There is no way to gloss over Sunday night’s Game 5 loss by the Dodgers. It’s devastating. They now trail the Houston Astros 3-games-to-2 as the series shifts west to Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night.
First, if you are expecting me to rail on the umpiring and the balls & strikes calls in Game 5 you might as well stop reading here. The umpiring was less than stellar but it is not the reason why the Dodgers lost. Blaming umpires is the novices way of making excuses. If you blame umpires it shows that you never really played the game, and you don’t really understand it. Ok, now that I’m done with that, let’s move on.
13-12 losses in baseball are tough. They are excruciating when you look at all of the various ways the Dodgers could have won this game. Before I focus on what the Dodgers didn’t do, let me first credit the relentlessness of the Houston Astros. My God, what a display of grit and perseverance as they continually battled their way back. Their approach at the plate was incredible, especially as they tried to get base-runners when trailing early.
George Springer, the walk-off winner hero Alex Bregman and of course the incomparable Jose Altuve and young phenom Carlos Correa. The at-bats these top four hitters in the Astros line-up took were simply amazing. Altuve and Correa hit some pretty nasty pitches for base hits in the 4th inning to set up Yuli Gurriel’s three-run home run to tie it.
Then, after Cody Bellinger’s three-run blast gave the Dodgers the lead 7-4 headed to the bottom of the 5th, here came the Astros again. Two out walks to Springer and Bregman, where Springer saw 8 pitches and Bregman saw 10 were amazing. Then, it was Altuve who hit the three-run homer to tie it.
The Astros know how to apply pressure and they are very good at it in their home ballpark. Let’s see if they can ride that wave to Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers jumped on Dallas Keuchel early, cashing in two 1st-inning walks and a two out two-run single by Logan Forsythe to grab a 2-0 nothing lead. Then a botched run down play by the Astros netted the Dodgers another run making it 3-0. In the 4th the Dodgers would add another and led 4-0 going to the bottom of the 4th with Clayton Kershaw cruising.
But the demons of post-seasons past reared its ugly head again, and this time one couldn’t blame the sign-stealing of the St. Louis Cardinals for his demise. This time it was ill-timed walks, location mistakes and great at-bats by the Astros stars. It’s unfortunate for Kershaw. A true gem, a stud, a guy Dodger fans love and want to see do well. It was painful watching him fail, and for many of us that love and defend him it was simply horrifying on baseball’s biggest stage.
In many instances Dave Roberts gets a pass when managing this ball club. Remember, he is simply pushing the buttons and navigating the course set by the analytics crew in the front office. There is no way he would have the job if he wasn’t following their directives. But, on Sunday night he had some egregious mis-steps.
First, with the score tied at 7 Justin Turner led off of the top of the 7th with a ringing double off the wall in right. Kike Hernandez was the next hitter and he was asked to lay down a bunt. Yes, a bunt. The tenor and flow of the game dictated that one run was about as useful as a pay toilet in a diarrhea ward. One run was an aroma. For Roberts to think and actually believe that one run would hold up in the top of the 7th inning is fool-hardy. The Dodgers have spent the entire year bunting primarily in low-scoring games where the ball isn’t flying around the stadium like a beach-ball with a beleaguered bullpen. It was an awful decision. It turned out to be a dud as Hernandez bunted it back to the mound, and Turner on a bad leg, after taking a screamer off his calf on Saturday, was easily thrown out at 3rd. Luckily the Dodgers would grab the lead when Springer would mis-play a ball in center and Hernandez would score all the way from first giving the Dodgers a one-run lead.
Second, with the Dodgers leading 8-7 going to the bottom of the 7th inning the Dodgers went to Brandon Morrow for the third straight day and for the 12th time in 13 games this post-season. Now, while he is not pitching in consecutive days, that is a lot of work. And, considering he has never thrown three straight days before, Roberts told assembled media before the game that he did not want to use Morrow. He used him. And, it blew up in his face. Morrow threw six pitches in the game. He gave up a 447 foot home run to Springer, a laser single to left by Bregman, a rocket shot double to left by Altuve and a Crawford Box home run to Correa. When the dust had settled after 180 seconds of baseball, the Astros had turned an 8-7 deficit into an 11-8 lead. It was devastating.
Before the game Roberts had said he may have to lean on Ross Stripling and Tony Cingrani. Well, those two pitchers cleaned up the mess and pitched well. Roberts first instincts were right, yet he out-thought himself and in the end it burned him and the Dodgers. Morrow gave up the runs, but it wasn’t on him. He did what he could. It’s a manager’s job to read the room, Roberts did it horribly.
The Dodgers would miraculously rally in the top of the 9th showing the guts we’ve come to love about this team. Down 12-9 going to the 9th the Dodgers would get a two-run home run from Yasiel Puig, a one-handed flip of the wrists that settled into the Crawford Boxes in the left cutting the deficit to 12-11. Austin Barnes would then double to left and after Joc Pederson grounded out, Chris Taylor would line a two-out two-strike single to center tying the game at 12. Gritty !
The game would end with the fatigued Kenley Jansen on the hill. After a scoreless 9th, Jansen would hit Brian McCann with two outs. He then carefully pitched to Springer and walked him before Bregman won it with a liner to left.
13-12 Astros win.
It’s crushing. The Dodgers had their best pitcher on the mound with leads of 4-0 and 7-4 and couldn’t hold a pivotal Game 5. They now have to beat Justin Verlander at home him Game 6 to force a Game 7. Verlander has been dominant this post-season. Sure, the Dodgers got to him in Game 2, but that was where the master bullpen plan started to crack for the Dodgers and now the pieces are in shambles.
To beat Verlander they will have to have a masterful approach, his pitch count won’t matter since the Astros bullpen is in tatters. With a game in tow, AJ Hinch is going to let Verlander go all the way. He won’t worry about the bullpen. Verlander’s stuff is so good he can throw 130 pitches and still be hitting 97 on the gun. The Dodgers are in the deep waters now.
They will turn to Rich Hill, hoping he can give them more than the 4 innings he was asked to give in Game 2. In fact the Dodgers will need 6 to 7 innings from Hill. The Dodgers bullpen is fried. On Tuesday they just can’t afford a short outing by Hill, plus he has no margin for error considering who he is facing.
On its face it seems the Dodgers aren’t in bad shape, they are going home down 3-2 with a chance to win two home games and win the World Series. But, that is not the case. Their manager has the yips, their strength, which is the bullpen is a mess and they are facing the best pitcher left in the series right now and he is fully rested and ready to bring Houston a championship.
There are only so many times the game of baseball will give you the opportunity to win a series.
The Dodgers were three outs away from a 2-0 series lead at home with the best closer in the game on the mound and lost. They had a 4-0 lead and then a 7-4 lead with this generation’s best pitcher on the hill and lost.
At some point the game of baseball says, “your time is up.”