HOUSTON – An early lead with ace Clayton Kershaw on the mound is almost as good as money in the bank for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But in this World Series, just about anything can happen.
If Game 2’s barrage of home runs in extra innings wasn’t convincing enough, then how about the 5-hour, 17-minute back-and-forth marathon in Game 5, which ended with the Dodgers losing 13-12 in 10 innings to the Houston Astros?
“I’m sure everybody’s pretty exhausted after that one, both emotionally and physically,” said Kershaw, who lasted just 4 2/3 innings – the shortest postseason outing of his career.
When Kershaw gets a four-run lead as he did early in Game 5, he has a career record (regular and postseason) of 100 wins and one loss.
After facing the minimum over the first three innings, the three-time Cy Young Award winner ran into trouble in the fourth. Facing the top of the Houston order, he gave up a walk, a single and an RBI double.
“I just lost my command there in the fourth inning and that’s all it took,” he said.
The big blow came on a first-pitch slider on the inside part of the plate to Yuli Gurriel, who drilled 389 feet off the wall behind the left field boxes for a three-run, game-tying homer.
“We knew going into this series this is the best offensive ballclub that we were going to see all year,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “And they can slug you.”
However, the Dodgers battled back to take the lead on Cody Bellinger’s three-run homer.
“Offense was amazing tonight,” Kershaw said. “You can’t say enough about our team, what they were able to accomplish with what I gave them.”
Despite leading 7-4, Kershaw ran into trouble when he issued a pair of two-out walks in the fifth. Roberts reluctantly took him out after 94 pitches.
But there’s more to the Dodgers pitching staff, one that finished second in the majors with a 3.38 ERA during the regular season, than just Kershaw.
Brandon Morrow filled the primary setup role to perfection this season, posting a 6-0 record and 2.06 ERA. And Roberts has leaned on him heavily during the playoffs.
After appearing in each of the first four World Series games, Morrow was slated to get the night off. But once the Dodgers came back to take a 7-6 lead, he let the coaching staff know he was ready.
“I saw where the game was at in the seventh I was getting loose and I was feeling okay,” Morrow said. “It was probably selfish on my part to call down and push to let them know that I’m ready and want to get in.”
He lasted all of six pitches.
George Springer homered to left to tie the game. Alex Bregman singled. Jose Altuve doubled in Bregman. And Carlos Correa put Morrow’s 96 mph sinker into orbit, sending the crowd of 43,300 at Minute Maid Park into a frenzy when the ball finally touched down in the Crawford Boxes in left field for a two-run homer.
On the mound for the fifth time in six days, Morrow wouldn’t make excuses.
“Everybody’s fatigued at this point. I don’t feel it when I’m throwing the ball. It feels pretty good when it’s coming out.”
Another time, that might have been the end of the story. But not with a struggling Astros bullpen and certainly not in a World Series that’s already broken the all-time record with 22 home runs. Through only five games.
The Dodgers scored three times in the ninth to tie the game. Then after they failed to push anything across in the 10th, closer Kenley Jansen came on to preserve the tie.
Working for a second consecutive night in a non-save situation, Jansen retired the first two batters before hitting Brian McCann with a 3-2 cutter.
A walk to Springer put the winning run in scoring position and brought up Alex Bregman.
The night before, Bregman homered off Jansen, but it meant little since the Dodgers were comfortably ahead. This time, however, the game was on the line with pinch-runner Derek Fisher on second base.
Bregman’s walk following a 10-pitch at-bat in the fifth inning finished off Kershaw. But he showed no such patience with Jansen, swinging at the first pitch – a 92 mph cutter – and rifling it into center field to bring home the winning run.
“Tried to go up and in, just missed my spot, and he did a great job to put it in play,” Jansen admitted. “Just missed my spot.”
The Dodgers lost Game 5 in excruciating fashion. They lost a game in which they scored 12 runs and used arguably their three best pitchers in Kershaw, Morrow and Jansen. Yet they’ remain hopeful as they head home with their backs to the wall.
“Guess what? They still have to beat us one more time,” Jansen said. “This is it. We just can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t hang our heads.”
There’s just one thing left to do: prepare for another game that could be just as crazy as this one. Or possibly even crazier.
“Obviously, we had an offensive explosion tonight so these guys are feeling confident,” reliever Ross Stripling said. “If we can just hold them to less than 12 runs, we’ll get some wins.”