Have I seen this before? Yes, just over a year ago, I did. Same scene, different year. On the television feed, it was practically the same shot: The scene of Sebastian Vettel exiting the pit lane at Melbourne just ahead of Lewis Hamilton. The circumstances this year were a little different. Last year, the Ferrari prowled on Hamilton’s Mercedes from the start. Vettel overtook Hamilton through pure pace and a successful overcut pit strategy. This time around, fortune smiled upon the Scuderia.
The retirements of the Haas cars just around midway through the race brought out a Virtual Safety Car period to neutralize the field. Hamilton had led the race from the start and just pitted, while Vettel stayed out and inherited the lead from third place. Vettel was still waiting for a call to pit when the VSC was deployed to retrieve Romain Grosjean’s stricken Haas at Turn 2. Bingo, Ferrari just found the perfect time to pit Vettel. The experienced F1 viewer would have seen right away that this was effectively a “get out of jail free card” for Vettel. True enough, he made his way out of the pits just ahead of Hamilton. Just like last year, Vettel getting out of the pits ahead of Hamilton was the definitive moment of the race.
A full Safety Car period shortly followed but that had little effect at the head of the field. When the race restarted, Vettel maintained his lead while Hamilton couldn’t get close enough to challenge. Hamilton tried to keep constant pressure on the leader but at one point, ran wide into the grass at the chicane at Turns 9 and 10. Vettel then finished the job, coming away with the season-opening win for the second successive season.
Vettel and Ferrari would admit that it was a rather lucky win, thanks in large part to the VSC period. Mercedes appeared to have the superior car as far back as preseason testing in Barcelona two weeks ago. Hamilton was peerless in Qualifying to secure pole position. Meanwhile, Vettel wasn’t very sharp throughout the grand prix weekend. He could only qualify at third behind teammate Kimi Raikkonen and even spent much of the race’s opening stint just trying to keep up with the Iceman. No discredit to Vettel but this was a win that he could thank his lucky stars for and he knows it. He and Ferrari will take it.
There are 20 races to go in another lengthy Formula One season. Ferrari may have taken Round 1 but Mercedes is still arguably the stronger team. At this time last year, the Mercedes-Ferrari battle was very evenly-matched but this year, the Scuderia are already in catch-up mode. The season has only started but the clock is already ticking and it is undeniably loud for the Prancing Horse.
When I woke up last Wednesday morning, the first piece of news that I came across was of Roy Halladay’s passing. An amphibious airplane that he was piloting crashed into the sea. He was only forty years old.
Halladay was one of the most exceptional starting pitchers in baseball during the past decade. He started his big league career in 1998 with the Toronto Blue Jays, establishing himself as one of the best and most respected pitchers in the game. He transferred to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010, where he continued his run of brilliance until injuries slowed him late in his career. He retired after the 2013 season. He was a two-time Cy Young Award winner and an eight-time All-Star selection. The two highlights of his career came from his outstanding 2010 season, his first in a Phillies uniform. He pitched a perfect game against the Marlins in May and then a no-hitter in the NLDS against the Reds. They were truly magnificent performances, showing that Halladay was the best pitcher in the world that year. He was unmatched.
Among the countless tributes was this gem by Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy saying, “Roy Halladay was your favorite player’s favorite player.” The former closer for the Brewers John Axford also shared how he emulated Halladay on his way to a call up to the big leagues. When Charlie Morton was with the Pirates a few years ago, he tailored his wind-up delivery to look like a duplicate of Halladay’s. He’s found a career resurgence recently, as I very well know, having seen him earn a couple of big Game 7 wins for the Astros in this year’s ALCS and World Series.
When I started to become a baseball fan, Roy Halladay was the first player that I truly idolized. Back then, at age 12, I developed a mild obsession with pitching statistics—win-loss records, ERA, strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games, shutouts. Right away, I noticed one pitcher whose numbers were unlike anyone else’s. Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay: The man with the insane amount of complete games. I did a little research, reading up articles about this fascinating pitcher. I learned about his stoic demeanor on the mound—always poised and composed. I learned about how he was once taught by a pitching coach to master two pitches: a sinker and a cutter. He was told to aim for the middle of the plate; that way the sinker would go down and away from a left-handed batter, the cutter down and away from a right-handed batter. ‘Doc’ mastered it and built a career out of inducing quick groundball outs. Efficiency was the name of the game. Low pitch counts meant he could pitch more innings. At a time when the game’s most efficient pitcher Greg Maddux’s career was already waning, it seemed clear that Halladay was the successor to his legend.
