Five things to know about the Astros’ 7-6 victory in Game 2:
- How good was it? Game 2 was so good it should have come at the end of the World Series, not the start. It was among the best of the television era — 1960 Game 7 and Maz’s homer, 1975 Game 6 and Fisk’s homer, 2011 Game 6 and David Freese’s triple. This being 2017, there were six home runs in the ninth inning or later which made it memorable, not one. As Jayson Stark tweeted after the game, “For a team that has never won a WS, the Astros sure have played in a bunch of classic postseason games. ‘80 & ‘86 LCS, Pujols Game…& this!” Of course, the Astros didn’t win any of the others. They lost Game 4 of the 1980 NLCS in 11 and Game 5 in the 10th after leading 5-2 with Nolan Ryan pitching (the last four games of the 1980 NLCS all went to extras); they lost Game 6 of the ’86 NLCS to the Mets in 16 innings (after they lost Game 5 in 12); they lost Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS on Albert Pujols’ ninth-inning homer. Stark didn’t mention the 2004 NLCS, but the Astros lost Game 6 of that one in 12 after tying it in the ninth. The rarity wasn’t that the Astros played an exciting postseason game, but that they won one. (For the record, in Game 5 of the ’86 NLCS, which the Mets won, 2-1, in 12, Craig Reynolds grounded into a double play in the second inning, which kept Kevin Bass, who was on third, from scoring. It has long been my contention that Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez coaxed the out call by coming off first base before he had the ball. Had he not, the Astros might have won in regulation, which would have forced a Game 7, which would have been pitched by Mike Scott, who had allowed a single run in winning Games 1 and 4. If so, maybe Red Sox fans might not have been triggered Wednesday by the 31st anniversary of what Mets fans call Buckner Day. Unfortunately, nobody was motivated to make replay a reality until Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga. But I digress.)
- About the baseball: Dallas Keuchel, who lost Game 1 on Tuesday, watched Game 2 and said, “Obviously, the balls are juiced. I think they’re juiced 100 percent.” 100 percent? Give MLB credit for not doing things halfway. It’s hard to argue with Keuchel after Wednesday’s game: the eight home runs were a World Series record, and of the 22 extra-inning Series home runs in the history of baseball, five were hit Wednesday. The last one was hit by Charlie Culberson, who’s hit six in his 443 career major league at-bats, 166 of which were at Coors Field. Both former major-league pitcher Jim Kaat and fangraph’s David Laurila tweeted, in response to the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner, that minor-leaguers and call-ups discerned a difference between balls in AA and AAA and the majors. Laurila: “September call-up I talked to estimated balls with similar launch angles and exit velocities go 20 feet farther in MLB than in Triple-A.” That might help explain how Aaron Judge, who hit 56 home runs in nearly 1,300 at-bats and three minor-league seasons, could hit 52 in one major-league season. It also might help explain the 6,105 home runs hit this year, 495 more than last year’s 5,610, which were 701 more than 2015’s 4,909, which were 723 more than 2014’s 4,186. It doesn’t take a mathematician to recognize that as a trend. As bad as the steroid era might have been for the sport’s image, the enduring lesson is that home runs are good for business. Keuchel: “That’s what Major League Baseball wants. They want that exciting two home run lead, and then (the Dodgers) come back and hit another home run, and everybody’s still watching. That’s what they want. That’s what they’re getting.” He’s not wrong. Home runs are good for ratings, and it wouldn’t be the first time marketing made a decision removed from its field.
- Fields of bad dreams: Josh Fields faced three batters Wednesday, and gave up a home run to Jose Altuve, a home run to Carlos Correa and then a double to Yuri Gurriel. At that point, manager Dave Roberts took Fields out. I’m not sure why, given Fields’ improvement.
- Jansen fails: Kenley Jansen got the final out of the eighth inning Wednesday with a 3-2 lead and Jon Heyman of fanragsports.com tweeted: “never saw we’d see another mariano. kenley is getting close now.” An inning later Marwin Gonzalez put bat to ball and Kenley wasn’t so close, errant word in the tweet or not. Timing is everything, and Heyman’s tweet didn’t make it long. That’s not to pick on Heyman — someone snuck on this very space after Game 1 and wrote, “Nothing is sure in baseball, but Jansen with a lead in the ninth seems like it.” Thank goodness for the qualifier. Gonzalez’s was the first earned run Jansen had allowed in 19.2 innings, but it’s also a reminder to beware of comparisons. After the Reds swept the Yankees in the 1976 World Series, manager Sparky Anderson was asked to compare his catcher, Series MVP Johnny Bench, to the Yankees catcher, Thurman Munson, who hit .529 in the Series. Anderson: “Munson is an outstanding ballplayer and he would hit .300 in the National League, but don’t ever compare nobody to Johnny Bench; don’t never embarrass nobody by comparing them to Johnny Bench.” Anderson’s answer was insensitive even if Munson wasn’t close to enough hear it, which he was, and ineloquent and hyperbolic, which Sparky often was. It wasn’t altogether wrong. Heyman’s tweet was a casualty of the social media age we live in. In a rush to be first with a correct observation or opinion, you have to step aside the nine incorrect ones which preceded it. Jansen had a 1.84 ERA in postseason play before Gonzalez’s home run, 2.01 after it; Rivera’s was 0.70. Jansen has allowed eight runs, seven earned, in 31.1 innings; Rivera allowed 13 runs, 11 earned, in 141 postseason innings. Jansen is good, maybe the best reliever in MLB today. He’s not close to Rivera, and won’t be getting close, if he ever does, for a long time. If Sparky Anderson had managed Rivera, you can guess how he would have put it.
- Next manager up: You wouldn’t think whichever manager loses the World Series would have to worry about job security, but the Yankees ditched Joe Girardi Thursday. That makes three of the 10 postseason managers who have been fired. Two of them weren’t fired in a technical sense — Girardi and the Nats’ Dusty Baker didn’t have contracts renewed — but to describe it otherwise is corporate speak. Girardi took a wild-card team and got within a game of the World Series, but that wasn’t enough to keep his job. (If he’s interested in managing in 2018, the Nationals would seem a logical fit). The Yankees have had two managers in the last 22 seasons, and there’s not another team in baseball that can say that. The Yankees used to be capable of having two managers before the All-Star break when George Steinbrenner was doing the hiring; now they’re a model of stability. The Astros’ A.J. Hinch, who’s been to the playoffs twice in three seasons, and Dave Roberts, who returned the Dodgers to the World Series for the first time in 29 years, should be safe, no matter how the Series ends. But beware fickle GMs and owners.