HOUSTON – When baseball historians deconstruct one of the most spellbinding World Series games ever played years from now, they’re likely to focus on the heroics of the Houston Astros’ magnificent infield trio of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.
Altuve and Correa combined for six hits and seven RBI, and Bregman drove in the game winner in the 10th inning of the Astros’ 13-12 victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Dodgers, which put Houston on the brink of its first World Series championship ever.
And yet, with all the thrills, rallies and twists and turns of a triumph that gave the Astros a 3-2 World Series lead, it will be difficult to resist a tale of redemption.
First baseman Yuli Gurriel and outfielder George Springer delivered two of the night’s most electrifying moments, made all the more compelling because they had previously messed up.
In Gurriel’s case, the slant-eyes gesture he made during Game 3 in reference to Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish had turned him into the focus of international scorn. His participation in the rest of the weekend games hung in the balance until, after consulting with several parties, Commissioner Rob Manfred opted to suspend him for five games next season.
That proved a boon for the Astros, who trailed 3-0 after half an inning and 4-0 going into the bottom of the fourth while facing three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, who was 100-1 in his career when granted a four-run cushion.
Springer, Altuve and Correa sparked the comeback by getting on base, the latter driving in Houston’s first run with a double. But it was Gurriel who provided the biggest blow, a no-doubt blast to left that tied the game 4-4 and sent the capacity crowd of 43,300 into a frenzy.
“I needed a game like this. I needed to regain my confidence and to feel good so I can contribute to the team in the remaining games,’’ said Gurriel, a native of Cuba in his first full season in the majors. “We were still behind and needed some inspiration, so I was very happy to hit that home run, especially since it came against one of the best pitchers in the game.’’
Gurriel’s teammates had come to his defense after the Game 3 incident, acknowledging he had made a mistake but vouching for his character. Catcher Brian McCann, a 13-year veteran, called him one of his favorite teammates ever.
The support helped Gurriel keep his focus, and he responded with the biggest home run of his career.
“I think that was the key to keep fighting. It boosted our spirits,’’ Astros utilityman Marwin Gonzalez said. “They scored in the next inning and could have been ahead 7-0. That would have been hard to overcome. That’s why Yuli’s shot was so big.’’
Indeed, the Dodgers came right back with a rally of their own in the fifth, as Cody Bellinger’s three-run homer put them ahead again. With Kershaw and a loaded bullpen on their side, it figured to be enough to send the series back to L.A. with the Dodgers on top.
Not even close.
Altuve posted the game’s third three-run homer in an inning and-a-half, a game-tying 415-foot clout to left-center off reliever Kenta Maeda, who had allowed two hits and no runs in nine postseason innings.
The Astros had regained momentum, but only until Springer’s fielding blunder helped the Dodgers retake the lead in the seventh.
With a runner on first and one out, Bellinger hit a scorching liner to center that Springer dived for, coming well short of it as the ball rolled past him and all the way to the fence. Kike Hernandez scored to make the score 8-7 L.A. and Bellinger reached third.
Even when the Astros stranded Bellinger, closer Kenley Jansen loomed in the bullpen for a likely six-inning save, so their best chance was in the seventh. It just so happened Springer was leading off against setup man Brandon Morrow, pitching for the fifth time in the series and on a third consecutive day for the first time in his career.
Springer greeted him with what he later described as “a very angry swing,’’ jumping on a first-pitch fastball and clubbing it high over the left-field seats to tie the game 8-8. In the span of less than an inning, Springer had experienced a dizzying emotional ride he would never forget.
“I thought I could make a play. I didn’t. That’s a very lonely feeling to know I made a bad decision,’’ Springer said of Bellinger’s liner. “I’ll own up to it. I should’ve stopped. But I got told by Alex Cora, by A.J. Hinch, by Gary Pettis (all members of the coaching staff), ‘It’s over. Go have a good, quality at-bat and let’s see what happens.’ To go from that low to that high is very, very emotional.’’
The rest of the game was no less vertiginous. The Astros pounded Morrow for four hits and four runs in six pitches to go up by three, and led 12-9 going into the ninth, only to have reliever Chris Devenski surrender the lead on Yasiel Puig’s two-run double and Chris Taylor’s RBI single with two outs.
Back came the Astros against Jansen in the 10th inning. After getting the first two outs, Jansen hit McCann with a pitch and walked Springer to set up Bregman’s two-out, walk-off single, capping the year’s final game at Minute Maid Park. Houston went 8-1 in the postseason at home.
Like other teammates, Bregman didn’t think any thrills could surpass what they experienced in their 7-6 victory in Game 2, which featured five home runs in the two extra innings alone.
They were wrong.
“I thought that would be the best game I ever played in my career,’’ Bregman said. “Who knows where this one ranks, right up there with that game. Back and forth, the two best teams in baseball fighting to the very end and going toe-to-toe with each other. Everybody was used on both teams, pretty much, every single player. It was special for us to come out on top.’’
And perhaps a bit more so for the two players who redeemed themselves.