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Brad Peacock gets the nod for Astros’ marathon save in Game 3

HOUSTON, TEXAS OCTOBER 27, 2017-Astros relief pitcher Brad Peacock pumps his fist after defeating th
Astros relief pitcher Brad Peacock pumps his fist after recording the final out against the Dodgers in Game 3.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

So much for the sanctity of a save, of the importance of ninth-inning familiarity. With his aggressive bullpen decisions in two of the Houston Astros’ last three victories this postseason, manager A.J. Hinch has demonstrated how much he values closing experience: very little.

Each time, Lance McCullers Jr. and Brad Peacock have proved his intuitions well-reasoned. On Friday night at Minute Maid Park, as the Astros surpassed the Dodgers 5-3 in the third game of this World Series, Peacock earned his first career save by firing 3 2/3 no-hit innings.

He entered in relief of McCullers, with two men on and one out in the sixth. He exited after the game ended.

When Peacock returned to the dugout after the eighth inning, he was certain he was done. Then Hinch asked him how he felt, he said he was fine, and Hinch said the game was his to finish.

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“I was shocked,” Peacock said.

Out he went. Seventeen pitches later, the Astros’ 2-1 series lead was secure.

“This is the race to 27 outs with the lead,” Hinch said. “When the guy’s doing his job, there’s only so much I need to explain.”

In sticking with Peacock, Hinch bypassed his available closer Ken Giles and setup man Chris Devenski, just as he did in the seventh game of the American League Championship Series. That night, McCullers finished the final four innings to send the Astros to the World Series.

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“We’ll be forever linked,” McCullers said.

But on that game’s eve, McCullers already knew his save was the plan. He had hoped to earn the Game 7 start. When he didn’t, Hinch phoned him to cheer him up, telling the pitcher he’d rather have him finishing the game than starting it.

On Friday, Peacock first began to warm in the Astros’ bullpen in the third inning. No one warms in the third and finishes games.

“Bringing a starter into the game out of the bullpen, when it doesn’t go well, it feels like he wasn’t prepared,” Hinch said. “When it does go well, you go on to the next game.”

In the ALCS, McCullers took advantage of a combative New York Yankees lineup, spinning curveball after curveball. In the World Series, Peacock seized on a Dodgers lineup that was repeatedly missing. His fastball moves more than most, rendering it difficult to square up, but it still bisected the plate more often than not.

“They weren’t taking really good swings off me,” Peacock said.

Since the save’s invention, only two pitchers had ever recorded World Series saves of that length: Madison Bumgarner in 2014, completing San Francisco’s Game 7 win over Kansas City, and Steve Howe in 1981, finishing off the Dodgers’ triumph over the New York Yankees in six games. No one had ever done it without allowing a hit.

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McCullers drew a knowing contrast between his start and Peacock’s finish.

“I grinded through every out that I had,” McCullers said. “Pea just absolutely flourished with the opportunity. He looked unbelievable. It’s tough, especially as a starter, to be able to come out and keep your emotions in check with such a big game.

“He was just oozing with confidence. It was really easy to tell.”

Taking issue with the widespread characterization of Peacock’s season as a “Cinderella story”, McCullers launched into a spirited defense of his teammate’s long-standing potential.

Skills notwithstanding, it was wonderfully unlikely. In 2017, the 29-year-old Peacock registered one of the best surprise seasons in the sport. Before he logged a 3.00 earned-run average over 132 innings, he owned a 4.57 career mark.

In years past, he had entertained the idea of pitching in Japan. This year, he arrived at spring training thinking he’d miss the opening-day roster.

“Someone got hurt,” he said. “Now, I just had a save in the World Series. It’s unbelievable.”

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pedro.moura@latimes.com

Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura


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