The sun was just beginning to rise when the Dodgers charter touched down at LAX early Monday. After seven months and 175 games, the team landed knowing there may be just one sunrise left in its season.
An extra-inning loss in Game 5 left the Dodgers trailing the Houston Astros three games to two in the best-of-seven World Series, and with no margin for error when they resume play Tuesday against Houston ace Justin Verlander.
“We’re going to have the game of our lives,” Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig promised in Spanish. “Verlander had better be prepared.”
As Puig spoke, most of the clubhouse was empty. Three times the Dodgers’ once-vaunted pitching staff had given up leads that would have left the team a win shy of its first World Series championship in 29 years. Now they have to sweep the final two games to end that drought.
Chris Taylor, still in uniform, sat alone in front of his stall, staring into space. Nearby, Cody Bellinger, in shorts and a T-shirt, sat silently checking his text messages.
However, Puig was anything but quiet.
“It’s not going to finish Tuesday,” he said of the World Series. “There’s going to be a Game 7.”
The Series on Sunday — and into Monday — produced the second-longest game in history, 5 hours 17 minutes. There were 14 pitchers and 417 pitches, the last thrown by Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who gave up a single to Alex Bregman after hitting a batter and issuing a walk.
“They’re celebrating right now,” Jansen said of the Astros. “Guess what? They’ve still got to beat us one more time. And the fact that we’re going to go home, we’ve just got to continue to grind.
“They’ve got to beat us again. They’ve got to beat all 25 of us to win.”
The Dodgers can thank their best-in-MLB 104 wins during the regular season for the home-field advantage on Tuesday and, if they can get there, Wednesday. In the previous 14 seasons, home-field advantage in the World Series was awarded based on which league won the All-Star Game and the American League won this July.
The Dodgers’ advantage at Chavez Ravine extends beyond just having the last at-bat. Going from Houston to Los Angeles means the games move outside, before 55,000 screaming Dodger fans, in a place where the home team had a baseball-best record of 63-25 this season.
It also means no designated hitter, which is likely to send Enrique Hernandez back to the bench while sending third baseman Justin Turner and his sore calf back onto the field. The Astros will lose Evan Gattis.
Houston would seem to have the advantage in starting pitching with Verlander, a six-time all star. Verlander is unbeaten since coming to the Astros in a late-season trade, has a 2.05 postseason earned-run average and has never lost to the Dodgers.
The Dodgers will counter with Rich Hill, who hasn’t pitched past the fifth inning — nor won a game — in more than a month.
If the game is decided by the bullpens — as the rest of the games have — all bets are off since the two relief corps have combined for a 6.33 ERA and four blown saves in five games.
The Dodgers relief corps could be bolstered by Alex Wood, who threw 5 2/3 innings in a story on Saturday, and Clayton Kershaw, who started Sunday, but didn’t make it out of the fifth inning.
“We’re determined,” said Bellinger, who had a home run and triple in Game 5. “This thing isn’t over yet.”