Needless to say, the Houston Astros had to work hard for the first World Series win in franchise history — and, boy, was it an important one on many levels.
There’s an adage in sports that a playoff series never really swings one way or the other until the home team loses a game.
So, in that sense, the Astros successfully getting a 1-1 split on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ home turf after Wednesday’s 7-6 extra-inning win in Game 2 of the World Series was key for the Astros’ chances of winning the best-of-seven series. But, the win was way more important than just flipping home field.
If they had come up winless for the first two games in Los Angeles, the Astros would have squandered two quality (if not spectacular) starts by their ace pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander.
To put into perspective how epic losing Verlander’s start (6 innings, two hits, three runs, five strikeouts, two walks) Wednesday would have been, he would have been the first pitcher to lose a World Series start while giving up two or fewer hits since Whitey Ford in 1963.
Without Wednesday’s win, the Astros would’ve had to hope that Lance McCullers Jr. (who has looked great in the playoffs, but had his share of struggles in the second half of the regular season) and veteran journeyman Charlie Morton would continue to overachieve in Game 3 and 4.
Yes, the Astros would still like to see those two do well, but now there is not nearly as much pressure on them as what would’ve been if they were asked to pitch the team out of an 0-2 World Series hole.
And, most importantly Wednesday, the offense (which has been the Astros’ bread and butter all year) found life (after struggling in Game 1) in the late innings against what has appeared to be an invincible Dodgers bullpen — a bullpen, it should be noted, was used early and often by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to the point that the unit was down to its last arm by the end of the game.
Down 3-1 on Wednesday, Carlos Correa’s RBI single chopped up the middle in the top of the eighth inning and Marwin Gonzalez’s solo home run in the top of the ninth tied the game, 3-3, to keep the team alive in the game.
Then, the Astros’ two most important bats — MVP candidate Jose Altuve and Correa — hit back-to-back home runs off of Dodgers shutdown closer Kenley Jansen in the top of the 10th for a 5-3 lead to set up an improbable win.
Struggling Astros closer Ken Giles single-handedly rose the blood pressure of every Astros fan by giving up a solo home run to the Dodgers slugger Yasiel Puig and allowing a game-tying RBI single to former Astro Kiké Hernandez in the bottom of the 10th, but the Astros rallied again in the 11th.
After pinch hitter/defensive replacement Cameron Maybin singled and stole second base in only his second appearance of the postseason, previously slumping Astros leadoff man George Springer lifted a home run to right-center field for the 7-5 lead.
Reliever Chris Devenski continued to make Astros fans sweat by giving up a home run in the bottom of the 11th, but ultimately struck out Puig to end the game.
Let’s see if the Astros can keep their hard-earned World Series upper hand in Game 3 at 7 p.m. Friday at Minute Maid Park.