The result cannot be considered unthinkable, because October baseball expands the realm of possibility and exposes the soul to untold anguish. The Dodgers had avoided this fate for so much of these playoffs. They were the team who broke hearts, who snuffed out dreams. Except until this week, they had not stared down an opponent like the Houston Astros.
On Wednesday evening, in the final innings of Game 2 of the World Series, the veneer of invincibility surrounding the Dodgers bullpen shattered beneath the might of Houston’s offense in a 7-6 defeat that tied this series at one victory each.
Kenley Jansen blew a save by yielding a solo homer in the ninth. Josh Fields surrendered two more in the 10th. After scoring two runs in the bottom of the 10th, the Dodgers turned to Brandon McCarthy for the 11th.
There was no one left in the bullpen. McCarthy had appeared in only five games since the All-Star break. The Astros pilloried him. George Springer boomed a two-run shot. McCarthy seethed with anger afterward. Jansen contemplated the fallibility of man.
“I’m human,” Jansen said. “You can’t do nothing about it.”
The concept of vulnerability had eluded these Dodgers this postseason. The bullpen was an unbreakable machine. The lineup was a relentless storm. Their manager operated without flaw. On Wednesday, the machine broke down and gave up its first runs of these playoffs. The Dodgers stormed to a 3-1 lead through seven innings and hit four homers, but the Astros answered with four blasts of their own. Manager Dave Roberts could not maneuver his bullpen after removing starter Rich Hill after four innings.
Six outs away from a commanding two-game lead, the Dodgers felt the wrath of the Astros, the purveyors of baseball’s most ferocious offense. Brandon Morrow allowed a leadoff double to third baseman Alex Bregman in the eighth, despite a diving attempt from right fielder Yasiel Puig. That brought in Jansen. Two batters later, shortstop Carlos Correa rolled an RBI single up the middle. An inning later, Marwin Gonzalez led off and Jansen fed him a cutter at the belt. Gonzalez stunned the crowd with a tying homer.
As the homers soared through the night, the aroma of a nearby brushfire wafted over Chavez Ravine. It felt like a metaphor. Until the bottom of the 10th, when the Dodgers offered a reminder of their own ability to singe a bullpen.
Puig greeted Astros closer Ken Giles with a solo home run. Logan Forsythe took a two-out walk, and Enrique Hernandez incited bedlam with a game-tying single through the right side of the infield.
An inning later, after Springer’s homer, Charlie Culberson cut the lead in half with a two-out solo homer. The two teams set a World Series record with eight home runs. None would follow Culberson’s. The Dodgers had run out of comebacks.
“All year long we’ve done a nice job of recovering, turning the page, whether it’s a big win or tough loss,” Roberts said. “It’s a tough loss.”
The madness of the final innings outweighed the import of the game’s beginning. Roberts cast the die with his bullpen when Hill was removed after four innings. At that moment, the Dodgers trailed by a run and had yet to record a hit against Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
Hill had permitted a run on an RBI single by Astros third baseman Alex Bregman in the third. With the Astros batting order due up for a third time in the fifth, Roberts replaced Hill with Kenta Maeda. The decision matched the team’s thought process throughout this postseason, even if Hill held opposing hitters to a .408 on-base plus slugging percentage on the third trip through the order in the regular season.
Astros center fielder George Springer celebrates his two-run home run against the Dodgers in the 11th inning of Game 2.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times )
Fans at Dodger Stadium react as Houston wins a Game 2 thriller, 7-6, in 11 innings.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
George Springer exults after his 11th-inning home run.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Disappointed Dodgers fans.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig strikes out to end the game.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A happy Houston Astros fan at Dodger Stadium.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
George Springer and Cameron Maybin celebrate after a two-run homer by Springer off Dodgers reliever Brandon McCarthy in the 11th inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers fan Ethan Czypinski, 7, of San Dimas wears his baseball glove under his World Series hat while watching a tense Game 2 at Dodger Stadium.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Kenley Jansen turns toward the outfield after giving up a game-tying homer to Astros left fielder Marwin Gonzalez in the ninth inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
The throw to Astros catcher Brian McCann is too late as Dodgers second baseman Logan Forsythe scores in the 10th inning on a single by Enrique Hernandez to tie the Game 2 score at 5-5.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Yasiel Puig sits with his head in his hands after not being able to catch what turned into a ground-rule double off the bat of Astros third baseman Alex Bregman during the seventh inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig throws his glove in anger after not being able to catch a ground-rule double by Astros third baseman Alex Bregman.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
A fan watches Houston take a 7-6 victory in 11 innings on Wednesday night.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers reliever Brandon McCarthy paces behind the mound as Astros center fielder George Springer circles the bases after hitting a two-run home run during the 11th inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers left fielder Charlie Culberson celebrates as he circles the bases after hitting a home run in the 11th inning to cut the Dodgers’ deficit to 7-6.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers fans wave souvenir towels as they cheer on the Dodgers from the top deck section during Game 2 of the 2017 World Series.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers second baseman Logan Forsythe scores the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning after a hit by Enrique Hernandez.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chris Taylor can’t get to a home run by Houston’s Marwin Gonzalez during the ninth inning of Game 2.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Fan Angel Rodriguez of East Los Angeles wears his Dodgers pride on his face while watching Houston win 7-6 in the 11th inning to even the series.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Astros shortstop Carlos Correa greets teammate Marwin Gonzalez after he hit a solo home run off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning to tie the score, 3-3, and force extra innings.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Corey Seager reacts after hitting a two-run home run during the sixth inning against Astros pitcher Justin Verlander.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Andrew Vialpando, center, cheers with other Dodgers fans while watching the World Series at The Short Stop in Echo Park.(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)
