LOS ANGELES — This is what you wanted, right?
This World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros was just too superb, too tightly contested and too thrilling, with both slugfests and pitchers’ duels, for it not to go to a Game 7.
“Game 7,” it is said, are the best two words in sports, but when they apply to the pluperfect pandemonium these teams have provided for the last eight days, including a 3-1 Dodgers victory over the Astros and ace Justin Verlander on Tuesday night here at Dodger Stadium, then “Game 7” isn’t too terribly far down the list of best words, or at least most fun words, by any standard.
Game 6 did not provide a classic worth a winter of discussion but rather an exciting, crisply played game with a fine dramatic premise — could a 37-year-old journeyman pitcher named Rich Hill, who has only found his prime years in the last three seasons, find a way to hang with Verlander, a likely future Hall of Famer, long enough to keep his Dodgers within striking range?
Hill managed it almost perfectly, leaving after 4⅔ innings, trailing just 1-0. He got a standing ovation. Thanks to an RBI double by Chris Taylor and a sacrifice fly by Corey Seager in the sixth inning off Verlander, plus an opposite-field solo homer by Joc Pederson in the seventh off reliever Joe Musgrove, the Dodgers got just enough offense.
The five-man Dodgers tag team of Hill, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Kenta Maeda and finally Kenley Jansen, who got the last six outs in a row on just 19 pitches, was enough to hold the Astros — who now have 14 homers in this World Series — to one lone run on a George Springer homer.
There’s probably something else you also wanted to see in a Game 7 — a rematch between Yu Darvish and the Astros, who thumped the Dodgers right-hander in Game 3, knocking him out in 1⅔ innings. Of course, that rematch will also have a large side-helping of Yuli Gurriel, the 33-year-old Astros slugger from Cuba who made a racist gesture as well as an anti-Asian remark directed at Darvish, who is Japanese and Iranian.
Gurriel was verbally reprimanded by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and suspended for five games — next season, not in this World Series. Dodger Manager Dave Roberts, whose mother is Japanese, was asked his view of the appropriateness of the suspension. Roberts approved it, but only after stressing that what he wanted most was that “there won’t be any asterisks when we win.”
In the baseball culture, that’s about as blunt as it gets. We want him to play, not because of subtleties of ethical debate and suspension precedents, but so we can beat you flat, no excuses.
Waves of boos greeted Gurriel from the moment he was introduced before Game 6, then throughout his four at-bats (with one single). Hill took long walks around the mound before Gurriel’s first two at-bats, letting the crowd have time to work him over, then keep up the booing his whole at-bat.
“After [Game 3], he contacted us and said, ‘I’d like to meet you in person and apologize,’” Darvish said Tuesday through a translator. “But I told him, ‘You don’t have to do that, because you made a comment, and, like, I’m not that mad.’
“So, like, I really didn’t care much about that.”
You can take that multiple ways. Just expect Darvish will be — motivated.
Ironically, Gurriel may now provide just an extra bit of home-field advantage. Both of these teams are run by stat freaks and know exactly how important home-field edge has been since 1986, when MLB changed its rules and let the home team use its own league’s rules on the designated hitter in World Series games.
Since then, in Games 6 and 7, home teams have a 20-6 record and a comparably huge 135-86 margin in run differential.
The Dodgers sure love being back in L.A., especially now that the temperature at game time is 67 degrees, not 103, as in Game 1. In effect, that pushes the fences back at least 10 feet and may serve as a slight deterrent to the Astros, who are an even better slugging team than Los Angeles.
Dodger Stadium “played big” in Game 6, with several well-hit drives dying short of the walls, including a Corey Seager blast to right field that ended as a sacrifice fly, caught near the top of the fence, rather than a three-run homer. Springer, to open the scoring in the third inning, and Pederson, to add a final insurance run in the seventh, still managed solo homers. You could make these teams play in Anchorage and you still couldn’t keep them in the yard.
“We’re happy to be at home. Tonight was very energizing,” said Roberts, whose team was emotionally drained after losing the epic 13-12 battle in Game 5 in Houston on Sunday. “We worked all year for home-field advantage and here we are.
“It does seem fitting that there’s a Game 7. These are the two best teams in baseball. They mirror one another. And neither one gives in.”
So now we have what we want. Even the Astros say they’re psyched for it, not that they wouldn’t prefer to be flying back to Houston now for a parade. “Big stage. The opportunity to win the World Series tomorrow. That was the message [to the team] right after the game,” Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said. “One of the most exhilarating games you’ll ever play in your life.”
Given how exhausted both of these bullpens now are, you never know who you’ll see on the mound. After Darvish, the Dodgers already say that they will be ready to use Alex Wood, who was sharp in Game 4, in relief as well as Clayton Kershaw, who even did a little throwing in the bullpen during Game 6. As for Jansen, he was so efficient that he is also ready for one inning.
For the Astros, it will be Lance McCullers Jr. starting, followed by several relievers with World Series ERAs that look like a 10-digit telephone number. That’s scary. But so are all those Astros bats that have already ripped what seemed like two dead certain wins out of the Dodgers’ hands.
Can a Game 7 of a World Series live up to such extreme expectations? Well, how’d you like that little Game 7 tussle between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians last year? Or, two years before that, Madsion Bumgarner against the world?
When a great World Series reaches the Game 7 it deserves, the best advice is, generally, don’t miss it. Even if you have to peek between your eyes.
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