In a dire Game 6 of the World Series, what a difference a day of rest did for the Dodgers bullpen. Dave Roberts made the unpopular decision to pull his starter Rich Hill after 58 pitches, but this time it paid dividends as Los Angeles evened the series with a 3-1 victory over Houston for a winner take all seventh game.
On a misty Halloween night with the heartbreaking extra inning loss hovering over Chavez Ravine, the boys in blue overcame a one run deficit to beat Astros ace Justin Verlander, handing the hard fastball pitching specialist his first loss of the postseason.
Hill was impressive, almost identical to his Game 2 outing, tossing 4 2/3 innings of one run ball, on four hits with five strikeouts and a walk.
The southpaw set the tone early by punching out the first batter he faced, prolific powerhouse George Springer. After surrendering a base hit to Alex Bregman, Hill fanned Jose Altuve then got Carlos Correa on an inning ending force out at third.
In the home half, Verlander honed in with smoking hot heat, humbling Chris Taylor on a fly to right with one 95 mph four-seamer, chasing Corey Seager on a called strike three on five pitches, and retiring Justin Turner on a one pitch infield pop up.
Yuli Gurriel led off the second to a bellowing of Dodger fan boos then bounced after popping up in foul territory to Cody Bellinger. Brian McCann was put away on a fly ball to left and Marwin Gonzalez’s grounder into Turner’s glove ended the inning.
“The one thing was just to let the crowd speak their mind,” Hill said about Gurriel. “I didn’t think anything else would be as loud as that.”
The bottom frame saw more vintage Verlander with a pair of strikeouts to Bellinger and Joc Pederson. The Dodgers first base hit came off the bat of Yasiel Puig, but remained an idle threat after Logan Forsythe’s fly out to right.
Josh Reddick’s futile quest to make a dent against his former team continued with a leadoff fly out to Taylor. Hill struck out his counterpart, but wasn’t so lucky with Springer the second time around, surrendering a solo shot to the center field seats. The stunned crowd then breathed a sigh of relief when Bregman’s ground ball, bobbled by Seager, reached Bellinger’s glove just in the nick of time.
After Austin Barnes grounded out to Altuve leading off the bottom of the third, Verlander recorded a couple more strikeouts via Hill and Taylor.
Hill’s signature curve was in full bloom in the fourth retiring Altuve, Correa and Gurriel on a grounder to short and consecutive outfield fly balls.
Clinging to a lean one run lead in the bottom of the inning, the former Tiger held the Dodgers at bay sending Seager to the dugout on a fly out to left, then turning away Turner and Bellinger on a pair of swinging strike threes.
Houston’s hope for World Series hardware seemed imminent in the fifth when Hill surrendered a leadoff line drive single to McCann followed by Gonzalez’s double to left. With runners on the corners, Reddick made a mess of a 3-0 count by whiffing on a wicked curve, as did his pitcher on a 1-2 four-seam fastball. Springer was intentionally walked, while Hill was intentionally removed from the game, taking his frustration out on the Gatorade cooler in the Dodger dugout. Reliever Brandon Morrow, one of many goats in Game 5, redeemed himself by retiring Bregman on a ground ball to short.
The Dodger fifth was an easy 1,2,3 with Puig swinging on a first pitch fastball into Reddick’s right field glove. Three pitches later, Gonzalez grabbed Pederson’s fly ball to left and Forsythe fought off an array of Verlander’s arsenal before succumbing to a strikeout.
Another taste of hindering a seventh game was handed to Houston in the sixth after Gurriel’s two out single to center field. Roberts then played more pitching musical chairs summoning Tony Watson to the mound in place of Morrow. Chase Utley came in as a defensive sub for Forsythe at second. Watson wasted no time hitting McCann, whose hit by pitch in Game 5 was the catalyst in bringing home the winning run. But the Astros had no such luck securing any insurance with this free pass as the 32-year old lefty got Gonzalez to line out to second to end the inning.
In the bottom half, the Dodgers got more magical sixth inning sense tagging Verlander for a couple of runs as they did in his prior outing.
Barnes laced the veteran’s 2-0 fastball for a leadoff base hit to left, Utley was plunked by a 91 mph changeup, Taylor tied the score with a line drive double to right and Seager secured a go-ahead run with a sac fly to ex-teammate Reddick. The damage was kept to a minimum after Turner popped out to Gurriel in foul ground and Bellinger went down swinging for the third time.
Reddick got on base with a walk is as good as a hit to lead off the seventh. Evan Gattis pinch-hitting for Verlander reached first on a force out at second. Kenta Maeda replaced Watson and was greeted by Springer’s sharp ground ball that glanced off Seager’s glove for a base hit. Derek Fisher, the LA Laker namesake that destroyed the Dodgers in plating the winning run in Game five, replaced Gattis at second. With their fourth runner in scoring position they came up empty on Bregman’s fly out to center and Altuve’s ground ball to third.
After the seventh inning stretch, Joe Musgrove relieved Verlander, who ended his night with six frames of two runs on three hits and nine strikeouts. The 24-year old put out Puig on a pop up to short. Pederson, who homered off the righty in Game 4, hammered a solo shot on the same four-seam fastball to fatten the lead 3-1. He then retired the pinch-hitting Andre Ethier on a soft fly ball to left and Barnes looking at a called strike three.
Kenley Jansen, coming off a lousy 10-inning loss, put the side down in order in the eighth on seven pitches. Correa flied out to right, Gurriel popped out in foul territory off of first, and McCann was mowed down on an 86 mph slider.
A.J. Hinch brought Luke Gregerson in from his battered bullpen to face a deadly array of Dodger hitters. Charlie Culberson, the poster child for making the most out of given a chance to play in the postseason, singled on a 0-2 slider to left. Taylor grounded out to third, Seager went down swinging, Turner drew a walk, journeyman reliever Francisco Liriano got his first taste of the Fall Classic and kept it a two run game by handing Bellinger his fourth strikeout of the night.
The Astros last licks in the ninth were a mere formality for Jansen who got Gonzalez to pop up to first, then striking out Reddick and the forty-year old pinch-hitting Carlos Beltran to send the series to the best thing money can buy – a Game 7.
“We never stopped believing in ourselves, that we can win a championship,” Jansen said. “So here we are.”