year’s playoffs had used all of his best pitchers, while the manager with one of the shakiest bullpens still had his two best relievers—Ken Giles and Chris Devenski—left to call on.
Giles set down the heart of the Dodgers’ order—Seager, Turner, and Cody Bellinger—to send the game to extra innings.
From that point on, Dodger Stadium stopped feeling normal. It alternated from the roar of a jet engine inside the Roman Colosseum to the silence of a boat on a lake with such felicity it felt like God was yanking the world’s volume knob back and forth because he didn’t realize his headphones were plugged into the stereo and no sound was coming out of the speakers.
Roberts turned to the bearded former Astro Josh Fields to start the 10th. Altuve took two fastballs away, then got a third fastball over the plate and crushed it out to left center. Quiet.
Two pitches later Fields tried to sneak a curveball past Correa, but hung it. That went out to left center too, and so too nearly did Correa’s bat as the Astros shortstop tossed it halfway back to the first-base dugout.
Yuli Gurriel hit the next pitch to the wall for a double, forcing Roberts to replace Fields with lefty Tony Cingrani, who retired the side without further damage.
That left Giles to close it out. There are relief pitchers and there are closers, and Giles is a closer, with his noisy entrance music, fastball-slider repertoire, and blocky, muscular frame. Giles wears his hat low and his jersey unbuttoned to the sternum, like the bully in a 1990s high school movie. He also has a max-effort delivery that doesn’t lend itself well to extended action, and as his pitch count rose through the 20s, all the way up to 33, he became too tired to finish Leatherface off.
Puig led off the bottom of the 10th with a home run. Loud. Giles struck out the next two hitters. Quiet. Giles walked Logan Forsythe and allowed him to advance to second on a wild pitch. Loud. Kike Hernández slipped a base hit through the right side and Forsythe dove through home plate just ahead of Josh Reddick’s throw. It was the first and only Dodgers hit of the night that wasn’t a home run.
On came Devenski, who before he threw a pitch tried to pick Hernández off second base, but missed; instead of flying off into the outfield and possibly allowing Hernández to score, the ball hit umpire Laz Diaz. But Devenski settled down, barely, in time to retire Taylor and send the game to the 11th.
At the start of the 11th inning, Roberts used his World Series–record-tying ninth pitcher—and last reliever of the game—34-year-old right-hander Brandon McCarthy. As a 21-year-old rookie, McCarthy threw 67 innings for the world champion White Sox in 2005, but didn’t appear in the World Series. After 12 years and more than 1,100 regular-season innings, the gaunt, 6-foot-7 McCarthy, would get his first taste of the Fall Classic.
Cameron Maybin, who’d been double-switched in for Giles the inning before, led off with a single, then earned free tacos for a nation with a stolen base. He didn’t need to risk it, though, because Springer, who’d earned a golden sombrero in Game 1 by striking out four times, put the Astros up for good with a home run.
By the bottom of the 11th, this game felt less like baseball and more like a double-overtime Big 12 football game—the first team to get a stop would win—and Devenski still had to get a stop. For a moment it looked like Roberts’s own double-switch—taking out Bellinger, his biggest home run threat, to get Cingrani in the game in the 10th—would come back to bite him.
But utilityman Charlie Culberson, representing the Dodgers’ last out, took Devenski deep to build on the 1.235 OPS he compiled as Seager’s replacement in the NLCS.
That left Puig with the task of tying the game off Devenski, with a gut punch of a loss in the cards if he failed.
After five years in the big leagues, Puig’s reputation for animation is well known, and from the Dodgers’ late-season slide through his 10th-inning home run, he’s been a clutch fixture for Los Angeles, a spark plug, a guidepost, even as everything else on the team went to shit. For his part, Devenski stalks the mound with a berserker’s wide-eyed rage, positively stomping from pitch to pitch as if he’ll seize up and stall if he hits the brakes for a second.
What followed was an electrifying nine-pitch confrontation between the two most keyed-up players in one of the most keyed-up baseball games in recent memory. Eight of those nine pitchers were changeups, Devenski’s out pitch. Puig took four of them and fouled off three others—two with two strikes—as he worked the count from 0-2 back to full. On the ninth pitch, Devenski finally snuck his circle change past Puig and erupted in a fireball of relief and exultation that … well, see for yourself.
“[That was] probably as nerve-wracking as it is in the stands for everybody else,” Springer said. “You know who's on the other team, you know who's on deck, and you know who's hitting. And when that last out is made, you finally breathe. … That's the craziest game that I've ever played in, and it's only Game 2.”
Quiet, as the crowd poured out of Chavez Ravine like water seeping down a drain.
A split in Los Angeles sends the series to Houston for three games with rested bullpens and everything to play for. On one hand it’s routine—each team fired its opening salvo, winning behind its best pitcher. Now they have to navigate games 3 and 4, maneuvering into an advantageous position for when Kershaw, Keuchel, and Verlander take the mound again.
But the path there, after a close but easy Dodgers win in Game 1 and what looked through eight innings like more of the same in Game 2, was anything but easy. It was frenetic, visceral, and desperate in a way that baseball seldom is. The intensity of playoff baseball lies in anxiety over what could happen but rarely does, but in the last three innings of Game 2, it all happened, without cessation.
This wasn’t normal baseball. It was something different.