Where to begin? A 13-12 World Series Game 5 offered endless places

Jeff Passan
MLB columnist

HOUSTON – Where to begin? Inside a pile of humanity, of grown men caked with dirt and sodden with sweat and brimming with life all enveloping a 23-year-old and screaming, “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” Alex Bregman, the hero of a Sunday night that bled into a Monday morning, always says that, when it’s appropriate and when it isn’t. Here, it was apt. Because for the previous 5 hours, 17 minutes, for 417 pitches, for 25 runs and seven home runs and innumerable tachycardic episodes, the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers turned their fifth meeting this World Series into an unrelenting, dizzying colossus of a baseball game.

Game 5 ended with Bregman feathering a single off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen into left field, with pinch runner Derek Fisher sliding into home, with the Astros moshing around Bregman and bleating his catchphrase, with a 13-12 walk-off victory in the 10th inning that handed them a three-games-to-two series lead and left the Astros one win shy of their first World Series championship. It ended with the 43,300 at Minute Maid Park finally capable of taking a breath after holding it for the entirety of the game and simultaneously incapable of catching it because the only fair response to what had just unfolded was hyperventilation.

Actually, then, since the end was the end, it might be better to begin by allowing Game 5’s oddities to reinforce the improbability of a single night stitching together so many indelible moments. There were the 25 runs scored in a game started by two Cy Young Award winners. And the seven home runs, four of which tied the game or changed the lead, bringing the series total to 22, a new World Series record. And speaking of, never had a World Series game featured a trio of three-run home runs, a feat even if the ball is, as so many believe, juiced. Nor had the World Series witnessed a team come back twice from at least a three-run deficit like the Astros since 1993, when Toronto beat Philadelphia, 15-14, in the only other game among the 113-year history of the World Series that resembled this.

The Astros’ Alex Bregman is mobbed by teammates after driving in the game-winning run during the 10th inning of Game 5. (AP)

Numbers only say so much. So let’s begin, then, in the seventh inning, with the Dodgers ahead 8-7, because as much as any of the game’s 10 innings it defined who the Astros are and who, on this night, the Dodgers were, which is not the machine whose bullpen carved through 28 consecutive innings at one point this October without allowing a run. Into the game came Brandon Morrow, pitching for the fifth time in six days, desperate to will his right arm into doing things of which it simply was incapable.

Over the next six minutes, Morrow threw six pitches. George Springer, whose ill-advised dive on a Cody Bellinger shot to center in the top of the inning allowed the Dodgers to break a 7-7 tie, launched the first pitch almost 450 feet. Tie game. Bregman whacked the second pitch for a single. Jose Altuve took the third for a strike. Altuve doubled home Bregman on the fourth to give Houston a 9-8 advantage. Carlos Correa saw the next two.

Earlier in the day, during a batting-practice session with his father, Correa said: “I’m expecting pitches up and in.” His dad, Carlos Sr., asked why. Watch Austin Barnes, the son said. The Dodgers’ catcher kept setting up there. Correa wouldn’t swing at anything else.

When Morrow bounced the fifth, a slider, Correa didn’t bite and Altuve advanced to third. The sixth left Morrow’s hand at 96.1 mph and arrived exactly where Correa planned. He swung and hit the ball preposterously high, 169 feet into the air, the sort of parabola that normally results in an easy flyout. Only at Minute Maid, with the Crawford Boxes jutting out into left field, a 328-foot moonshot equaled a home run. It was 11-8. Correa, like the shirtless fan who after the homer breached security and ran around the field, couldn’t contain his emotions.

“What did I do?” Correa said. “I don’t even remember what I did.”

No one who saw it is likely to forget. Before he reached first base, he twice thrust his arms in the air as he jumped. Upon landing the second time, he almost knelt while pumping his fist. Finally, he touched first and trotted the other 270 feet, amazed that even a team like the Astros that specializes in comebacks could pull off one of this nature.

To understand the full scope of it, this should begin in the first five innings of the game, as it began to fragment into madness. The pitching matchup was the same that authored the 2-hour, 28-minute Game 1: Clayton Kershaw vs. Dallas Keuchel. The Dodgers greeted Keuchel with three runs in the first inning and tacked on another in the fourth, an inning he didn’t even finish. The Dodgers were handing a 4-0 lead to Kershaw, which might as well be automatic. They had scored four runs for him 19 times this season, and they hadn’t lost once. When staked a four-run lead throughout his career, he was 100-1. This would be automatic if baseball worked that way.

Instead, it offered the bottom of the fourth, when Kershaw issued an uncharacteristic leadoff walk to Springer and allowed a single from Altuve and let Correa rope a run-scoring double to break the dam and watched an 89-mph slider settle in the middle of the plate so Yuli Gurriel could send it soaring into the night. Over 20 pitches, Kershaw turned a 4-0 advantage into a 4-4 tie. And awful though that was, it didn’t match what was to come. Cody Bellinger walloped a three-run home run in the top of the fifth to put the Dodgers back ahead, 7-4. Kershaw had another opportunity to preserve a lead, one that looked safe when he logged two outs in the bottom of the fifth.

