Before the first two games at Dodger Stadium, the storylines surrounding the match-up between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers led many to anticipate an exciting Fall Classic. The series, now tied 1-1, is living up to expectations.
The Dodgers were the best regular season team with a record of 104-58. The Astros were not far behind with a record of 101-61. This was the first World Series since 1970 that presented teams with 100 or more wins. However, each respective franchise’s journeys to this point could not have been more different.
This season, the Dodgers have found success through great pitching led by Clayton Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher in the game. Albeit, they have used a 265 million payroll, the highest in the league. The Dodgers are looking for their seventh championship. Their last World Series appearance was in 1988, during which Kirk Gibson famously pumped his fists as he rounded the bases on a walk-off home run in Game one. The Dodgers would eventually defeat the Oakland Athletics in five games.
This season, the Astros have relied on a strong lineup. According to the LA Times, the Astros’ offense led the league this season in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage. The team also struck out fewer than any other ball club in the league. Unlike the Dodgers, the Astros, following the success of the past two championship teams (the 2015 Royals and last year’s Cubs) have built their team mainly through the draft.
Houston, in its 55-year history, has yet to win a single game in the World Series. The franchise’s only appearance in the game was in 2005 when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox. This storyline continued after the Astros lost the series opener 3-1. The Astros might have had enough momentum coming into Game 1 after fresh wins against the Yankees. The lights-out lineup for Houston produced 12 runs in two elimination games in the ALCS. Clayton Kershaw made sure to keep the Houston momentum in check. Astros shortstop Jose Altuve said to ESPN “Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the pitcher—that was the case today.” Through seven innings, Los Angeles’ ace struck out 11 batters, the fifth time striking out 10 or more batters in his postseason career. Despite Kershaw’s dominance, the game was much closer than the score indicates. Though Kershaw gave up only three hits, one of them was a home run.
The Dodgers were holding onto a one-point lead off Chris Taylor’s solo home run on the first pitch of the game. Then, in the fourth inning, third baseman Alex Bregman tied the game 1-1 after hitting a single shot off of Kershaw’s misplaced 93-mph fastball. It was Kershaw’s seventh home run given up this postseason. He was able to recover by striking out Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Yuli Guriel to close out the inning. The Dodgers took control of the game after Justin Turner hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning and held that lead until the end.
The Dodgers’ bullpen, which has allowed five hits in 21 1/3 innings this postseason, according to ESPN, closed out the game with Brandon Morrow in the eighth inning and Kenley Jansen in the ninth.
Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch told ESPN the difference in the games, explaining “tonight [was] about Kershaw…They had two big swings, we had one. They had a walk before one of their big swings, it’s 3-1.” He expressed his confidence in his team moving forward, saying, “We’re heading into Game 2 of the World Series. So there’s no more rookies, there’s no more youth. It’s just competing.”
On Wednesday, Hinch’s team did not shy away from a thrilling, come-from-behind performance. The Astros pulled off a 7-6 victory in 11 innings despite trailing late in the game. Houston struck first in the second inning when Alex Bregman hit an RBI single. By the fifth inning, the game seemed to be slipping from the Astros when Justin Verlander, on his first hit allowed, gave up a solo home run. In the ensuing inning, Verlander walked Chris Taylor and gave up another home run, this time by Corey Seager. However, it was the Dodgers’ bullpen that was unable to seal the win. Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts pulled starting pitcher Rich Hill after the fourth inning and 70 pitches putting a strain on the relief pitchers. According to the LA Times, the bullpen had completed a playoff-best 28 consecutive scoreless relief innings, but in the late innings gave up the lead and ultimately the game. In the eighth, with Morrow relief pitching, Carlos Correa hit an RBI single and brought the Astros within one run. In the ninth, with Jansen pitching, Marwin Gonzalez hit a homer to even the score. The Dodgers were on the verge of taking a 2-0 series lead. Jansen had not allowed an earned run the entire postseason and gave up the solo shot on a 0 and 2 pitch.
This sent the game into extra innings and ensured the further collapse of the Dodgers’ bullpen. Pitcher Josh Fields yielded back to back homers the tenth. The Dodgers responded with a pair of runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. Yasiel Puig hit a solo shot and Enrique Hernandez drove in a run with a single. Yet in the eleventh inning, manager Dave Roberts was forced to use his very last relief pitcher. Brandon McCartney, who had not pitched in the postseason and who had made only three appearances since July 20, gave up a single by Cameron Maybin and a homer by George Springer. The Dodgers attempted to rally once more. Charlie Culberson hit a solo homer to make it 7-6, but Astros’ closer Chris Devenski struck out Puig for the final out and sealed the win. The drama continues as the series moves to Minute Maid Park in Houston for Game 3.