For pulling Rich Hill in the fourth in Game Two when Hill clearly lost his stuff, Dave Roberts got roasted because of what happened five innings later. For leaving Yu Darvish in Game Three to get jumped for four in the second on a night Darvish had no stuff to begin with, it wouldn’t be out of line to deep fry him.
What else do you do when Astros manager A.J. Hinch simply rides Brad Peacock—normally a starter, and sometimes the best one on the Astro staff this year B.V. (Before Verlander)—for three and two thirds of near-perfect relief to close it out and win a World Series game in Houston for the first time?
You begin to ponder whether these Astros, 5-3 winners Friday night, really do have a crack at winning their first World Series, that’s what you do. They’re halfway there now. And you ponder whether boiling in oil would be too merciful for Roberts. Because Hinch is willing to do what Roberts now seems unwilling at times to do.
Both managers are two of the modern breed who lean as heavily on analytics and advanced, deep statistics as anyone you could ask for. But when shove came to push, Hinch was willing to trust his vision when his starter Lance McCullers, Jr. finally got punctured in the top of the sixth.
Roberts had eyes to see and still left Darvish aboard to get a full four-run pummeling in the second inning when anyone else with eyes to see could have told him Darvish, who hadn’t pitched since Game Three of the National League Championship Series, had little enough fastball, a slider that saw fit to betray him almost every time he threw it, and everything else in his repertoire reporting to sick call.
“Yu had a hard time landing his slider,” said Roberts. “From the start he was out of sorts. His fastball command was off.” Command off? Darvish could have charged half his pitches with insubordination from the outset.
Hinch’s vision told him that, as long as Peacock was dealing from strength and the Dodgers were going up to the plate without anything much resembling their usual plan, he could ride the Peacock right to the finish. The righthander did allow two inherited runners to score to start things off in the sixth, but even that exposed the Dodgers’ heretofore unexpected scuffling further.
Peacock came in with Corey Seager (leadoff walk) and Justin Turner (a double off a scoreboard on the left field side) aboard and one out (Cody Bellinger, swinging strikeout). He yielded a sacrifice fly and wild-pitched Turner home. Then he battened down the hatch. No matter how many times Hinch had men warming up along the way, the moment Peacock entered the Minute Maid Park PA system might as well have purred, “The following program is brought to you in living colour on B-R-A-D.”
Because the Astro bullpen is still somewhat suspect, even if Game Two exposed the Dodgers as lacking in truly effective long men not named Kenta Maeda. And with Maeda working two and two thirds spotless in Game Three, he won’t be around for Game Four. The Dodgers have no one else fitting his description—a starter moved to the pen for the postseason—up to the job in the Series so far.
You may notice that the two most important wins of the Astros’ postseason were secured that way by starters working out of the pen. McCullers brought it off to put the Yankees to bed for the year last Sunday. And Peacock brought it off to put the Dodgers to bed for the night Friday night.
Darvish looked suspect from the moment he went to work. He was lucky to get out of the first inning alive, when George Springer’s leadoff double was followed by a ground out, a fly out to right on which Springer could advance to third, and a ground out up the middle that looked like it might have been driven downtown with a better swing by Carlos Correa.
Such as it was, his luck ran out an inning later, and it only began when Yuli Gurriel drove a 2-1 pitch into the Crawford Boxes over left field to lead off. With Darvish’s cutter flatter than last week’s Dr. Pepper and his slider sliding like sandpaper, Josh Reddick doubled, Evan Gattis walked on a full count, and Marwin Gonzalez—the destroyer of virtuoso closers already—ripped one off the center field wall to drive home Reddick.
Roberts could and should have seen Darvish didn’t have it. The Dodger bullpen stirred but didn’t shake just yet. And Brian McCann lined one to right center. Gattis was waved home and Yasiel Puig’s throw home missed by a couple of feet.
Finally Roberts scrambled his pen and Springer scrambled a liner caught by second baseman Logan Forsythe. No sign for Maeda, who was warming up in a hurry. Alex Bregman hit a sacrifice fly and Jose Altuve ripped a long double to deep center. Then Roberts brought in Maeda, who promptly got Carlos Correa to fly out to right center and kept the damage to 4-0.
Except for an insane play in which lefthander Tony Watson pounced on a grounder to the third base side of the mound but threw the ball away to let Reddick come home in the fifth, with the fifth Astro run the Dodger pen returned to its customary stinginess. But the Dodger offense fell asleep after Peacock shook off the sixth-inning shakes.
Maybe the biggest out Peacock got on the night was in the seventh, when he walked pinch hitter Andre Ethier with two out and brought Chris Taylor to the plate as the potential tying run. Peacock got Taylor to beat one into the ground for the side, then whipped through the Dodgers in order the rest of the way.
“I’m not trying to bring back the three-inning save,” Hinch said with a tiny chuckle after the game. “But he was cruising. He was in complete control of every at-bat.”
The Dodgers looked absolutely ugly in Game Three. They looked more like the team who lost sixteen out of seventeen near the end of the season than the team who absolutely ruled the National League for most of the season. They couldn’t even cash more than a run in—and that one scoring on a double play—when McCullers gifted them with the bases loaded on three straight walks and nobody out in the third.
The only thing uglier in Game Three was how Gurriel celebrated his leadoff blast off Darvish.
The Astros’ first baseman returned to the dugout, took the expected bath of high fives and pats on the back and elsewhere, then sat on the bench making the old disgraceful slant-eyed gesture for a split second. It wasn’t split enough to keep a camera from capturing it and sending it viral.
Bad enough taunting the poor sap you just hit for distance. But Gurriel pleaded after the game he was only trying to tell his teammates he wasn’t normally lucky against Japanese pitchers and didn’t think anyone would take his gesture otherwise. “If he feels offended,” Gurriel said for and presumably to Darvish, who is Japanese-Iranian but raised in Japan, “I want to apologise to him.”
Darvish’s night was rough enough without something like that facing him; assorted reports indicated he was told of the gesture during the game. At first he denounced the gesture as disrespectful when told about it and, presumably, shown it. Then, he softened. ”No one is perfect,” he said in a statement. “That includes both you and I . . . Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let’s stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on the anger. I’m counting on everyone’s big love.”
Which was pretty gracious coming from a man whose stuff abandoned him and whose manager left him in to take a nasty early beating anyway.
If the commissioner’s office suspends Grandal a game during the Series, it’ll bruise Grandal’s ego—not to mention proving that nobody of any race is immune to a brain vapour—but it won’t bruise the Astros overall. The way they’re playing now, and the way the Dodgers aren’t, the Astros could send a bat boy out in Gurriel’s place and he’s liable to hit for big enough damage or steal a couple of would-be extra base hits up the line.