There’s a reason why yesterday’s World Series column called the Houston Astros’ ability to hide their bullpen a brilliant maneuver. Because when that group was asked in Game 4’s 6-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers to preserve a slim lead, they did what they’ve constantly done in this postseason — fail.
The bullpen’s first mission in the game was to get Astros starting pitcher Charlie Morton out of a slight jam with one out and a runner on second base in the top of the sixth inning with the Astros leading, 1-0. Relief pitcher Will Harris eventually gave up the game-tying single, saddling Morton with the earned run in was what otherwise a stellar outing (6.1 innings, three hits, seven strikeouts, no walks).
After reliever Chris Devenski managed to do his job by pitching a perfect eighth inning, the Astros turned to Ken Giles — the closer during the regular season, who has been awful all postseason long — rather than letting a seemingly revived Devenski go another inning in the ninth.
And that’s when things really came unraveled.
Giles, who was a finalist for the American League Reliever of the Year Award (a bigger joke, at this time, escapes me), failed to record a single out, giving up a single, a walk and the go-ahead RBI double by a previously slumping Cody Bellinger.
Reliever Joe Musgrove continued the ninth inning, picking up right where Giles left off with a walk, an RBI sac fly and (the knockout punch) a three-run bomb tattooed to left field by Joc Pederson.
In hindsight (it being 20/20 and all), the Astros had an opportunity to continue the Game 3 strategy of tag teaming two regular-season starters rather than turn to the bullpen, if manager A.J. Hinch had, perhaps, prepared Collin McHugh to pick things up to start the seventh inning.
A lot of credit should be given to the Dodgers’ entire pitching staff for Game 4’s win. They did hold the Astros’ vaunted offense to just two hits (both solo home runs). But, even a good performance from the Astros’ bats Saturday couldn’t have saved the team from the flaming garbage can that is the bullpen right now.
On the bright side, getting a 1-1 split in the two starts by Lance McCullers Jr. and Morton still leaves the Astros in a good position to still win this thing, as the series is now knotted at 2-2.
The Astros will start Dallas Keuchel on the mound in Sunday’s Game 5 at Minute Maid Park, and when the World Series turns back to L.A. in Game 6, it’ll be Justin Verlander getting the start.
Both those starting pitchers are capable of successfully going deep into games, minimizing the bullpen’s impact. The Astros’ World Series chances now rest on the capable arms of Keuchel and Verlander, because (as evidenced Saturday) if it comes down to a battle of the bullpens, the Astros cannot win.