Through four games, the 2017 World Series had seen drama, surprise, controversy, villainy, heroism — the whole narrative gamut. Sunday’s Game 5 revolved around a confrontation between two of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball, both former Cy Young winners, who’d combined for a tidy series opener on Tuesday, a 3–1 Dodgers win that lasted just 148 minutes.
By the 148th minute of Game 5, both Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel had been chased and the game had taken on a flavor new to the series: absolute, unmitigated, chaotic terror. The Astros were about to hit their second game-tying home run in as many innings, a towering two-out shot by José Altuve that meandered over the center-field fence to bring the score to 7–7.
It was only the fifth inning.
The Astros ended up winning 13–12 in a game that took 10 innings played over five hours and 17 minutes. It involved 14 pitchers, who gave up 28 hits, and seven home runs hit by seven different players.
It’s like the home run barrage that staggered a nation in Game 2 went electric, signed to a major label, and headlined a national arena tour.
“Just when I thought I could describe Game 2 as my favorite game of all time, I think Game 5 exceeded that and more,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said afterward. “It’s hard to put into words all the twists and turns in that game, the emotion, doing it at home, in front of our home crowd.”
At some point Sunday night I typed the words “Clayton Kershaw” and “perfect game,” as if they might be combined in print for the public to consume, but that memory is hazy thanks to the passage of time and seven innings of back-and-forth offense that constitute nothing less than an assault on the human central nervous system.
When it started 25 years ago, Game 5 of the World Series represented an opportunity for Dodgers lefty Kershaw to once and for all stamp out his reputation for underperforming in the playoffs, and through three scoreless innings and one time through the order, it looked like that’s exactly what he was going to do. Kershaw entered the fourth inning with a 4–0 lead after his opposite number, Keuchel, had given up three runs in the first and another in the fourth.
Then Kershaw started to lose it. He walked George Springer to lead off the fourth, then retired Alex Bregman on a seven-pitch at-bat. Altuve singled, then Carlos Correa doubled to left to plate Springer and open the book on Kershaw.
Correa’s double, all but forgotten in the larger story of the game, had a peculiar effect. The first run of the game, particularly against a pitcher like Kershaw, is an important psychological victory, but Correa’s fourth-inning double was more like cracking open the Well to Hell, turning Game 5 from a routine, if somewhat boring, Dodgers victory into a trans-Atlantic convoy to the Island of Not Being Able to Feel Your Extremities.
The next pitch was a flat, belt-high slider to Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel, whose very presence in the lineup was controversial after he was caught making a racist gesture during Game 3. Gurriel hit Kershaw’s slider into the seats.
“[Kershaw] was rolling,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He was throwing the ball well, good rhythm. And I don’t know, I think that Gurriel took a good swing on a pitch. … Those guys competed. They kept grinding and got the big hit when they needed to.”
What followed over the next three and a half hours strains credibility. After Ken Giles blew Game 4, Hinch was publicly hesitant about handing the ball to his closer again in Game 5.
“I’m not sure who [the ball] will go to [in a save situation], but it most likely won’t go to Ken tonight,” Hinch said before Game 5. “I’ll try to lift the burden off of him carrying this end-of-the-game pressure with him.”
Hinch didn’t use Giles, but he did use six of his other seven relievers, starting with forgotten veteran Luke Gregerson, who cleaned up Keuchel’s mess in the fourth.
Collin McHugh, last seen throwing four no-hit innings of mop-up work in Game 3 of the ALCS, came out to start the top of the fifth. McHugh walked the first two batters he faced, then allowed them to score two batters later when Cody Bellinger took him out to right.
The Astros followed in the bottom half of fifth with two walks and a three-run homer of their own, this one from Altuve, at which point the game left the realm of the reasonable, never to return.
Next out of the pen for Houston was Brad Peacock, on just one day’s rest after a 53-pitch, 3 2/3–inning save in Game 3. Peacock pitched around trouble: Justin Turner missed a go-ahead homer by inches and settled for a double, then was cut down trying to reach third on a botched bunt by Enrique Hernández. Peacock ultimately let up a run in the seventh when Bellinger reached out for an 0–2 fastball and sneaked it under the glove of a diving Springer for a triple that scored Hernández.
After the seventh-inning stretch, Roberts put the game in the hands of Brandon Morrow, one of the Dodgers’ most trusted relievers, for the 12th time in 13 playoff games. And Morrow, pitching three days in a row for the first time in his career, simply had nothing left to give. Springer hit the first pitch Morrow threw out onto the railroad tracks in left for Houston’s third game-tying home run of the night. The ball landed near one of the fireworks installations they’re so fond of setting off at Minute Maid Park, giving the impression that Springer’s ball had exploded.
