LOS ANGELES — At some point after the hills around Dodger Stadium caught on fire and a drunken fan jumped into the Astros’ bullpen, there was a home run, a longer home run, an even longer home run, and a home run after the home run after that. There was an umpire moonlighting as a hockey goalie to prevent the winning run from scoring, and there was an immaculate bullpen that couldn’t stop allowing runs. The Astros were dead before they were alive before they dead before they were alive before they were dead before they were victorious, and as the smoke poured into the ballpark, it was impossible to know if the whump-whump-whump of the helicopters around the ballpark were for the fire or the World Series, and it’s not like anyone could tell the difference.
The Houston Astros have their first World Series win in franchise history, and they had to earn it. They had to clamber over the narratives and self-doubt to reclaim their identity as the lumber-thumping monsters under every pitcher’s bed, and they had to figure out which wire to cut, while the timer on the homemade bomb was ticking down to zero. They had to beat Kenley Jansen, who is an improbable analog to Mariano Rivera, who was improbable to begin with. They had to pick themselves up off the floor after yet another dismal offensive showing threw the first seven innings, and they had to focus after their bullpen blew yet another sure win. It was as if Ra’s al Ghul crushed up a blue flower and made the Astros confront their deepest, darkest fears from the last week, and they succeeded anyway.
Hands up if you remembered that Josh Reddick scored the first run of the game.
There was a solid two hours of Game 2 where I was going to center this article around the Branch Rickey quote, “Luck is the residue of design.” Rickey was the former GM of the Dodgers and a sabermetric pioneer, and that quote was the perfect prism through which to watch this game. For the first seven innings, it was clear that the Dodgers had the luck, and they had the design. It didn’t matter where one started and the other ended. All that mattered is that they were never going to lose again, even if that’s not how baseball is supposed to work.
Take the Chris Taylor play in the fourth inning. Here was a middle infielder playing center field for the 58th game in his professional career, and somehow he hadn’t been tested. The ball didn’t find him, as it often finds inexperienced defenders. It’s luck that he hadn’t been tested with a game-changing defensive play; it’s design that the Dodgers sought him out and helped him reach his potential; it’s luck that the Mariners didn’t balk at the trade. This can go on for a while.
But he was finally tested with that game-changing defensive play, and he kind of whiffed it. A more experienced centerfielder would have made sure it didn’t get by him.
It hit off the bill of his cap. Not the side of his head. Not his nose. Right off the bill.
It didn’t carom back to the infield. It didn’t zing past him to the warning track for a possible inside-the-park homer. It went right to Joc Pederson in left field.
The hat prevented a run from scoring. It might have prevented two runs.
It was like that for everything. Yasiel Puig effortlessly moved the runner over to third with no outs (design). Corey Seager’s home run might have gone out on a cool autumn night, but it was hot again, so there was no question (luck), except he was around because the Dodgers thought more of him than over a dozen ostensibly smart MLB teams (design) and then they developed him into a superweapon (very much design). Everything that could go right for the Dodgers was going right for them, just as it had for most of the regular season, and at some point, you have to drop the l-word out of your vocabulary. A working factory is also the residue of design, and the Dodgers were just better at everything.
Except that’s not how baseball works. That’s never how it’s supposed to work. Baseball isn’t supposed to be solved. There’s no game theory that leads to a perfect bullpen and baseballs off caps. My notepad read “BASEBALL SHOULDN’T BE THIS EASY,” and it was underlined several times. The Dodgers were 55-11 from June 7 through August 25 this year, and this was that team again. They had solved baseball. Again.
It’s not like the baseball gods were going to correct the discrepancy immediately, though.
Except that’s exactly what happened. The key play of the game might have been a catch that wasn’t made, even if it was a minor miracle that there’s a human being alive who was capable of getting a glove on it.
That close. That was in the eighth inning, and it brought the Astros a run closer. It was poor luck that Puig didn’t catch it, except it was design that Bregman was capable of hitting an opposite-field shot like that, except it was … hot damn, this is exhausting.
