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The Dodgers forced the Game 7 the 2017 World Series needed all along

The Dodgers and Astros won more than 100 games to get to this point. Now one win will turn one of them into champions.

World Series - Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Six Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Of course there will be a Game 7. In one of the silliest World Series in history, there had to be a Game 7. The potential for bumblescrewery is through the roof, and there 50 players who went to sleep Tuesday night thinking about how they’re going to be a part of it. Clayton Kershaw for 27 innings? Sure, sure. Yasiel Puig at shortstop? Hey, if there’s a need, you know he has the arm. Norichika Aoki pitching in his second game for the Astros this season? Not sure how he’s back on the roster, but that sounds great.

Consider how the 2017 World Series has gone so far:

  • A taut, error-free, low-scoring game that was won by the home team
  • A banana-slicked monstrosity that featured fires, fans in the bullpen, dingers, blown leads, and more dingers
  • A wild, close game that featured a national controversy, early exits from the starters, and a Bumgarnian save from the relatively unknown Brad Peacock.
  • Another pitcher’s duel that went haywire in the ninth inning, but not a second before
  • A biblical rebuke to physics, logic, and everything you hold dear
  • Another close, low-scoring, tremendously thrilling game, except this one forced a Game 7

So what will Game 7 be like? Any of those. All of those. Something brand new. It could be one of the pitcher’s duels for seven innings and end 13-12, just like Game 5. It could be a 1-0 game that features a half-dozen balls to the warning track, forcing everyone to tweet that would have been out at Minute Maid Park at the same time.

What I do know is that I’m exceptionally pleased that it was a simple, 3-1 game. It was a baseball game that felt familiar. This wasn’t a baseball game that was run through Google Translate from English to Greek to Frisian to Luxembourgish and back to English again, like Game 5. This was a game you could relate to.

It started with Justin Verlander consuming planets and looking like he wasn’t going to leave the game until he was riding on the shoulders of Brian McCann. Here were the first two pitches he threw in the ballgame:

Chris Taylor popped the first one up. Corey Seager watched the second one go by. Those were going to be the only two hittable pitches, Dodgers. Way to screw it up. Verlander was very much in control. He didn’t fail to throw a first-pitch strike until he faced Cody Bellinger in the fourth. He struck him out anyway.

After the Astros took a lead on a George Springer home run, the Dodger Stadium crowd wasn’t quiet, but it was definitely in its own head for a spell. When the scoreboard would do one of those silly “MAKE SOME NOISE” pleas, everyone would play along, but it’s not like the crowd could shake off the dark thoughts they were encumbered with before the scoreboard broke their trance. They went right back to it. Verlander looks good. Oh, no, he looks good. Incredible. He looks positively career-affirming.

When Rich Hill left in the fifth, after pitching brilliantly and getting just one out away from escaping the inning, the crowd gasped and groaned. Hill was rolling, for the most part. The curve was still flummoxing, even if he made the mistake of allowing two baserunners in a row, like every pitcher usually does. Everyone in Dodger Stadium knew what the state of the bullpen was. How were they going to squeeze more than four innings out of this dry, funky, mildewy sponge?

Dave Roberts pulled some rabbits out of his nervous-sweaty cap, though. In comes Brandon Morrow, whose shoulder and elbow had to have sounded like a roller coaster clack-clack-clacking up the incline. There have been pitchers who have thrown in the first six games of a World Series before. I’m not sure if any of them were more unlikely than Morrow, who has had some of the best stuff in baseball for 11 straight years, and the health to show it off in exactly one. Here he is, though, the workhorse, shaking off the fatigue from Game 5.

The Dodgers took the lead on an Austin Barnes leadoff single, an extremely Chase Utley hit-by-pitch, and Chris Taylor proving that baseball is making it all up as it goes along. An exuberant Joc Pederson tacked on an insurance run that helped Roberts make all of his bullpen decisions.

Here comes the bullpen, then. Remember that the Dodger Stadium crowd gasped when Hill was yanked from the game. As they should have.

