LOS ANGELES — At some point, the Houston Astros might think back to Game 6 at Dodger Stadium and remember how close they were to winning the World Series. Not quite yet, but maybe at some point.
They were four innings away from hoisting the trophy. Four innings away from October glory. But then came a lead-off single, Chase Utley wearing one and a Chris Taylor double. Then came Corey Seager’s sacrifice fly and Joc Pederson’s homer and a six-out save from Kenley Jansen. Then came the Dodgers, doing what they so often do.
Now we get a Game 7. And for the Astros, who watched Justin Verlander cling to a one-run lead as the innings ticked down to “four more,” that can’t exactly be easy, can’t it?
“We’re nine innings away from winning the World Series,” said Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, who certainly knows how to deliver a page-turning quote.
“This is what you live for — Game 7 — we’re excited,” he said. “It’s going to be fun.”
Yes, Game 7 will be something. Always is. But Game 6? The Astros took the lead with a George Springer homer — or should we say another George Springer homer — and had to hope Justin Verlander could keep his streak alive. Every game he’d pitched since that August trade to Houston, the Astros had won. Until Tuesday night and the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory.
“I never thought about [how close we were],” said shortstop Carlos Correa. “One run is never enough. We had a three-run lead in the ninth inning the other day and they tied the game. I never thought about that. I thought that we need to score more runs before they scored.”
One of those things happened, but it wasn’t the one Correa preferred. Now the Astros have to live what they so often talk about. Throughout the series with the Dodgers, the Astros have talked about how quickly they’ve moved on from losses — and they’ve been correct. Every time they’ve lost, they’ve come back to win the next day. Now comes the biggest loss to move on from.
“Tomorrow,” Correa said, “we’re going to play the greatest game of our life.”
Until now, there’s been some competition for that amongst these 2017 Astros. Their Game 5 comeback was amazing. Their Game 2 comeback was too. Let’s not forget that they also won a Game 7 in the American League Championship series against the New York Yankees to get here.
So this isn’t the first time they’ve been put to the test. In fact, they had to win two elimination games against the Yankees. There’s only one team that’s ever won two Game 7s in the same postseason and that’s the 1985 Kansas City Royals.
Correa was asked what he took away from the first Game 7 and he named two things: Staying focused and staying confident.
“We know we can get the job done,” Correa said. “So tomorrow we have to show up like we do every single day, confident, with our swagger and win that game.”
In this series, with these teams, it would be silly to think that Game 7 would stick to a script. Even if we are in Hollywood.
The Astros will call on Lance McCullers Jr. to start — coincidentally, he got the save in their ALCS Game 7 — but anybody and everybody will be ready to pitch if manager A.J. Hinch needs help. That includes Justin Verlander, who started Game 6. It’ll be Yu Darvish for the Dodgers, with Alex Wood and Clayton Kershaw waiting in the wings.
McCullers wasn’t terribly sharp when he started Game 3 of the series. The Astros won the game, but McCullers lasted just 5 ⅓ innings and allowed three runs on four hits, striking out three and walking four. The Astros will cross their fingers for better than that. At this point, that’s about all you can do.
“This is a very good-hitting team,” McCullers said. “They’re patient but yet they’ll make you pay for mistakes. So I have to go out there and, like I said, just execute my game plan. And I need to execute a little better in certain spots.”
McCullers has some of that big-game mojo. Like many of the other Astros, he’s young and confident.
“He just wants the big moment,” said catcher Brian McCann. “He wants the ball.”
Confidence, it sure beats anger, right? Or frustration. Positivity, it sure beats disappointment. Or second-guessing. The Astros can’t — and won’t — focus on those 12 more outs they needed to put away the Dodgers in Game 6.
“If you carry any baggage into Game 7 of the World Series, then you’re certainly misguided with your attention,” Hinch said. “We will come as positive as ever, ready to play.”
Because, what else are they going to do? It’s fitting, really, that this crazy series is now down to one last game.
“This,” Bregman said, “is everything.”
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