On a night where home-plate umpire Bill Miller’s strike zone at times extended to Galveston, Kershaw walked Springer again. Then Bregman worked a 10-pitch walk. And out went Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation, the strikeout artist who over 94 pitches in 4 2/3 innings generated four swings and misses. Kenta Maeda, who hadn’t allowed a run all postseason, replaced him. Altuve stepped up, steeped in the “M-V-P” chants that have become a Minute Maid staple, and took a righteous rip over a first-pitch changeup. Six pitches later, Maeda left a fastball over the plate and Altuve did not miss, sending it over the center-field wall. Gone was another Dodgers’ lead, and cemented was the ugly line of Kershaw: 4 2/3 innings, four hits, six runs, three walks and two strikeouts. The last time he didn’t last at least five innings, allowed at least six runs and walked at least three: Sept. 19, 2010.

“Nothing surprises me anymore,” Correa said of Altuve. “When he goes out there, I expect great things to happen. He’s the best player alive right now. And when he steps in the batter’s box, great things are going to happen.”

In this game, great things were almost illusory. They would happen, and then something else would make them vanish. Which is why this could very easily begin at the freakiest occurrence of the night, the aligning of the dozen. Chris Devenski, the reliever called upon to finish the game for Houston after Ken Giles’ Game 4 meltdown left him in the bullpen, was reeling. After the teams traded runs in the eighth inning to make the score 12-9, Yasiel Puig tagged Devenski for a two-run home run to cut the Dodgers’ deficit to one. Barnes doubled. Charlie Culberson moved him to third with a groundout.
With two outs and two strikes, Chris Taylor swung at a Devenski changeup as the clock struck midnight. The ball shot off the end of his bat and into center field. At 12 a.m. CT, the score was 12-12.

“I was kind of shattered by that,” Devenski said. “I didn’t get the job done. It’s kind of crushing.”

Particularly so because in a game where neither starters nor relievers had acquitted themselves particularly well, the Dodgers hip-pocketed Jansen, considered the game’s best closer. He wobbled slightly in the bottom of the ninth, the velocity on his bat-eating cutter not what it typically is, but he sent the game to extra innings and put the burden back on the Astros. After reliever Joe Musgrove worked around a single, up came the bottom of the order, and Jansen retired the first two hitters.

And maybe this story begins here, with some hunger pangs. After Jansen hit Brian McCann on the forearm, he walked Springer. When he arrived at first base, Springer, drained and famished, said to Bellinger: “I need a sandwich.” He wouldn’t need to wait long.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch inserted speedy outfielder Derek Fisher for the lead-footed McCann. Fisher had awaited this moment, stretching, pedaling on an exercise bike, hopeful the Astros would find the perfect opportunity for him. This was it, because up stepped Bregman.

“That guy is one of the most confident people I’ve ever been around,” Fisher said. “For us to be around somebody like that – he bleeds into this clubhouse, man.”

In the division series, Bregman hit a game-tying home run off Chris Sale, and in Game 7 of the ALCS, he cut down a run at home on a had-to-be-precise throw, and in Game 4 the previous night, he had homered off Jansen, and here, on Jansen’s 33rd pitch of the night and the game’s 417th, he could end it.

“There are things he does that you can’t measure and you won’t see on the back of a baseball card but you’ll see them if you watch him play,” Hinch said. “And you’ll appreciate him more the more you see him. He’s unflappable. His thirst for wanting to know more, do more, be the best, his competitive burn – all that stuff isn’t hot air. It’s real.”

Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw sits in the dugout after the Astros’ Yuli Gurriel hit a three-run home run during the fourth inning of Game 5. (AP)

Bregman had homered off a Jansen slider in Game 4, so he was looking to stay back on a high cutter. He dug his spikes into the dirt. The sound from the crowd banged off the domed stadium’s ceiling and reverberated. Jansen placed it low and on the outside corner. Bregman reached and poked it into left. Fisher put his head down, didn’t bother looking at third-base coach Gary Pettis and told himself two things: don’t trip and touch third.

“It was the longest 180 feet of my life,” he said. “I felt like I was running underwater. But I made it.”

McCann hugged Fisher as he popped up from his slide that beat Andre Ethier’s throw. Both ran to celebrate with Bregman. The festive atmosphere carried on for the next hour, by which time most of the clubhouse had cleared.

Fisher approached McCann.

“Hey,” he said. “Best hug I’ve ever seen. Best [expletive] hug I’ve ever seen.”

He worked his way over to Bregman.

“First pitch?” Fisher said. “Are you [expletive] me?”

“I told myself I was gonna take,” Bregman said. “I don’t know what I was doing.”

He was winning a World Series game and giving Houston one hell of a send-off as the Astros go to Los Angeles trying to win a World Series with Justin Verlander on the mound and taking the splendor of the epic Game 2 and saying: “Hold my beer.”

“It was a great game because of the emotion that goes into it, for the enormity of the moment, for the clutchness of so many guys on their side and our side,” Hinch said. “There were too many moments of greatness for it not to be great.”

For all this time spent wondering where to begin, the better question now is: Where to end? Game 5 of the 2017 World Series provided a far clearer answer to that: At this place between delirium and sanity, between the bedlam of trying to remember all the moments and the joy of doing so. At this place where Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel are vulnerable, where 14 of the 22 home runs in the series tied the game or altered the lead, where pitchers with nothing are trying to do something because there’s no other choice. At this place where baseball tries to park itself every October, this delightful intersection of too much and never enough, that leaves the masses weary and wanting more and more and more.

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