You thought the way Lance McCullers, Jr. and Sonny Gray tangled in American League Championship Series Game Four was something to behold before Aaron Judge wrecked it? You should have seen World Series Game Four with the Astros’ Charlie Morton and the Dodgers’ Alex Wood going at it, before George Springer put paid to it.
Casey Stengel would have loved it even more than he might have loved McCullers-v-Gray. At least until Springer unloaded on Wood in the sixth and Cody Bellinger led an assault on the Astros’ bullpen in the ninth that, while we’re at it, tied the World Series at two games each with a 6-2 Dodger win, and punctured the Astros’ home field supremacy while restoring that of the Dodger bullpen.
For five and two thirds innings, Morton played Juan Marichal to Wood’s Whitey Ford, Morton working the strikeout hammer and basically out-pitching Wood, but Wood painting the corners and managing to do what no Dodger pitcher had ever before done in a World Series game—pitch five or more no-hit innings.
Even more than during McCullers-v-Gray, you could hear the Ol’ Perfesser marveling:
Those two fellas certainly make baseball look like a simple game, don’t they? It makes you wonder. You pay all that money to great big fellas with a lot of muscles and straight stomachs who go up there and start swinging. And they give ‘em a little of this and a little o’that and swindle ‘em.
Neither Morton nor Wood have Lopat and Roe’s kind of subterfuge. (Lopat and Roe were known, or at least suspected, of putting anything they could think of on the ball—legality be damned.) They only gave each other’s teams a little o’this and a little o’that and swindled ‘em through five full innings.
Until Wood couldn’t swindle Springer on 3-1, and Springer swindled him into the Crawford Boxes over and above the left field fence. It was the first hit Wood surrendered on the night. It was the only hit he surrendered on the night. Because Dodger manager Dave Roberts decided to hand it off to his bullpen right then and there.
There’d have been hell for Roberts to pay if that 1-0 Astro lead held up, mainly for leaving Wood in to begin a third turn around the top of the Astros’ order. Except that relievers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson were perfect for two and a third, and super rook Bellinger picked the absolute right night to break out of a Series-long slump.
After Morton got rid of Justin Turner opening the top of the seventh with a grounder Alex Bregman at third had to knock down before throwing Turner out long and close, Bellinger fought Morton to a full count before ripping one on a high line past left fielder Marwin Gonzalez and off the angled wall for a double.
It knocked Morton out of the game and brought in Will Harris. And it ended a sad Dodger string of going 1-for-17 with men in scoring position in the Series until that point. But this unlikely battle of aces between a pair of number four starters produced a World Series first—the first time in Series history that neither starting pitcher allowed more than four baserunners.
After Yasiel Puig drove Josh Reddick to the track in right for a long out, Logan Forsythe ripped a liner up the pipe to send Bellinger home with the tyer. And Bellinger was only just getting started.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch got what he needed from Chris Devenski in the top of the eighth, even if it took second baseman/MVP candidate Jose Altuve to just barely nip Chris Taylor at first on a ground out for the side. Then he decided to give beleaguered closer Ken Giles another chance.
“I think Ken Giles is going to get another save in this Series,” said Hinch before the Series began its Houston leg. “I think he’s going to get some really big outs. I think when the crowd is standing in this ballpark over the next couple of games, if we can have the lead and he’s the right matchup, he’s going to get the last out.”
No, he wasn’t.
And after Corey Seager opened the ninth with a cue shot single through the right-side shift, Turner wringing out a followup walk, and Bellinger sending one deep to left center to double home Seager with the tiebreaker as Turner took third, Giles’s last outs of the postseason are likely to have been the swinging strikeouts he got on Barnes and Yasmani Grandal in Crazy Game Two—after Puig opened the bottom of the tenth with a solo bomb.
It’s still hard to remember who moved faster Saturday night, Hinch out of the dugout to lift Giles for Joe Musgrove, or Giles walking off the mound, into the dugout, and probably looking for the nearest secret panel through which to disappear.
They needn’t have hurried. Musgrove striking out Puig and putting Logan Forsythe aboard to load up for a double play was just a breather before Austin Barnes hit one high and deep to right, pushing Reddick to the track and deep enough to make it 3-1.
And even that was just a breather before Joc Pederson, likewise struggling before Game Four, but having piled up some impressive battles at the plate earlier in the game, hit one over the right field fence.
“When he did that,” said Dodger closer Kenley Jansen, who shook of an excuse-me solo homer from Bregman to finish the Astros off in the bottom of the ninth, “it put us in the comfort zone.”
The zone neither side was in while Morton and Wood were working their wonders. Between Taylor’s game-opening single and Enrique Hernandez’s single in the sixth, enough time passed for someone to watch back-to-back-to-back episodes of The Twilight Zone.
Which is where the Dodgers might have felt they’d landed when Barnes, who’d been plunked to open the sixth, was thrown out at the plate after Bregman charged a chopper by Taylor and just let fly to catcher Brian McCann. Might have, but didn’t.
Imagine how the Astros felt after the game ended. The Outer Limits wouldn’t necessarily be out of order. And with a Clayton Kershaw-Dallas Keuchel rematch on the Game Five card, the Astros may have the Dodgers right where the Dodgers want them.