After brilliant performances from both starting pitchers, a ninth-inning meltdown by the Houston Astros bullpen allowed the Los Angeles Dodgers to claim a 6-2 win that levels the World Series at two games apiece.
With ace Clayton Kershaw set to start here on Sunday against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5, the Dodgers will like their chances of taking a series lead back to Los Angeles.
The contest was tied at 1-1 when Astros manager AJ Hinch placed his trust in his closer, Ken Giles. Highly effective in the regular season, Giles has endured a nightmarish October. In his previous appearance he gave up two runs at Dodger Stadium in Game 2. On Saturday he allowed a leadoff single to Corey Seager, then walked Justin Turner. Clay Bellinger doubled, scoring Seager and sending Turner to third.
That was the end of Giles’ night and it is hard to imagine that Hinch will deploy him again in a vital moment for the rest of this series – a significant blow to a bullpen that has looked shaky at times this month. A sacrifice fly from Austin Barnes off reliever Joe Musgrove with one out scored pinch-runner Charlie Culberson. Then Joc Pederson sent another Musgrove pitch into the stands for a 6-1 lead.
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who gave up a game-tying home run to Marwin Gonzalez in a Game 2 won 7-6 by the Astros in extra innings, closed things out. Not without incident: Alex Bregman hit a two-out home run. It made no difference to the result but underlined what this series has already shown: neither team can afford to feel confident until the final out and each offense is capable of erasing slender leads.
Earlier, Houston had a 3-1 series advantage in their sights. The Dodgers’ Alex Wood carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, when a George Springer home run broke a scoreless game.
Wood spun and crouched on the mound as the ball flew over the left-field wall. It was a cruel end to a stellar effort: just like that, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts walked out to relieve him of his duties. Wood had issued only two walks.
His Astros counterpart Charlie Morton, gave up a solitary hit through the first five innings – and that was to lead-off man Chris Taylor, the first batter he faced. But Houston’s vaunted offense was muted aside from Springer’s big hit.
Yuri Gurriel hit into a double play in his first at-bat. He was perhaps lucky to be on the field at all. Seemingly on a solo mission to undermine the Astros’ status as an appealing team to neutrals, the Cuban first baseman hit a home run off Yu Darvish on Friday then made a racist gesture in the dug-out that mocked the Japan-born pitcher. Television cameras also captured him calling Darvish a “little Chinese boy” in Spanish.
After a contrite statement in which he said his behaviour was “indefensible”, and a generous reaction from Darvish, who forgave the 33-year-old and said he hoped the incident will be a learning experience, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Gurriel – who played in Japan in 2014 – for the first five games of the 2018 season.
It was a carefully-weighted decision. This is three games longer than the ban the league meted out to Oakland Athletics outfielder Matt Joyce for hurling an anti-gay slur at a fan during a game last August, but, crucially for the Astros, kept Gurriel available for the rest of this series. He went hitless on Saturday as, finally, a visiting team won in Houston this postseason at the eighth attempt.
Minute Maid Park has always been a quirky venue. Tal’s Hill, the incline and in-play flagpole in centre field, was removed in 2016 in favour of a new seating deck next to a bar. Then there is the replica train that moves along a track above left field, a nod to the location’s former status as a station that feels a touch ironic today in a vast city with astonishingly few inter-city passenger services. The less said about the crime against sports that is the Chick fil-A “fowl poles”, the better.
The unusual field dimensions – deep centre field, shallow left field – may not provide as much of a home advantage as the roof. Essential in summer, it traps crowd noise when the stadium is packed and full-throated, as it has been throughout the postseason, with fans whipped into a frenzy by their team’s outstanding performances and the public address system’s insistent piping of high-tempo pop music cheesier than a Roquefort factory.
It all makes for a boisterous high-decibel atmosphere that several Astros players have credited as an important asset, and one they will need on Sunday with Kershaw on the mound.
Though they scored five runs, the Astros missed chances in Game 3: they left 12 men on base and only added one run after Darvish was chased from the game in the second inning, making it the shortest outing of his MLB career. The Dodgers, meanwhile, suffered from slack baserunning on Friday, notably when Yasiel Puig was tagged out at second base in the fourth inning by Jose Altuve when bidding to upgrade a single.
This was a vastly different occasion, also contrasting with the slugfest in Game 2, as the two starting pitchers bamboozled hitters until late in the night. Morton at last faced sustained pressure in the sixth after hitting Barnes with a pitch to start the inning. An Enrique Hernandez hit to centre field led to runners on corners with one out. But in another bad baserunning call, Barnes was easily tagged out by catcher Brian McCann when trying to reach home plate from third base, and Seager flied out to end the inning.
Springer’s home run knocked out Wood in the bottom of the sixth. In the top of the seventh, a Bellinger blast to centre field – his first hit of the series – prompted Hinch to replace Morton with Will Harris. But Harris was unable to keep Los Angeles off the board, a Logan Forsythe hit enabling Bellinger to score from second.
The Astros had held the Dodgers scoreless for nine consecutive innings – three on Friday when Brad Peacock excelled after replacing starter Lance McCullers in the fifth inning, and six on Saturday. The home team, meanwhile, were without a run in eight innings over two games before Springer struck.
But the ninth-inning implosion ensured that shaky, rather than solid, pitching would be the main topic of discussion after the game.