That run meant the Astros were just a run away from tying the game, with the only problem being that Kenley Jansen was a helluva boss level. He had put hitters behind 0-2 in 98 plate appearances over his career. Just five batters managed to get a hit after that. The last time he allowed a homer on a 0-2 pitch was in 2016.
Then Jansen threw a pitch here to Marwin Gonzalez:
It was the worst possible cutter from a pitcher who specialized in the best possible cutters. Is that good luck for Gonzalez or bad luck for Jansen because that’s the time his nervous system decided to float a cutter over the plate? Was it good design for Gonzalez or bad design from Jansen, or both, or … hot damn, this is exhausting.
Also, the unseasonably warm weather and hot air probably helped this ball get out, too. It wouldn’t be the last homer of the night helped by the climate.
The Puig non-catch started an avalanche. After the Astros stayed alive because of a ball that ticked off a possible Gold Glover’s glove in right, there was a mystery cutter to tie the game, and then there wasn’t just a lone home run in the 9th, but another one in the 10th and another one just after that for insurance.
Nothing epitomized the silliness of this game, though, more than Chris Devenski’s throw into center field that should have ended everything. There was no luck in the Dodgers’ ninth inning. There was only design. Yasiel Puig hit a ball into the abyss, calmly laying his bat down, which is somehow even more disrespectful than throwing it in the air. Logan Forsythe took a hard-earned walk with two strikes and two outs in the ninth. The Astros kept screwing up, first with the walk, and then with a wild pitch. Kiké Hernandez shot a ball through the right side to tie the game. The crowd was berserk. The Astros’ closer was out.
And then, before Devenski could even throw a pitch, he gave the Dodgers the game.
I don’t know. It’s impossible to tell if that would have allowed the runner to score. The trajectory of the ball was taking it into left-center, and Cameron Maybin was shaded well into right-center, so I’m going to say that Laz Diaz is the reason why the Dodgers don’t have a 2-0 lead. Or, more accurately, Devenski’s pickoff throw was so bad, that it ended up working out.
Even if the runner wouldn’t have scored, it was still a mess. Devenski was feeling something like this:
The winning run would have been on third, and Devenski couldn’t do anything right. But then it all worked out. What was luck? What was design? None of it matters. Baseball is forever a jumble of that happened, now deal with it. This game was the purest example.
There were dingers and dingers and more dingers and record-setting dingers. If we’re going to swipe at Marwin Gonzalez’s wall-scraper, we have to acknowledge George Springer’s. The hot air was not a friend to the Dodgers. They thought it was, but it stabbed them in the back, comforting the Astros in Game 2, instead. Which is lousy luck. Except those Astros players have been designed to hit those balls in the air in the first place. It’s a complicated mess, but so is baseball. It’s your stupid fault that you’re into it.
There were wild pitches, long home runs, a fan jumping into the Astros’ bullpen, and fire, fire, fire! There were helicopters circling and police sirens whooooooping loudly into the night.
The end result was that the Dodgers and Astros combined for more home runs than in any other World Series game in history. They hit more homers in extra innings than any other team had ever done, including postseason. And they both needed baseballs to hit caps or umpires to win. Nothing about Game 2 made sense, even after you concede that the sport can be a little weird. This whole mess was beyond weird.
The only thing the Astros know is they have home-field advantage in a best-of-5 World Series now. The details will fade, unless you go out of your way to look them up. All we know is that the wildest postseason game in years, if not a generation, tied the series up, 1-1. There was luck on both sides, and there was design residue on both sides. It was the Astros won, even after the Dodgers looked like baseball’s perfect team throughout the postseason and parts of the regular season.
That’s not how baseball will ever work, though. There are no perfect teams. There are just good teams who get shot into the pinball machine and cascade down. The Dodgers were perfect, and then the Astros turned it all around. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but the important part is that they aren’t, either.