It’s only fitting a World Series that has already featured two extra-innings contests, the most home runs in Fall Classic history and drastic momentum swings will also include a Game 7. The Los Angeles Dodgers ensured there will be a winner-take-all showdown in the World Series for the second year in a row with a 3-1 victory over the Houston Astros in Tuesday’s Game 6 at Dodger Stadium.
The same Dodgers bullpen that allowed seven earned runs in a 13-12 Game 5 loss in 10 innings Sunday played the role of hero Tuesday. The combination of Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Kenta Maeda and Kenley Jansen pitched 4.1 shutout innings after starter Rich Hill exited in the fifth, while Chris Taylor’s RBI double, Corey Seager’s sacrifice fly and Joc Pederson’s solo home run provided the necessary offense.
It appeared as if Justin Verlander was primed to lead the Astros to their first championship before the fateful sixth inning. He allowed just one hit and struck out eight through five scoreless frames, but the Dodgers finally found their offense against the ace with Austin Barnes’ single and Chase Utley’s hit by pitch before Taylor’s double and Seager’s sacrifice fly.
It was another near miss of a vintage performance for Verlander after he was almost perfect in Game 2 before he allowed two hits, both of which were homers.
Verlander still impressed Tuesday, allowing two earned runs on three hits while striking out nine in six innings, but it was a drop-off from his past outings in similar pressure-packed moments:
After the Dodgers took a 2-1 lead in that sixth inning, the 34-year-old kept his team in the game by retiring Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger with Taylor on third. But Pederson added an insurance run for the home team in the seventh with his opposite-field solo blast off Joe Musgrove.
It was the type of big hit the Astros didn’t get in multiple missed opportunities after they forced Hill from the game with two outs in the fourth. The lefty allowed one run on four hits and one walk with five strikeouts. Only George Springer crossed the plate for the visitors with his third-inning homer, which was his fourth of the series and marked his third straight game with a long ball.
He also joined historic company:
The Astros bats disappeared in the fifth after a leadoff single by Brian McCann and a double by Marwin Gonzalez. Hill struck out Josh Reddick and then Verlander before issuing an intentional walk to Springer. Then Morrow entered, and he completed the Houdini act by inducing a bases-loaded groundout from Alex Bregman.
It was more of the same after that, as Watson retired Gonzalez with two runners on in the sixth and Maeda retired Bregman and Jose Altuve with two runners on in the seventh. Altuve’s groundout to Turner at third base required Bellinger to pick the ball out of the dirt at first to preserve the 2-1 lead.
Houston never had a chance to tie the game after that thanks to the dominant Jansen, who steamrolled through six straight hitters in the final two frames as he secured his fifth save of the 2017 postseason.
It will be all hands on deck for both pitching staffs in Wednesday’s Game 7. While Los Angeles’ Yu Darvish and Houston’s Lance McCullers Jr. may be the starters, Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel and perhaps even Verlander and Hill could make appearances depending on the situation.
Whoever comes through under the brightest spotlight the sport has to offer will be forever remembered as a postseason legend.
By Scott Polacek