LOS ANGELES — In one of the most thrilling, heart-threatening donnybrook baseball battles in the World Series in recent decades, the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers tried to smother each other in heroics and home runs over four incredible hours Wednesday night in Game 2. Their duel is now tied at a game apiece after a 7-6, 11-inning Astros win that was played for the baseball heavens.
For the first time since 1970, the World Series has two teams that both won 100 games; for one night, they played like they'd each won 150.
"If you like October baseball, if you like any kind of baseball, that's one of the most incredible games you'll ever be a part of," Houston Manager A.J. Hinch said.
In a powerful sense, this game was the Astros introduction, in full dynamic perspective, to the Dodgers, and perhaps to a suddenly agape America, too.
Yes, hello, Dodgers, we are the Astros, and we would like you to meet several gentlemen whose names you may remember for a long time.
First, meet Marwin Gonzalez. His leadoff home run in the top of the ninth inning off Dodger closer Kenley Jansen tied the game at 3 and prevented the Dodgers from taking a two-games-to-none lead.
Now, let us introduce you to Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. CRASH, SMASH. What you are watching with dropped jaws, Mr. and Mrs. Los Angeles, are back-to-back long-gone home runs deep into the left-center field bleachers in the 10th inning off reliever Josh Fields, the deep-in-the-bullpen fellow the Dodgers never dreamed they would have to use.
Finally, let us give you a formal introduction to George Springer, our leadoff hitter, who struck out four times in Game 1. After you Dodgers, and we freely admit that you are an incredible bunch of foes, tied the game in the bottom of the 10th at 5 on a booming Yasiel Puig homer and a two-out RBI single by pinch-hitter Kike Hernandez off our closer Ken Giles, we still had Springer left to give you our best wishes.
Springer who already had a walk, single and double in Game 2, finally struck the game-winning two-run homer over the right field fence — after midnight back East — off Brandon McCarthy in the top of the 11th.
"As you go deeper in the playoffs, the emotions just get more intense," Springer said. "Now I understand why some guys struggle in the postseason and some don't . . . That game was probably as nerve wracking for every player on both teams as it was for the people in the stands.
"That's the craziest back-and-forth game I've ever been in," said Springer, who added with a laugh, "and it's only Game 2."
Maybe Houston said "Hello" to the Dodgers in this game, but it's also possible that the entire sport of baseball may have reintroduced itself to the general-sports-fan nation and said, "Psssst, you just might want to watch this."
Those four Astros homers, by Gonzalez, the 5-foot-6 mighty-man Altuve, Correa and finally Springer may have gotten the attention of all of sports America and several other countries as well.
Now we have a World Series. Now we have a one-game-apiece battle that will resume Friday night in Houston. Both these teams have now dealt thunderous blows to each other.
The Astros used their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, in the first two games, fellows who are considerably better than the rest of their solid but unspectacular rotation.
Yet without Gonzalez's fabulous, clutch, game-saving, and probably Series saving, homer, the trumping of the two Astros aces would be the theme of this Series. Now, the Astros have a mighty symbol of their own strength in the bashing of Jansen.
Message: Nobody's safe!
To prove it, the Dodgers responded to the back-to-back Altuve and Correa homers as few teams ever have in the World Series — with a two-run 10th inning rally off a first-rate closer in Giles. First, there was a titanic homer to left by Puig. He can pump that one all he wants. It cut the lead to 5-4. But the Dodgers weren't finished, as a walk, a wild pitch and an incredibly clutch, down to the last out RBI single by Hernandez into right field tied the game once more. Perhaps that should have been expected after Hernandez's three home runs in the Dodgers' National League Championship Series-clinching win over the Cubs last week.
If the Dodgers had continued that comeback to win in the 10th, Los Angeles County might have run out of defibrillators. Instead, the game carried on, so Springer, who had been in a slump for a week, could have the final say.
Well, not quite. Down to their last out in the 11th, the Dodgers' Charlie Culberson smashed his own homer into the left-field pavilion to produce the final 7-6 score. If Puig, who made the final out, had also homered, even he might have run out of ways to celebrate himself, and all of this Dodger-blue ballpark might have collapsed in adulation. Just as well he didn't. This game was about five wonderful games roiled in one.
Oh, goody. Can we do this for like, oh, four or five more games, please?
"I've been part of some exciting games, But, no, none like this," said Verlander, who started and went seven innings, even flirting with a no-hitter into the fifth. "Exciting, thrilling and for it to be in the World Series . . . this is an instant classic.
"To tell you the truth, I was rooting so hard I almost fainted three times. I was cheering so loud I had to stop so I wouldn't pass out."
Perhaps the central moment, among so many, in this game was the emotional swing in the ninth. Nobody hits ninth-inning home runs off Jansen. All 265 pounds of him is just too tough. Jansen is the Mariano Rivera of this generation and the greatest symbol of Dodger strength.
Somebody forgot to tell Gonzalez, a formidable slugger who only merits the No. 7 spot in a Houston batting order that led the majors in runs scored this season by dozens. Leading off the ninth inning, Gonzalez thrashed a 94.4 mph cutter over the center field fence. At that moment, this World Series was transformed from a probable romp by the Dodgers into what will likely be a long and perhaps magnificent battle.
The Astros did not just bash Jansen in the ninth. The Dodgers asked Jansen for a six-out save. In the eighth, he allowed an inherited runner to score. Ultimately, after Puig's home run in the bottom of the 10th cut the Astros lead to 5-4, Correa's homer, which was more like window dressing than insurance at the time, proved invaluable.
"We're not even here if Marwin doesn't hit a home run over the center field fence off the best closer in baseball," said Hinch.
The importance of this Astros escape cannot possibly be overstated.
In the past 36 years, 14 teams have won the first two games of the World Series on their home field. What has happened after that has defied probability. Those 14 teams have all gone on to win the World Series. But they have also done it by, in most instances, crushing their foe 28-12 in games once they got their foe down. If Gonzalez — remember that name, Marwin Gonzalez — had not done what almost no one has done against Jansen in the last eight years, the Astros would be looking down the barrel of those numbers.
Now, instead, we have a game, even if it was only a Game 2, that will be worth replaying as long they keep insisting on playing this thing called the World Series.
Box score: Astros 7, Dodgers 6 (11)