I still remember the first time I saw Roy Halladay pitch. It was a late September game in 2007 between the Blue Jays and the Yankees. I couldn’t find any archived video footage for reference so I could only rely on memory (I saw the live game on TV and two re-runs) and a box score recap from Baseball Reference.
The game turned out to be a pitching duel between him and the Yankees’ Chien-Ming Wang. Like Halladay, Wang also had a heavy sinking fastball. Both Blue Jay and Yankee hitters were hitting into groundball outs. In the seventh inning, the Blue Jays finally rallied to score two runs off Wang as Halladay continued to hold down the fort for Toronto. Being new to baseball at that time, it was very seldom for me to see a pitcher pile up so many easy outs and continue pitching deep into the game. In fact, I was still so new to the sport at that time, that I had yet to see anyone throw a complete game.
Trying to nail down the shutout, Halladay came back in for the ninth, with the top of the Yankees order due up. He had a four-run lead and still looked fresh, as if he could pitch into the next day. He’s got this, I thought. A string of Yankee hits leads to a run but Halladay still managed to get two outs. The last hope for the Yankees was Jorge Posada. The Yankees catcher hits a groundball but reaches safely due to a throwing error, leading to another Yankees run. Toronto manager John Gibbons takes the ball from Halladay to end his night. Show’s over. I was really rooting for him to get that complete game.
With a 4-2 lead and one out away from a win, Blue Jays reliever Scott Downs would give up consecutive run-scoring singles. When the Yankees tied the game, the camera panned to Halladay in the dugout, wide-eyed and completely stunned. The look in his eyes was of complete astonishment and I imagine he’d also gritted his teeth. I sympathized with him, seeing how such a wonderfully pitched game was squandered. The Blue Jays at least managed to win in extra innings.
In that game against the Yankees, I felt like I witnessed a master’s showcase of his specialty. He was one out shy of the complete game win but his performance—picking apart the opposing lineup for an entire game—was really just a typical day in the office for ‘Doc.’ Truly, his career was that of brilliance and mastery.
He was a pitcher idolized by many. “Your favorite player’s favorite player,” indeed. May he rest peacefully.
An astonishing 104-win regular season led to a fifth consecutive National League West Division Championship for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They proceeded bulldoze the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS. They dethroned the defending champion Chicago Cubs within five games in the NLCS to secure their first pennant in 29 years. The road to the World Series might have looked easy for the Dodgers but it was evident that the entire team was simply firing on all cylinders. Manager Dave Roberts had all the components and assembled them strategically for a mean, blue winning machine. Arguably, there was no other team more deserving than the Dodgers to represent the National League in the World Series. It was only fitting that their counterpart was truly the best of the American League, as well.
There were only three teams that eclipsed the 100-win mark in the regular season; the other two being the Cleveland Indians (102 wins) and the Houston Astros (101 wins). Cleveland once steamrolled through a 22-game winning streak for most of September but was sent to an early elimination by the New York Yankees in the Division Series. Houston meanwhile, quickly dispatched of the Boston Red Sox. In the ALCS, the Astros erased a 3-2 series advantage from the resilient Yankees to claim the American League pennant in seven hard-fought games.
The date was then set for the World Series, with the first two games in Los Angeles. One team was well-rested and had lots of practice time while the other was slightly more fatigued and battle-hardened. Two of the best teams during the regular season had finally met each other, setting the stage (in Hollywood, no less) for a titanic match-up.
The first six games were fought tooth-and-nail between the two teams. Game 2 was crazy. Game 5 was manic. In both of those clashes, the Astros emerged victorious. Game 6 saw the series move back to Dodger Stadium for the potential final two games. On the brink of elimination, the Dodgers stared down Astros ace pitcher Justin Verlander on the mound. Verlander blinked first. The win infused new life to the Dodgers, as they waited to bring home one final win the following night.
I may be repeating a cliche, but in American sports, there’s nothing bigger than Game Seven. Winner-take-all. Do or die. A blockbuster of a Fall Classic was about to culminate in Hollywood. The script that had written itself through the first six games was already unimaginable.
The Game 7 pitching match-up was similar to that from Game 3—Yu Darvish for the Dodgers and Lance McCullers Jr. for the Astros. Darvish struggled mightily in a short outing in Game 3 but this time around, at least he has more relief pitching available for backup, including Clayton Kershaw. The same can be said for the Astros but McCullers pitched decently in Game 3. I felt confident that the Dodgers had the advantage in terms of pitching, provided that the offense can duly recover any squandered lead.