Here’s Tony Watson, the former super-reliever for the Pirates who fell on uncertain times, only to be reborn with the Dodgers, where he was brilliant.

Here’s Tony Cingrani, who was a convoluted riddle with the Reds, a set of upside down IKEA instructions without the Allen wrench, except he’s outstanding now. He swears that the Dodgers didn’t do anything drastic to his delivery or approach, but he’s the kind of reliable that a team will count on in an elimination game. Rightfully so.

Edit: I was typing too quickly and was too excited about the two Tonys to remember that Cingrani didn’t pitch. It was Kenta Maeda, who has suddenly blossomed into hot death against right-handed hitters. There needs to be a blood test that can tell us which starters can add a couple miles per hour and depth to their slider by moving to relief.

Here’s Kenley Jansen, one of baseball’s more perfect relievers, even if the last three games obscured that fact. He got through two innings with just 19 pitches, and just one of those pitches was a ball. Not only did he get a two-inning save, but he set himself up for a two-inning save in Game 7. It was effectiveness and economy paired together beyond Roberts’ wildest dreams. The Dodgers left Game 5 with an exhausted bullpen. The Dodgers played Game 6 as if that never happened.

Now it’s Game 7, and Clayton Kershaw will be available for a two-inning save. So will Alex Wood. Heck, it’s Game 7, so look for Kershaw closing with Jansen catching and getting back to his roots. One of the best things the Dodgers did this postseason is stay away from messing around with pitchers on short rest, which they were addicted to for years. Now they have options. They can tinker.

Something to look out for before Game 7, though, is that the Astros can also tinker. Lance McCullers is starting, but both Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton will be available in relief. The Astros spent most of Game 6 messing around with the relievers who haven’t earned their trust for a while — Joe Musgrove, Luke Gregerson, and Francisco Liriano — and now they can go with some of their most effective pitchers in this World Series. They can use Keuchel to mess with Seager and Bellinger. They can use Morton to mess with everyone.

What this is, then, is a pair of 100-win teams that don’t have to worry about the next day. There are 50 players who will give a kidney to win, so don’t worry about the arms so much. If Roberts and A.J. Hinch want to play the type of baseball we’re used to — starters go long, followed by late-inning relievers — they can. If they want to play calvinball, they can. Game 7 won’t resemble the 162 games we watched over six months, all of them with a mostly predictable rhythm. They will be an entirely new alchemy, all based on the different tired arms and exhausted minds on both teams, all up to the respective managers. This will be one last baseball game, soundtrack by Sun Ra, kitchen sinks piled upon kitchen sinks, where nothing will make sense until it’s all over.

It had to end like this, of course, but we should have been clear on that from the beginning. The team that clambered up from the valley of 111 losses to become a young juggernaut. The team that spent their way to the top, only to reach the promised land with an assortment of prospects and diamonds in the rough. They’ve played one of the silliest World Series in baseball history, and there’s still one more silly, silly game to go.

They’ve played one of the best World Series in baseball history, and there’s still a chance that they’ll had depth and context to that title. After seven months and nearly 200 games, there will be one game to figure it all out. This is baseball’s gift to you. Accept it, and come breathe into a paper bag with the rest of us. I promise you that baseball’s pace, with the stops and starts, the exhaustive deliberation, makes a World Series Game 7 the greatest of all sporting events. It’s not a one-game system, by design, like the Super Bowl. It’s not a game where it’s all the same characters as the previous six games, without a plot twist, like the NBA Finals. It’s not the Stanley Cup Finals, in which hockey is played for people watching hockey on purpose.

This is Game 7 of the World Series. It’s going to be sloppy and messy, and we’re all going to die. Imagine thinking last year that the 2017 World Series was going to compare to the 2016 World Series. It would have been unthinkable, except here we are. It’s the greatest gift to baseball fans everywhere, except for Astros and Dodgers fans, who are already dead, and we’ll miss them so.

It’s Game 7, everyone. Everyone is available. None of it has to work. That’s the best baseball scenario that anyone can possibly imagine.

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