ASTROS HAVE AN ACE UP THEIR SLEEVE FOR GAME 6
Late-season pickup Verlander gets chance to close out the Series, writes Rob Longley.
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.
Houston Astros starter Justin Verlander shakes hands with former U.S. president George W. Bush before Sunday’s World Series Game 5. Verlander will be on the mound for Game 6 Tuesday night in Los Angeles with a chance to give the Astros their first title.