In the first inning, Darvish quickly gave up two runs to the Astros, who started with a frenetic aggression. Moving on to the bottom half with an immediate deficit, the Dodgers managed to load the bases but failed to score a run despite Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig getting hit by pitches from McCullers.
Darvish continued to struggle in the second inning, giving up another run before the dagger came with two outs. George Springer launched a two-run home run, his record-tying fifth of the series, to give the Astros a 5-0 lead. Just like in his previous start, Darvish was pulled after only 1.2 innings. Brandon Morrow took over to end the inning without further damage. For the rest of the game, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Alex Wood combined to shut down the Astros lineup. Not bad, right?
The problem was that the Dodgers lineup was likewise shut down. Heading to the bottom of the second inning trailing by five, the Dodgers offense had all night–eight half innings, to be exact–to at least erase the deficit but they couldn’t. The Astros pitchers stepped up and the Dodgers had no answer, save for a solitary run batted in by Andre Ethier in the sixth inning. Contrary to my expectations, the Dodgers offense looked impotent. Rookie sensation Cody Bellinger struck out three times in four at-bats, again looking completely helpless against McCullers’ curveball. NLCS co-MVP Justin Turner’s bat remained cold at the plate. Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson were held at bay. The once dingy Astros bullpen was stable when it mattered most.
McCullers lasted 2.1 innings and was relieved from the mound by Brad Peacock, who recorded the next six outs, followed by Francisco Liriano and Chris Devenski for one out each, completing the first five innings. In the sixth inning, the Astros turned to Charlie Morton, the Game 4 starter, to continue the good work. Suffice it to say that Morton was on fire, despite being the one to give up the lone Dodgers run. He worked the final four innings for the Astros, getting better as the night progressed. Dodger bats were completely neutralized, and some were even pulverized, quite literally. For the final out, Morton got Corey Seager to hit a groundball into a defensive shift in shallow right field to end the game.
The Houston Astros are World Series champions for the first time in their franchise’s history.
While there’s no shame in the Dodgers losing against an equally tremendous opponent that they stretched to its limits through seven games, I just couldn’t help but feel slight disappointment that the Boys in Blue played arguably their worst game of this year’s postseason. The two most glaring statistics for the Dodgers were: (a) 10 runners left stranded on base, (b) 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position. Stranding baserunners, combined with not getting hits in clutch situations, has been a familiar way to see the Dodgers lose. I’ve seen it through the years. And this had to happen in Game Seven of the World Series. It’s incredibly frustrating that it all fell apart at just the most inopportune time.
The Dodgers made it to baseball’s biggest stage with all the right pieces to the puzzle. They had a full deck of cards to finally win a World Series title for the first time in 29 years. This year may not have finished in complete triumph (I started believing in a championship win as early as June and I’m sure other fans felt the same), I still have confidence that they are perennial contenders in the playoffs, considering what the future holds.
Dave Roberts has shown trustworthy competence in just his first two years as manager. Yasiel Puig, “the wild horse”, has found plate discipline. Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager, the franchise cornerstones, will also mature over the years. Clayton Kershaw will remain one of the best in the business, as will Kenley Jansen in closing out games. Joc Pederson picked no better time to reemerge than in the World Series. Chris Taylor and Justin Turner, the MVPs of the NLCS, will still be important veterans in the lineup. Julio Urias, not a teenager anymore, will return and should be ready next season. I could go on with some more names: Rich Hill, Kike Hernandez, Austin Barnes, Logan Forsythe, Brandon Morrow. All the pieces of this team clicked with the entire roster moving like clockwork. Sadly, they just couldn’t seal the deal.
If this was the Dodgers’ winning formula, the Astros (I wouldn’t necessarily label them the “antidote”) simply had the more effective formula that got the job done. Look no further than the top of their lineup: George Springer (the World Series MVP), Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa. Even Yuli Gurriel, who I hope has sincerely learned to avoid making racist gestures, is actually a decent hitter in the fifth spot. Their pitching staff has young arms, spearheaded by former Cy Young Award-winner Dallas Keuchel. And if Justin Verlander decides to sign a new deal with them, they are downright dangerous. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they follow one World Series appearance with another. Given the state of the Dodgers, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to predict next year’s Fall Classic to be a rematch.
