The baseballs are too slick, or maybe they are juiced, or maybe it’s both. The strikeouts happen too often and the home runs never stop falling and the umpire is always wrong. The sport of baseball is broken in 2017, or it’s rejuvenated, or it’s somewhere on the spectrum in between: still perfect for all its imperfections, still timeless for all its radical modernity, still agonizing for what it can do to the lungs and the brain and the spleen.
Because nowhere else can you find theater like this, like the 10th inning of Game 5 of the World Series, with life’s rich pageant displayed in one tableau in the final moments of a depth-defying 13-12 Dodgers defeat in Game 5 of the World Series. Near third base, a mob of Astros moshed around third baseman Alex Bregman, who had delivered the game-winning hit to topple the game’s best closer for the second time in five games. Fireworks rocketed toward the retractable roof of Minute Maid Park. The noise felt loud enough to open the building.
His head down, his body exhausted, Kenley Jansen walked off the mound, unable to tame the remorseless beast that is the Astros offense. No one on his team could, not Sunday, in a game that lasted 5 hours 18 minutes and pushed the Dodgers one defeat away from the offseason, down 3-2 in the series. The outcome felt cruel, for the Dodgers did not wilt. They just could not hold back their opponents.
“This is it,” Jansen said. “We can’t hang our heads.”
Their best was not good enough. The Dodgers handed Clayton Kershaw seven runs of support — and lost. They grabbed a lead on a fortuitous run-scoring triple by Cody Bellinger in the seventh inning — and lost. They overcame a three-run deficit in the ninth inning — and lost. They trusted Jansen to keep them afloat — and lost. The Astros were too much, too deep, too resourceful.
Masterful for so much of October, manager Dave Roberts saw his bullpen decisions backfire before the relentless pressure of Houston’s offense. On Sunday, the Astros launched five home runs as they broke Kershaw, broke Roberts’ in-game strategizing and broke Jansen. The fusillade may have broken the Dodgers. They will try to save their season Tuesday in Game 6 at Dodger Stadium.
“This is not going to be finished Tuesday,” Yasiel Puig said. “There is going to be a Game 7.”
Puig spoke well past 1 a.m. in Texas, a fine time for bravado. His teammates could only mumble platitudes to match his confidence. They had already unloaded their best shots on their opponents.
Facing a deficit in the ninth, Puig rocked a two-run homer, setting a World Series record with the 22nd in the five games. At the stroke of midnight in Houston, a single by Chris Taylor sprayed through the center of the diamond and tied the score 12-12. It gave the Dodgers life when it felt as if they had been turned into dust.
Attempting to protect a one-run lead in the seventh, Roberts broke his pregame pledge to avoid using reliever Brandon Morrow for the third day in a row and the fifth time in six days. Morrow convinced Roberts he could pitch, in a decision Morrow would later describe as “selfish.” The Astros pilloried Morrow for his confidence.
Outfielder George Springer atoned for a defensive gaffe that led to Bellinger’s triple by launching a redemptive, scoree-tying homer on the first pitch he saw to spark a four-run pounding. Let down by Kershaw, unsure who to trust in his bullpen, Roberts permitted Morrow to face three more batters. He threw six pitches in all.
After a single and a run-scoring double, Morrow watched a towering parabola rise off the bat of shortstop Carlos Correa. The ball landed in the left-field Crawford Boxes, a shot that felt like an exclamation point for the 43,300 at Minute Maid Park, one of whom rushed the field wearing a stars-and-stripes shorts but no shirt.
“This whole series has been an emotional rollercoaster,” Roberts said.
The lows can sink so deep, and the highs can feel so fleeting. Earlier in the game, the offense flattened Dallas Keuchel by the fourth inning and scored four runs. Kershaw coughed them up in a fourth-inning flurry that ended in a three-run homer by first baseman Yuli Gurriel. After Bellinger unleashed a three-homer in the fifth, Kershaw walked two batters and watched from the dugout as second baseman Jose Altuve tied the score once more with a three-run blast against Kenta Maeda.
After a sterling performance in Game 1, in which he swallowed any lingering anxiety and struck out 11 Astros, Kershaw wilted Sunday. Houston mauled him for six runs. His command did not accompany him when he returned to the mound for the fourth. After a walk by Springer and a single by Altuve, Correa whacked a double.
The next pitch from Kershaw detonated the crowd. It was an 89-mph slider, spinning helplessly before Gurriel unloaded on it. The baseball crashed into an advertisement above the left-field wall. Kershaw crumpled on the mound.
“I just lost my command a little bit there,” Kershaw said. “That’s all it took.”
The offense did not lay down. Bellinger greeted reliever Collin McHugh with a three-run shot, and raised his right arm in triumph as he rounded first base. Running back to his dugout, he held his left index finger over his lips, encouraging a shell-shocked crowd to stay that way.
The gesture did not work. Roberts attempted to squeeze another inning out of Kershaw. The gambit appeared safe, until Springer took a two-out walk. Bregman outlasted Kershaw with a 10-pitch walk.
In seven previous outings this October, Maeda yielded only two hits. His third stung, as he fed Altuve a 94-mph fastball over the heart of the plate. Altuve left no doubt. His three-run homer landed on a porch overhanging the 404-foot sign in center field.
The tie lasted into the seventh. With a runner at first, Bellinger sizzled a 100.3-mph liner into center field. Springer dove for it. The ball bounced past him for a triple. The Dodgers were ecstatic. The drama had only begun.
Into the fray came Morrow. The Astros bludgeoned him. Yet, the game was only in the seventh, leaving a lifetime in this era of baseball. Seager supplied a run-scoring double in the eighth. Tony Cingrani gave up a solo homer to catcher Brian McCann in the bottom of the inning.
The three-run rally by the Dodgers in the ninth kept the game going.
Jansen worked around a scorched double by Gurriel in the ninth. The ball zoomed into an elevated fence in center field, one of the few difficult spots to homer here. Jansen was less fortunate in the 10th. He hit McCann with a pitch. He walked Springer. Bregman ended the evening by punching a cutter into left.
The Astros partied. The Dodgers mourned. The game did not end the 2017 season. It only felt like the culmination of it, in which the balls seemed enhanced, the homers seemed endless and the cost of it all felt so taxing.
“Everybody’s pretty exhausted after that one, emotionally and physically,” Kershaw said. “It’s a tough one.”