The Dodgers would never have even been in Game 7 if they’d taken advantage of all of their opportunities.
In Game 2, they were three outs—with their best relief pitcher on the mound—from taking a 2-0 lead in the series against Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander. They lost. In Game 3, they fell down early but cut the lead to two, and they might’ve been able to complete the comeback if they hadn’t kept swinging through Brad Peacock’s fastball. In Game 5, the Dodgers spotted the best pitcher in baseball a four-run lead, and he couldn’t hold it. Then they spotted him another three-run lead and they coughed it up again. Then they gave their best reliever the ball with the game tied, and he hit Brian McCann with two outs and two strikes, then didn’t retire another batter en route to a walk-off loss.
Still, they would’ve gotten away with all of it if they hadn’t missed so many more opportunities in Game 7.
On Wednesday night, the Dodgers left 10 men on base, tying the record for a losing team in a nine-inning Game 7 of a World Series, and even that hardly tells the story. The Dodgers came away from July’s non-waiver trade deadline with the best player to change teams: free-agent-to-be Yu Darvish. Darvish got shelled in Game 3, and the box score in Game 7 will say the same: 1 ⅔ innings, three hits, a walk, and five runs allowed—the only five runs the Dodgers gave up.
His opposite number, Lance McCullers, pitched 2 ⅓ scoreless innings and became, as Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan so creatively put it, the first pitcher since Jack Morris in 1991 to start Game 7 of the World Series and not allow a run. However, the difference between the two wasn’t that great.
Darvish gave up two loud hits to George Springer—a double and a home run—but he got screwed by a first-inning throwing error from Cody Bellinger. And then he got screwed again the following inning when Logan Forsythe fielded a grounder from McCullers and vapor-locked, throwing to first instead of home where McCann … well, “ran” isn’t exactly the right word, but you get the idea. McCullers, meanwhile, had two pitches: a knuckle curve, which he absolutely buried inside to left-handers, and a fastball, which tailed up and out of the zone and into the right-handed batter’s box.
He used the curveball to great effect: Corey Seager, Bellinger, and Joc Pederson went a combined 1-for-5 off McCullers, and Bellinger in particular looked so lost he might as well have brought an oar to the plate with him instead of a bat. Right-handed batters were a different story. McCullers faced a righty eight times: He gave up two hits, retired two more on hard-hit balls, and hit the rest, including Justin Turner twice. No pitcher had ever hit four batters in a World Series game before.
And yet the Dodgers left six men on base through the first three innings alone, and erased another when Chris Taylor smoked a line drive right at Correa for a double play that ended the second.
By the time Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen got into the game, the Dodgers were still down 5-0, and while they pitched up to their reputations, the Dodgers offense was able to scratch out only a single run against an Astros bullpen that was not only denuded of closer Ken Giles, but was also in such a state of disarray that Francisco Liriano, who had a 5.66 ERA in the regular season, wound up pitching in a high-leverage situation. If the Dodgers had been able to scrape out even a couple of runs against a starter who could locate his fastball only into right-handed batters’ ribs, they’d have been in a position to carve up that bullpen like a dad on a Thanksgiving turkey, but a five-run deficit is a lot to come back from for any offense against any bullpen.
Fortunately for Houston, the Astros’ bullpen pitched its best game of the series. The four pitchers who came after McCullers—Peacock, Liriano, Chris Devenski, and Charlie Morton—combined to allow just three hits and two walks over 6 ⅔ innings of work.
Brandon Morrow, Kershaw, Jansen, and Alex Wood held the Astros scoreless from the end of the second inning on, but it didn’t matter—the Dodgers’ opportunities had come and gone.
In Game 7 of the World Series, there’s no such thing as the prologue; the Astros took the lead four pitches into the game and never gave it up. In a six-month regular season, or even a seven-game series, you can always count on getting another chance, but not in a winner-take-all game. Not even for one of the best regular-season teams of the 21st century, one that will take little comfort from what it’s achieved this year and what it stands to achieve in the years to come.
Miss enough chances to put your opponent away, and, before you know it, the last opportunity will have dried up, and your opponent will be soaked in champagne.