I don’t really know what roster moves the Dodgers will make this offseason but I sure hope to see many familiar faces come Opening Day next spring. There’s a lot of talent in this team that can set up together to mount another campaign towards glory. The 2018 season is five months away. “Next year,” is once again a familiar phrase among those on the field and those cheering them on, myself included.
Because I rarely go out of my way to watch regular season games, I always look forward to October as the month of the year to watch a whole load of good quality baseball. Playoff baseball has this uncanny magic to it, a harbinger of some amazing moments. This year, I was once again reminded of the fascinating unpredictability of baseball and why I love to watch it. It has been a thrilling ride through the playoffs and the World Series with this Dodgers team. To commemorate this run, I plan to order the Dodgers on-field hat with the World Series logo. Even in a losing effort, I’m still proud of the way the Boys in Blue played. At times over the past month, I’ve reflected on how or why I’ve become so devoted to a baseball team in the other side of the world, yet I could offer no certain explanation.
Ninth place at the Mexican Grand Prix was all that Lewis Hamilton needed to bring home his fourth World Drivers’ Championship. It was a luxury that Hamilton was able to afford after an astonishing run of races following the summer break. Starting from the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in late August, Hamilton won five of the last seven races, with his only shortcomings being a second-place finish in Malaysia and the ninth-place in Mexico. Coming into this past Sunday’s race, Hamilton already had such a commanding advantage atop the championship standings. The man known for “Hammer Time” needed one final nail to firmly secure the 2017 championship.
After winning two out of three intra-team championship battles with then-teammate Nico Rosberg, Hamilton took on an inter-team foe this year, as Sebastian Vettel led an imposing Scuderia Ferrari campaign to topple Mercedes at the top of the grid. Ferrari’s SF70H machine was widely-considered as the best car among the rest of the field due to its versatility—it worked well on both low-speed and high-speed tracks. But Mercedes has been the best team in F1 since 2014 for a reason. Aside from still having the grid’s most powerful engine at the back of the W08 Hybrid, they executed as a team when it counted most, capitalizing on their rivals’ mistakes and making no mistakes of their own.
Mercedes clinched the Constructors’ Championship last weekend in the US Grand Prix, their fourth consecutive title, but the Drivers’ Championship had been openly up-for-grabs all season (at least up until the Hungarian Grand Prix). Vettel and Hamilton traded race wins very early on, as an unpredictable duel for the driver’s crown was built up.
For the past seven races, however, that particular duel has been a rather one-sided affair. The summer break was the turning point of the title race, where one driver (along with his team) kept his nose clean while the other driver (along with his team) not so much.
Hamilton carved a defining championship run over the past two months, beginning at the Belgian Grand Prix. At Spa, during a Safety Car restart, Vettel had one chance to challenge for the race lead but Hamilton eked out enough power out of his Mercedes engine to hold his rival off.
The following week, Mercedes marched into the Scuderia’s backyard and annihilated the entire field in what was arguably their most imposing race of the season, scoring the one-two finish with Hamilton taking the win. At that point, Hamilton took the championship lead but many thought that his new advantage would be short-lived, considering that the next few tracks supposedly favored the Ferraris.
Indeed in Singapore, the two best cars were the Ferraris and the Red Bulls. Vettel put on a breathless qualifying lap to assume pole position for the night race. The following night, a rain shower pelted the streets of Singapore right before the start of the race, an unprecedented situation of a wet night race. Heavily favored to win, it only took just over a hundred meters for Vettel’s race to meet catastrophe. Hamilton, starting from fifth on the grid that night, took the lead as the two Ferraris and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen all took each other out within the first half minute of the race. Counting his lucky stars after a calm, trouble-free start, he tiptoed his way around a damp Marina Bay Street Circuit to clinch the win and more importantly, an instant 25-point advantage against Vettel.
Looking for a bounce-back performance in Malaysia, Vettel would instead be hindered after an engine failure in Qualifying forced him to start the race from the very back, while Hamilton secured another pole position. For the Mercedes driver, all he needed was keep his cool under the punishing Malaysian sun. For the Ferrari driver, a valiant comeback drive was required. Hamilton led early but the red-hot Red Bull of Verstappen was hungry for a race win. Hamilton played it safe to finish in second place. Meanwhile, Vettel delivered on his requirements, clawing his way up the field to finish fourth.
