HOUSTON — Consider what it means for a team that’s been around for 56 years to have never won a World Series game at home. The Astros have had the pomp and circumstance before, the enormous flags in center field, the special guest stars throwing out the first pitch, but they’ve never had the whooping delirium that comes with a win. There’s always a comforting traffic jam down the stairs, ramps, and escalators, with strangers high-fiving each other and yelling things just to yell them. It doesn’t matter if it’s Houston, Los Angeles, or Kansas City. There aren’t a lot of times in your life when everyone around you is completely stoned on optimism. The walk out of a ballpark following a World Series win is one of those times.
Houston has one of those now. It took 56 years, and there were a couple of false starts along the way. Look through the game log from Game 3 in 2005 and imagine the digestive systems of everyone in those 14 innings. Look through Game 4 and marvel at the inability of the Astros to do anything. Those walks out of Minute Maid Park were not filled with whooping delirium. They were Charlie Brown trudges, chin to chest the whole way. White Sox fans in the building knew to shut up, or at least keep it to a dull roar. That was the only chapter of World Series history in the lengthy tale of the Houston Astros.
This was something unique and novel, then, and now the Astros will have to play .500 baseball to win a World Series. Lose one, win one, lose one, win one. It sounds so simple when it’s put like that. There is an addictive quality to the whooping delirium, though, and it’s understandable if everyone in the orange uniforms would just as soon not fly back to Los Angeles. But however they play .500 ball is up to them.
The Astros got that first World Series win in Houston by hitting the ball as hard as humanly possible, several times in a row, over a sustained period of time. They did it against Yu Darvish, and it’s worth noting that he received the loudest boos during the pregame introductions. This was the devil Astros fans knew, the familiar face in a sea of players they’ve had to use flashcards to hate over the last week.
When I close my eyes, the Astros won this game 12-7 instead of 5-3. They were pummeling Darvish, with line drive after line drive. There were outs, but the outs were loud. If “exit velocity” wasn’t trending on Twitter, it should have been. It was obvious that, regardless of the outcome, his last batter was going to be Jose Altuve, who ripped a flat cutter to the wall. It was the shortest start of Darvish’s career, the first time he’d failed to escape the second inning.
Kenta Maeda came in and got the final out, a weak pop-up from Carlos Correa. A single would have made it 6-0. A homer would have made it 7-0, with the inning still going. Maeda ended up throwing 2⅔ scoreless innings because he’s apparently Robb Nen now, and at the time, it seemed like he had the potential to be the hero.
What I would like to suggest to you is that Maeda is a sneaky goat. If Pedro Baez crawled onto the 25-man roster and gave up six straight homers, the Dodgers would have been better off. They would have avoided using their secret bullpen weapon for 2⅔ innings, which made the next two games much trickier. Heck, if they gave up 48 runs in that second inning, we would have gotten a chance to watch Yasiel Puig pitch. The Dodgers are reeling because of Darvish’s early exit, but they were also into the game just enough, which forced them to waste Maeda and give innings to Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. They were a single away from thinking “screw it” and being far better positioned. Now their bullpen — their special, infallible bullpen — is in tatters.
In Game 3, the Dodgers contemplated an existential question: What happens when all of your good players are bad at the same time? Darvish’s slider was ruinous. Chase Utley is a mummy. Cody Bellinger looks like a rookie who’s gone from a Division III school to the majors in the same week. None of this has to be permanent. It would make just as much sense for Darvish to throw a masterpiece in Game 7, with Utley and Bellinger combining for four RBI. But every so often, the best players are the worst.
Brad Peacock is going to be feted as a hero, and rightfully so. But look at his pitch chart, from Brooks Baseball:
That’s from the catcher’s perspective, but I want you to pay close attention to the top of that zone. The yellow squares are swinging strikes. The reds are called strikes. The purples are fouls. Here’s that top half of the zone again, zoomed in a bit:
There are a couple of options. The first is that Peacock’s fastball was particularly deceptive and hard to hit on this autumn night. It’s possible that nobody would have touched him.
It sure looks like Peacock got away with an awful lot, though. Heck, ignore the yellows in the top of the zone and focus on the nothingness right down the middle. The Dodgers, so fearsome with Corey Seager back in the lineup, couldn’t punish fastballs in the middle of the plate. If you looked at the home runs the Dodgers hit before Game 3, you’ll note a lot of them were hit on pitches that weren’t necessarily bad. The Dodgers are a wheat thresher of violent swings, all designed to punish the rare mistake that strays out of the safety zone. Yet Peacock was pumping fastballs by them, one after another, like the batters were thinking ...
is that a choo-choo train, i want to ride that, how long has that been there, can i make the whistle blow, choo chooooooo
... throughout the whole at-bat. Their minds were elsewhere.
Does this sudden inability to hit center cut fastballs have to mean anything? No, not particularly. Just one of those games. You’re only paying attention to it because there are just a few games left.
But it’s the worst nightmare of every team that reaches the World Series. What happens when all of your good players are bad at the same time? What happens when this keeps happening? Where’s the emergency override?
The Astros won more than the Dodgers lost, don’t get me wrong. It’s one thing for Darvish to futz up his slider, but it’s another for Correa, Altuve, and George Springer to pounce, one right after the other, doing exactly what they were trying to. Peacock left some fastballs up, but they also weren’t touched, which means he was probably doing at least something right. The Yuli Gurriel throw to start a double play was pretty, as was his laser of a home run to get the scoring started, even if he screwed it all up and shined the spotlight on his (our) capacity for ugliness for no good reason.
The Astros outplayed the Dodgers, in other words. This wasn’t very complicated at all when you put it like that. The 101-win team beat the 104-win team, which is about what you’d expect about 50 percent of the time, give or take.
That’s the thing about the World Series, though. There is no give. There is only take. Right now the Astros are taking. The Dodgers are giving. There are still two to four games left, which is more than enough time for the Dodgers to reverse the clinch and throw the Astros into the turnbuckle. We’ve seen wilder postseason series, after all.
It’s all how Houston saw the first World Series win in its history. It took more than a half-century. It required a foundation of garbage, laid down in 2011 and 2012, to get the best possible players in position. It took a lot of skill and at least a little luck.
But the Astros have a World Series win at home. They’re two wins away. Considering where they were in the eighth inning of Game 2, are you not impressed? You’re impressed.
Well, you should be.