Game 5 the best since, er, Game 2

It seemed there was a three-run homer for every three-run lead in another Fall Clas­sic thriller

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - THOMAS BOSWELL THE WASH­ING­TON POST

HOUS­TON— The great­est tes­ta­ment to Game 5 and to the de­li­cious mad­ness of the whole Astros-Dodgers mael­strom in the World Se­ries is that the play­ers them­selves can hardly be­lieve what they, and their op­po­nents, are ac­com­plish­ing.

Hous­ton and Los An­ge­les al­most seem in awe of each other and, a bit sheep­ishly, of them­selves, too. Is this re­ally hap­pen­ing? Are we truly this evenly matched, this ob­sti­nate and, un­der in­cred­i­ble pres­sure, per­form­ing so su­perla­tively, in­ning af­ter breath­less in­ning?

Af­ter the Astros’ 13-12 vic­tory in 10 in­nings — a five-hour, 17-minute game that had so many thrills that it never lost its al­most in­sane pace and pres­sure — Hous­ton’s Car­los Cor­rea, a 23-year-old su­per­star in the peak of health said, with a straight face, “I feel like I’m go­ing to have a heart at­tack out there.

“It’s [so] high-pres­sure. The game is go­ing back and forth. Both teams are great, scor­ing runs. Hope­fully, we can win one more game and take a break, be­cause this is hard on me.”

Cor­rea did not say he hoped to win one more game to be­come World Se­ries cham­pi­ons; he meant he did not know how many more games — es­pe­cially all­time clas­sics like Games 2 and 5 — he could take. He was kid­ding. But not by a lot.

Game 5 was one of con­tin­u­ous dis­be­lief when all our base­ball ex­pec­ta­tions, built over our life­times, are shred­ded by an un­seen clown and tossed in our grin­ning faces. The ob­vi­ous com­par­i­son is Toronto’s 15-14 win over Philadel­phia and re­liever Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams in Game 4 in1993. But there is lit­tle com­par­i­son.

That game was a mess, a slashed can­vas of 14 walks, hit bat­ters and sloppy play in rainy con­di­tions, plus bad pitch­ing by sev­eral hurlers whose names were barely known then and for­got­ten now. That was a crazy game, but also one that didn’t make you a base­ball fan. More likely the op­po­site.

In Sun­day night’s clas­sic — and yes, we have now had two gen­uine clas­sics in a week — the Astros were not mak­ing their early come­back against Tommy Greene of the 1993 Phillies, but against Clay­ton Ker­shaw, the ace of his age.

And the Astros just stomped him. In his reg­u­lar-sea­son ca­reer, Ker­shaw has been given six or more runs of sup­port 61times. He has won 59 of those games. On Sun­day, he got seven runs of sup­port in the big­gest game of his life and left with a node­ci­sion af­ter al­low­ing six runs and be­ing so wild that he couldn’t es­cape the fifth in­ning.

Also, the Astros were not de­feat­ing a goofy Wild Thing in ex­tra in­nings but, for the sec­ond time in this Se­ries, win­ning an ex­tra-in­ning thriller in which they bat­tered the best re­liever of this decade, Ken­ley Jansen. Mar­win Gon­za­lez nailed him for the game-pre­serv­ing, save-blow­ing homer in Game 2. Alex Breg­man, a glo­ri­ous de­fen­sive prodigy with out­ra­geous con­fi­dence at third base, got the game-win­ning, line-drive sin­gle to left to beat Jansen in Game 5.

If the Astros go on to win this Se­ries — and they have Justin Ver­lan­der, in per­haps the hottest streak of his fu­ture hall-of-fame ca­reer, lined up to start Game 6 on Tues­day in Dodger Sta­dium — then Game 5 will drip with sym­bol­ism. That will be the fa­mous night when the Astros’ fe­ro­cious of­fen­sive at­tack, and their erupt­ing fans, de­feated both Ker­shaw and Jansen. Also add that the Dodgers’ sec­ond-best re­liever in Oc­to­ber has been Bran­don Mor­row, whose fast­ball reaches 99 mph. He faced four men, al­lowed four runs, got no outs and al­lowed 11 to­tal bases.