Bregman singled to center on the next pitch. Altuve doubled two pitches later, and two pitches after that Correa turned on a sinker up and in and hit it into the air on a 48 degree angle. It stayed there for 6.8 seconds before nestling in the third row of the Crawford Boxes. No ball hit at a higher angle had gone for a home run this season.
After the seventh the Astros led for the first time all night, and Peacock came back out for the eighth up 11–8. After a second act characterized by explosive hits, the game’s final act hinged for the most part on comparatively little things, all of which mattered in a big way by game’s end.
The Dodgers cut the lead to 11–9 when Corey Seager doubled with two men on and one out in the top of the eighth, but Chris Taylor didn’t head home from third when he’d at least have had a chance to score. The next batter, Turner, flied out to right, but once again Taylor stayed put when he confused third base coach Chris Woodward’s “Go!” for a “No!”
In the bottom of the inning, Astros catcher Brian McCann homered to right for what seemed like a trivial insurance run with Chris Devenski — the Astros’ best reliever with Giles on the shelf — in the game. It wound up saving the game for Houston. In the top of the ninth, Devenski served up a two-run homer to Yasiel Puig to cut the lead to one, then got within one strike of retiring Taylor to end the game before allowing a game-tying single.
Kenley Jansen and Joe Musgrove traded zeroes in the bottom of the ninth and the top of the 10th, and Jansen got to within a strike of sending the game to the 11th before he hit McCann to extend the inning. He walked the next batter, Springer, on five pitches, at which point Hinch lifted McCann for pinch runner Derek Fisher.
The Dodgers’ Game 2 loss was shrouded in the ironclad faith that Jansen, who blew a save in that game, wouldn’t be touched again. Jansen allowed a garbage-time homer to Bregman in Game 4, but surely he wouldn’t sink the Dodgers again — Jansen is the best reliever not only on the Dodgers, but in the whole National League.
Bregman was a pest all night — in six plate appearances he saw 27 pitches, including a 10-pitch walk in the fifth that chased Kershaw, and he’d scored key runs during the game-tying rally in the fifth and the go-ahead rally in the seventh. With two on and two out in the 10th, Bregman came to the plate for the sixth time.
“I took one more swing on the on-deck circle and I looked to Correa,” Bregman said. “Correa said, ‘It’s your time.’”
The 23-year-old former LSU All-American eyed up a first-pitch cutter from Jansen, who’s about twice his size, and lanced it into left.
While the Dodgers had been undone by caution and confusion at third base two innings before, Astros third-base coach Gary Pettis, who’s been maniacally aggressive throughout the playoffs, never hesitated — he waved Fisher around, and Andre Ethier’s throw home was short and late.
Game 5 was the second-longest World Series game ever in terms of time, and tied for the second-longest on record in terms of total pitches thrown, at 417. The only game to beat it by either standard was Game 3 of the 2005 World Series, which was the first World Series game ever played at Minute Maid Park.
Game 5 leaves Kershaw, who was charged with six runs in 4 2/3 innings and took a no-decision, to grapple with his complicated postseason legacy for another year — barring an emergency relief appearance when the series returns to Dodger Stadium, he’s thrown his last pitch of 2017. It also offers further evidence that the Astros offense, which has delivered only in fits and starts since Game 2 of the ALDS, is capable of producing a conga line that no other team in baseball can match. The Astros are now a win away from making good on the prediction made on the cover of the June 24, 2014, issue of Sports Illustrated, which if it happens will bury the most famous curse in sports journalism. Houston will have two chances to close it out in Dodger Stadium, and teams that get to Game 6 of the World Series up 3–2 win the series about two-thirds of the time, a statistic that doesn’t take into account that Justin Verlander, who’s yet to pitch in an Astros loss since joining the team two months ago, will take the ball for Houston on Tuesday night.
Those things — Kershaw’s legacy, the conclusion of the Astros’ rebuild, the shape of the series — are effects of the wildness of Game 5, and they’re self-evident. It’s more difficult to find larger meaning in a game this strange. Baseball is ordinarily a game of slow-moving strategy, unfolding with some semblance of order and following familiar patterns. Game 5 was neither orderly nor familiar — it was exhausting, chaotic, and defiantly unpredictable. Its win probability graph — Game 5 had the sixth-biggest cumulative change in win expectancy in World Series history — testifies to that unpredictability.
If you were one of the 43,300 caterwauling orange-clad Texans lucky enough to see Game 5 in person, and you wanted to leave your seat for beer or food or to use the restroom, you’d have to take a path like the win probability line through the Minute Maid Park concourse, turgid to overflowing with fans who themselves struggled to contain their own — at one time or another — joy, anger, anxiety, desperation, and excitement.
“These games are hard on me,” Correa said. “I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack out there every single time.”
This game was like staring at the sunrise after staying up for three days and nights — evocative, draining, and oddly beautiful. But there are no Big Picture effects from a spectacle like this: Game 5 was the Big Picture.