ASTROS HAVE AN ACE UP THEIR SLEEVE FOR GAME 6

Late-sea­son pickup Ver­lan­der gets chance to close out the Se­ries, writes Rob Longley.

Calgary Herald - - SPORTS - Rlon­g­ley@post­media.com twit­ter.com/ lon­g­ley­sun­sport

The Hous­ton Astros be­lieve they have the per­fect en­core to fol­low one of the great­est games in World Se­ries his­tory.

It comes in the form of a six­foot-five pitcher with a su­per­model wife, a player who was ac­quired from the Detroit Tigers at the Aug. 31 ma­jor-league trade dead­line for a mo­ment just like this.

“We’re in­cred­i­bly con­fi­dent,” said Astros out­fielder Derek Fisher, who as a pinch-run­ner scored the walk-off win­ning run to end a 13-12 ex­tra-in­nings clas­sic in Game 5 on Sun­day night, giv­ing the Astros a 3-2 edge over the Los An­ge­les Dodgers in the best-of-seven se­ries.

“When you have ar­guably the best pitcher in base­ball in the most im­por­tant game of our en­tire sea­son … you’re pretty happy about that.”

The pitcher in ques­tion, of course, is Justin Ver­lan­der and the “im­por­tant” con­test is none other than Tues­day’s Game 6 of a World Se­ries neu­tral ob­servers and base­ball fa­nat­ics would love to see go the distance.

The Astros, of course, took a 3-2 lead in what is fast be­com­ing an un­for­get­table se­ries with that Sun­day night spe­cial. And with the re­main­der of the 113th World Se­ries back in Los An­ge­les, they have two op­por­tu­ni­ties to win the first ti­tle in fran­chise his­tory.

If the first five games are any in­di­ca­tion, it won’t come easy. Two of the Astros’ wins have come in ex­tra in­nings and Hous­ton’s bullpen is strug­gling might­ily.

But if all things were equal — and so far in this zany se­ries they pretty much have been — Ver­lan­der could be the dif­fer­ence.

“It’s still a one-game sea­son,” Astros man­ager A.J. Hinch said, des­per­ately try­ing not to get too far ahead of him­self. “We’ve got Ver­lan­der go­ing and com­ing off of the big win … our team is pretty good at build­ing off this type of mo­men­tum.

“They know what’s at stake. This is Game 6 of the World Se­ries com­ing up. How much do you re­ally need to get your­self ready to play?”

Mo­ti­va­tion cer­tainly won’t be an is­sue for ei­ther team, but fa­tigue might be. The five hours and 17 min­utes it took to play Game 5 made it the sec­ond­longest game in World Se­ries his­tory. And with the high, ex­cru­ci­at­ing drama, it felt like every minute of it.

Well be­fore they left the bed­lam of Minute Maid Park in the wee hours of Mon­day morn­ing, Astros of­fi­cials de­cided to de­lay their char­ter un­til later in the day.

The terms “epic” and “in­stant clas­sic” are tossed around sport­ing events a lit­tle too lib­er­ally th­ese days it seems, but su­perla­tives were cer­tainly in or­der for de­scrib­ing Game 5.

Three times the Astros re­cov­ered from deficits, in­clud­ing an ab­surd 4-0 gift they spot­ted the Dodgers be­fore play­ing chase the ace and beat­ing up on mul­ti­ple Cy Young Award-win­ning L.A. starter Clay­ton Ker­shaw. It was only part of the fun, how­ever, as the Astros blew a three-run lead of their own in the sev­enth and al­most in­cred­i­bly another three­run lead in the ninth to force ex­tra in­nings.

By the time Sun­day’s thriller had reached the mid­dle in­nings, it al­ready felt like the pres­sure of a Game 7. So what does the re­turn to Dodger Sta­dium have in store?

For one thing, temperatures will be dra­mat­i­cally cooler than they were for games 1 and 2 when the ther­mome­ter topped 40 C. That cer­tainly may re­duce the pos­si­bil­ity of balls ping-pong­ing out of the park on seem­ingly rou­tine fly balls.

The Astros al­ready have a four-homer game in this se­ries to go with the five they banged out on Sun­day in the tiny per­fect park — for their of­fence, any­way — they call home. They’re done with Minute Maid Park for this Oc­to­ber, how­ever, af­ter build­ing an 8-1 post-sea­son record there.

“We have one more vic­tory, but we’re still very hum­ble about that,” said Astros sec­ond base­man Jose Al­tuve, who had a sin­gle, dou­ble and a home run for four RBIs in Game 5. “We also know who we are play­ing. You have to play for every sin­gle in­ning to beat the Dodgers. And now we’ve got to beat them in L.A.”

That won’t nec­es­sar­ily come easy, ei­ther, as the Dodgers have shown their own share of re­siliency in th­ese play­offs. When they dropped Game 2 in L.A. and Game 3 in Hous­ton, it was the first time they lost back-to-back games this post-sea­son.

“We are de­ter­mined,” said Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger, whose three-run homer in the top of the fifth gave the Dodgers a 7-4 lead. “This thing isn’t over yet.

“We have a bunch of re­silient guys in here that will come out in full force. We’re go­ing to do that in a cou­ple of days.”

When you have ar­guably the best pitcher in base­ball in the most im­por­tant game … you’re pretty happy about that.

DAVID J. PHILLIP/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Hous­ton Astros starter Justin Ver­lan­der shakes hands with for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush be­fore Sun­day’s epic Game 5 of the World Se­ries. Ver­lan­der will be on the mound for Game 6 Tues­day in Los An­ge­les with a chance to give the Astros their first ti­tle.

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