Corey Seager lets out a yell as he hits a two-run home run against Houston starting pitcher Justin Verlander in the sixth inning.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers left fielder Joc Pederson celebrates after hitting a solo home run, which broke up Justin Verlander’s no-hit bid and tied the score, 1-1.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers left fielder Joc Pederson connects for a solo home run against Houston’s Justin Verlander.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Chris Taylor is tagged out by Astros shortstop Carlos Correa in the fourth inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dodger starter Rich Hill watches as Justin Turner throws to first base after fielding Justin Verlander’s sacrifice bunt in the third inning.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rich Hill delivers a pitch during the first inning of Game 2. Hill would work four innings, giving up one run on three hits, all in the third inning, while striking out seven.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes catches a foul ball hit by Astros third baseman Alex Bregman during the first inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig catches a fly ball hit by Astros shortstop Carlos Correa with his tongue out during the first inning of Game 2.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes falls the ground after catching a foul ball hit by Astros third baseman Alex Bregman during the first inning.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Actor Jason Bateman yells at Astros shortstop Carlos Correa during the first inning.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Fernando Valenzuela, Vin Scully and Steve Yeager walk off the field after the ceremonial first pitch before Game 2.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The crowd cheers after honoring Vietnam veterans while country music star Brad Paisley sang the national anthem before Game 2.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers legends Vin Scully, left, and Fernando Valenzuela throw out the first pitch before the start of Game 2.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig sports a new dye job before the start of Game 2.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers ace Clayotn Kershaw meets with country singer Brad Paisley before the start of Game 2.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, share a light moment before the start of Game 2.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers outfielder Enrique Hernandez, right, shares a light moment with hitting coach Turner Ward before the start of Game 2.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers fan Wendy Perez, of Los Angeles, holds up 7-month-old son Ezra Perez, her “lucky charm,” in the upper level before watching the Dodgers play the Astros in Game 2.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
A Corey Seager fan watches an Astros pitcher work out in the bullpen before Game 2.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Mike Eliason, dressed in a Justin Turner wig, high-fives Dodgers fans before Game 2.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers fan Robbie Tabares, 6, of Whittier takes in the view of his first World Series from the upper deck.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers fans take photos before watching the Dodgers play the Astros in Game 2.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Dodgers season-ticket holder Gilbert Romero sports his Dodgers sombrero and beads in upper deck before the start of Game 2.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
“The competitor in you wants to keep going, keep fighting,” Hill said. “But if you step outside yourself, it made sense.”
Heading into the fifth, Verlander had still not bent. In time, the Dodgers came as close to breaking him as any other team has this October.
Joc Pederson tied the score by hitting a hanging slider over the right-field wall with two outs in the fifth. An inning later, after a two-out walk by Chris Taylor, Corey Seager smashed a two-run homer.
Upon contact, Seager screamed. He unleashed another yell when the baseball soared over the wall in left. In the dugout, Clayton Kershaw lifted his arms and howled with delight.
After Tony Watson got a double play to end the sixth, Roberts sent Ross Stripling to start the seventh. Stripling issued a four-pitch walk, which forced Roberts to utilize Morrow for the second night in a row. Morrow escaped the seventh, but Bregman smoked a ground-rule double off Puig’s glove to start the eighth.
The Dodgers were six outs away. Roberts trusted Jansen to get them. Two batters into his appearance, Jansen watched Correa thread an RBI single up the middle that slashed the lead to one.
“I wanted it to be up and in,” Jansen said. “And it just flattened out. He fought it off and hit a line drive. The ball carried the whole night tonight. You can’t do anything about that.”
As the 10th inning loomed, Roberts went with Fields, choosing a right-handed pitcher to face the right-handed hitters at the top of the Astros lineup. Houston laughed at the concept of a platoon advantage. Altuve demolished a fastball. Correa clobbered a curveball, then sent his bat aloft.
Silence pervaded the ballpark. It would not last. After Puig went deep off Giles, he laid his bat gently in the grass. Forsythe set the table for Hernandez, who stroked a single into right field. Forsythe dived across the plate.
The ballpark reeled in response. Like everything else on this night, euphoria felt fleeting. After giving up a single and stolen base to former Angel Cameron Maybin, McCarthy got punished by Springer for a hanging slider. “With both teams going back and forth, it sucks to be on our end of it,” McCarthy said.
By that point, the crowd sounded exhausted, even after Culberson’s homer. A strikeout by Puig ended the night after four hours and 19 minutes, the last four innings an exercise in chaos. The Dodgers do not believe it will break them — but now they have felt the might of an opponent who can.
Inside a gloomy Dodgers clubhouse, Jansen still managed to smile. He relished the thought of another chance to close a game. He accepted a hug from Roberts and another from franchise legend Sandy Koufax. As he walked into the night, Jansen uttered a familiar refrain from Kendrick Lamar.
“We gon’ be alright.”