If a World Series game has six home runs, 25 runs, 12 pitching changes, three ties, 417 pitches, 317 minutes of playing time and a walk-off hit in the 10th inning, is it one of the best of all-time? Or one of the most absurd?
There hasn’t been a game like Sunday’s Game 5 13-12 Astros win since the Blue Jays beat the Phillies, 15-14, in Game 4 in the 1993 World Series. Or Wednesday’s Game 2 7-6 Astros win, depending on your perspective.
If the rarity becomes the norm, is it still exceptional? Is this among the greatest World Series of all-time, or are all the shifts and turns artificially induced, like so many home run totals from the Steroid Era? And if they are, is there anything wrong with adding a pinch of drama as if it were a topping on ice cream? Wouldn’t it still be good without the additive?
The 2017 World Series is only five games old, and it’s already broken the record for most home runs. It’s produced more runs (58) than all five Series since 2011, even though three of them played more games and two went the full seven. Is it because the balls are amped? Because Houston’s Minute Maid Park is cramped? Does it matter as long as fans are watching?
On the scoreboard that counts, MLB is happy. The TV ratings for Game 5 beat the ratings for Sunday night’s NFL game 12.8-9.4, or by about the width of Bill Miller’s strike zone, which is to say a considerable margin. There’s been many a World Series game which hasn’t, and that’s not good for a sport when you call yourself America’s pastime.
It’s not how it was done MLB is concerned with, but how much it can charge for advertising. Whether more people are watching because of enhanced baseballs, cramped quarters or the NFL’s own self-flagellation isn’t MLB’s concern.
Justin Verlander says it’s the baseballs, even though he hasn’t had much problem pitching with them. Verlander: “The main complaint is that the balls seem a little bit different in the postseason, and even from the postseason to the World Series balls. They’re a little slick. You just deal with it. But I don’t think it’s the case of one pitcher saying, ‘Hey, something is different here.’ I think as a whole, everybody is saying, ‘Whoa, something is a little off here.’ ”
As long as it’s not the ratings, MLB isn’t worried. Of course the sport could accomplish the same goals by playing the entire Series at Coors Field. Just think what a whole series of 13-12 games would do for the ratings.
Verlander addressing the difference in the baseballs from one postseason series to another answers the question of why, if the balls are juiced, was the ALCS so low-scoring? The Astros scored 20 runs in seven games against the Yankees; they scored 13 in one game against the Dodgers, who gave up just eight runs in five NLCS games combined.
It’s all part of a bizarre postseason, and Game 5 fit right in. Consider the ways:
- A game started by Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel, who’ve won a combined four Cy Young Awards, ended 13-12.
- Eleven batters walked in a game called by Miller, whose strike zone was so big and errant that its corners had corners which had corners.
- A strike Miller didn’t call — the second pitch to George Springer in the 10th should have been a strike but wasn’t — led to the 11th and final walk and the Astros’ 13th and final run.
- The only reliever to get at least three outs and not give up a run was the Astros’ Joe Musgrove, who gave up plenty of them in a season in which his ERA was 4.77.
- Dodgers third-base coach Chris Woodward and base runner Chris Taylor reprised 1975’s Should I Stay or Should I Go routine of Red Sox coach Don Zimmer and base runner Denny Doyle. In ’75, in the ninth inning of a tied Game 6, Fred Lynn flew out to short left field. Zimmer said “No, no, no” and Doyle heard go, go, go, which he did, right into the second out of the inning on George Foster’s throw home. Sunday, in the eighth inning of an 11-9 game, Justin Turner lined out to right with Taylor on third, Woodward yelled, “Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go,” and Taylor heard what Zimmer told Doyle 42 years earlier, no, no no. Taylor stayed, and Woodward told him, “I think you would have been out with that throw,” fibbing only a lot since Josh Reddick’s heave was about 15 feet up the third-base line, just out of Miller’s strike zone. The Red Sox eventually won Game 6 on Carlton Fisk’s home run, saving Doyle and Zimmer embarrassment and Good Will Hunting’s story line. Doyle told Sabr.org, “. . . when I see Pudge (Fisk), I tell him, ‘You ought to thank me. If I had scored the winning run you wouldn’t be nearly as famous.’ “If the Dodgers lose this Series, Woodward and Taylor won’t be as jolly about their miscommunication.
- Nearly every move Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made ended badly, from pulling Kershaw for Kenta Maeda, who gave up a three-run homer; to Enrique Hernandez bunting into an out at third after Justin Turner’s leadoff double in the seventh; to tapping Brandon Morrow, whom he said pregame he wouldn’t use for a third straight day, to pitch the seventh (four batters, six pitches, two homers, four runs); to finally leaving Kenley Jansen in to finish the 11th, and Jansen giving up the winning run after two were out and no one was on. (Given that Roberts’ other choices when Jansen got in trouble were Josh Fields and Brandon McCarthy, who in this Series have faced eight batters and given up three homers, a double, a single and four runs, and have a combined ERA of 36.00, it’s hard to fault him.)
Five games ago, manager A.J. Hinch was far down the list of reasons Houston might win the World Series.
The Astros were eminently more likeable then, before Yuri Guriel mocked Yu Darvish’s ethnicity.
But the Astros go back to Los Angeles with a 3-2 lead and deservedly if tenuously so. Game 6 is Tuesday on Halloween, and given what the series has yielded thus far, it’s scary to think what MLB has planned that could top Game 5.