LOS ANGELES – About an hour after one of the finest games in the 113-year history of the World Series loosened its vise grip on the 38 men who played in it and the 54,293 who witnessed it and the millions lucky enough to watch it, George Springer and Marwin Gonzalez lounged inside the Houston Astros’ clubhouse and tried to make sense of it. There was no sense to be made. Home runs soared and monoliths crumbled and leads evaporated and bats flipped and emotions seesawed and for 4 hours and 19 minutes of October madness, two excellent baseball teams did what two excellent baseball teams are supposed to do, which is play the sort of game that leaves throats sore and words scant.
“We needed that,” Gonzalez said.
“We needed that,” Springer repeated.
They laughed. Both were bushed, drained by the unseasonable heat and the physical exertion of 11 innings and the pure bipolarity of their 7-6 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the World Series. The game lived to breach extremes. A World Series-record eight home runs left Dodger Stadium. Balls bounced off the brim of a cap and the leg of an umpire. A fan jumped into the Astros’ bullpen. Los Angeles’ impermeable bullpen didn’t just take on water but capsized. And amid the sting of lost leads and the ache of squandered opportunities, the Astros managed not only to win the first World Series game in franchise history but also steal a road split before heading home to a stadium in which they’ve yet to lose this postseason.
“What a game,” Gonzalez said.
“What a game,” Springer repeated.
Together, they accounted for the game’s two most important home runs, Gonzalez a game-tying ninth-inning screamer to left-center field off the Dodgers’ indomitable closer, Kenley Jansen, and Springer a two-run opposite-field job that gifted the Astros a 7-5 lead in the 11th. Sandwiched in between were back-to-back home runs in the 10th inning by Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, the latter of which was punctuated by a bat flip that looked as high as the San Gabriel Mountains out in the distance beyond the outfield pavilion.
That the Dodgers managed to backburner Altuve and Correa’s home runs, the first back-to-back extra-innings shots in World Series history, spoke to their fight, which lasted through the 11th, when a Charlie Culberson home run brought them to within a run and Yasiel Puig, who had sparked a rally with a homer an inning earlier, stepped to the plate with two outs. He fell behind 0-2, worked the count full, spoiled two pitches and ultimately swung over the fifth consecutive changeup thrown by Astros reliever Chris Devenski for the final out.
It was over. October baseball, a feral animal best left to carve whatever circuitous path it pleases, had gone up and down, right and left, forward and backward, all the same night. And much as some Astros wanted to talk about the game, to relive what they’d just seen, what they’d just done, they couldn’t.
“My voice is gone,” Astros pitcher Charlie Morton said.
His wasn’t the only one. Some could muster little more than: “Best game I’ve ever seen.” Or: “I’ll never play in a better game.” And: “I’ll remember every single pitch of this game.”
The last words were Correa’s, and no single pitch stands out more than the game’s 229th, a 94-mph cutter that broke over the heart of the plate. It is not an exaggeration to say no better pitch in baseball exists than Jansen’s cutter. Even belt-high ones that bisect the plate don’t yield much. Jansen threw 67 of those during the regular season. Three fell for hits: two singles, one double. So to see Gonzalez stare at an 0-2 count against the heir to Mariano Rivera, choke up on the bat so high the wood was almost starting to taper out and deliver the pitch over the outfield fence to lead off the ninth inning and tie the game at 3 – well, if that wasn’t the first sign this was no ordinary game, it certainly served as a harbinger for the rest of it.
By Jeff Passan