How does any team re­cover from that? South­paw Rich Hill, who was trusted to work just four in­nings and throw 60 pitches in Game 2, will sud­denly be cap­tain, first mate and look­out on the Dodgers’ life raft.

Part of the power, and the shock­thrill im­pact, of Game 5 was watch­ing what hap­pened to Ker­shaw. Bad things def­i­nitely can hap­pen to good peo­ple. Most of the fine work he’s done re­cently to re­pair his tat­tered Oc­to­ber rep­u­ta­tion will be re­versed by the shaky, fret­ful way he helped blow leads of 3-0 (be­fore he took the mound), 4-0 (af­ter three in­nings) and 7-4 in the fifth when his team­mates seemed de­ter­mined to sal­vage both the game and his World Se­ries dig­nity.

But al­most every as­pect of this game made you ask, “Have I ever seen that be­fore? Wait, has any­one ever seen that be­fore?”

For just the sec­ond time in post­sea­son his­tory, three-run deficits were over­come three times. The Dodgers led 4-0 and were tied 4-4 on a three-run homer by rookie Yuli Gur­riel. Then the Dodgers went back ahead 7-4 on a three-run homer by rookie Cody Bellinger, only to be caught again on a three-run homer by Jose Al­tuve.

If you see one such dra­matic three­run bomb in a World Se­ries game, you have a spe­cial mem­ory. To see three cru­cial, clutch three-run homers — all of which trans­formed the game with one swing — in the span of two in­nings is al­most pre­pos­ter­ous. And they have so much com­pany in the col­lec­tive Hero Photo that it’s al­most com­i­cal. The third blown three-run lead was an Astro sin, cough­ing up a 12-9 lead in the ninth to force ex­tra in­nings; it was per­haps the most “I-re­ally-don’t-be­lievethis-is-hap­pen­ing” mo­ment of the en­tire night.

You know the ghouls in all the Nights of the Liv­ing Dead are never truly dead. But base­ball teams truly do ex­pire — ex­cept in this World Se­ries. When Yasiel Puig hit a lucky two-run homer into Minute Maid Park’s Craw­ford Boxes to get the Dodgers within 12-11, you al­most felt that base­ball it­self was try­ing to rub raw the last nerve-end­ing of every player. Then, down to the last Dodger strike, Chris Tay­lor slapped an RBI sin­gle up the mid­dle — the first les­son in hit­ting, back through the box — to tie the score at 12.

This game was a magic box. And you never knew what would jump out of it next. In this sea­son of the home run, th­ese teams have com­bined for a World Se­ries-record 22 blasts. In Game 5, the Astros be­came just the third team to hit five homers in a Se­ries game. The five-foot-five Al­tuve, prob­a­bly the best all-around player in base­ball and surely the most in­fec­tiously en­er­giz­ing, has seven homers in a sin­gle post-sea­son. The record is eight. Feel free to root.

In the 2004 World Se­ries, Car­di­nals man­ager Tony La Russa said that, in his long ex­pe­ri­ence, he be­lieved that there was of­ten one game in a World Se­ries that both teams could have “won in a dozen ways, but only one team wins.” La Russa thought that the team that won that swing game usu­ally won the Se­ries. And La Russa said those words af­ter his team had just lost such a game, 11-9, to the Red Sox, who swept the Car­di­nals to win their first cham­pi­onship since 1918.

This Se­ries al­ready has had two such melo­dra­matic “swing games” that could have gone ei­ther team’s way in a dozen cri­sis mo­ments. Hous­ton won both.

There is a 30-year his­tory of teams be­ing in­cred­i­bly hard to beat if they can just get back to their own home field for Game 6, even if they trail in the Se­ries.

Can th­ese teams, es­pe­cially the Dodgers, still keep punch­ing af­ter all the emo­tional dam­age, or at least in­cred­i­ble en­ergy drainage, of Game 5?

“It was tough. What can you do?” Jansen said after­ward. “But I’m al­ready look­ing for Tues­day.” Tues­day will come soon enough. But trust this: Base­ball will be look­ing back at Game 5 of the 2017 World Se­ries for decades.

JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IM­AGES

Hous­ton third base­man Alex Breg­man, who drove in the 10th-in­ning run that ended a back-and-forth Game 5, has at least one RBI in each game of this year’s World Se­ries.

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