A week later in Japan, the Mercedes looked strong, as Hamilton scored another pole position. Needing to keep pace with his rival, Vettel’s luck would run out completely when a rare spark plug issue forced him to retire from the race after only a few laps—easily another zero-points weekend for the Ferrari driver. Hamilton, shaking off a late challenge from Verstappen, would claim victory in Suzuka.
At the US Grand Prix, Hamilton started the race from pole and won. Vettel took the lead at the start but was overtaken later on. The Ferrari had no answer to the Mercedes as it became clear that Hamilton was running away with the championship and Vettel’s hopes were dimming.
Even with the odds heavily stacked against him, Vettel still fought for and claimed a pole position in Mexico. The Mercedes was again challenged, so Hamilton qualified third. At the start of the race, it was Verstappen, the second-place starter, who impressed with an overtake around the outside at Turn 1. Having lost the lead right away, Vettel drove a bit clumsily, losing pieces of his front wing following contact first with Verstappen and then Hamilton. The second contact resulted in a puncture to Hamilton’s right-rear tire. The two championship contenders had to pit immediately for the damages they sustained, falling to the back of the field. Vettel fought back to a fourth place finish while Hamilton could only go as far as ninth, since he lost more time in the first lap. Nonetheless, that result was good enough to beat Vettel in the championship fight.
There’s no doubt that Vettel pushed himself to the limit when it was required of him, as seen in his performances in Malaysia and Mexico. The costly accident at the start of the Singapore Grand Prix was a staggering blow to his chances but his early exit from the Japanese Grand Prix due to a faulty spark plug was the one that really hurt. On both occasions where Vettel was helpless, Hamilton maximized the damage by scoring wins.
Both the Drivers’ and the Constructors’ titles have made it back to Brackley. In a tense championship fight, Lewis Hamilton emerged triumphant by stringing together a strong seven-race run that proved decisive.
There are two races to go this season but no more titles are on the line. From now on, it’s all about bragging rights.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts likes to micro-manage his relief pitching and there’s little doubt that it’s been successful. Might I even call his game plan bulletproof. It is however, not foolproof. The plan’s Achilles heel is that it doesn’t allow for any backup plans. There is no Plan B to fall back to. So when Game 2 of the World Series went to extra innings, the Dodgers bullpen was left with its pants down.
Throughout the regular season, the Dodgers have nailed down late leads thanks to a bullpen that was widely regarded as the best in the league. Dodgers relief pitchers combined to set a Major League record for consecutive scoreless postseason innings, setting the bar at 28 innings until the Astros snapped that streak in Game 2 of the World Series. And they made sure to finish the job.
Roberts’ micro-managing of the Dodgers pitchers, while historically and statistically effective, leaves little room for error. I noticed that Roberts freely deals out his best relievers almost without considering the possibilities of a blown save or of a game going to extra innings.
As a baseball fan, it didn’t take long for me to realize that no relief pitching corps is entirely trustworthy. Even if a dominant Kenley Jansen is pitching in the ninth to protect a three-run lead, I still hold my breath. Even if the statistics say, “The Dodgers have the lowest bullpen ERA; relax,” I still hold my breath. Although it rarely happened this season, it’s still always a nightmare when relief pitchers cough up a late lead.
Indeed, a rare Kenley Jansen blown save threw away the Dodgers’ first chance to win Game 2. With the Dodgers leading 3-2, the Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez led off the top of the ninth inning with a solo home run to tie the game. Jansen was already in his second inning of work, having been called upon early to record three outs in the eighth. The big man is certainly no stranger in dealing with saves that require him to go over and beyond his regular call of duty of three outs in the ninth. Roberts doesn’t hesitate on doing this since Jansen has really developed into a reliable closer over the past few years. But even the most reliable pitchers are prone to cracking.
I don’t normally like to play with “what-if” situations but Roberts’ bullpen management in this game warrants it. Rich Hill started the game and while he wasn’t exactly awful, he gave up only one run and kept the game close considering his Astros counterpart, Justin Verlander, was dealing. Roberts prefers Hill face each opposing batter only twice, so here we actually have a starter limited by batters-faced instead of pitches or innings, as is more common. Hill finished four innings and never came back out for the fifth despite being only down by one run and having only thrown 60 pitches.
Kenta Maeda, a member of the starting rotation in the regular season, has been very effective as a reliever in the postseason, so he got the ball from the fifth inning onwards. By the time Maeda returned to the mound in the sixth, the Dodgers had tied the game. He was supposed to face the two right-handed Astros batters but recorded only one out. In a similar vein to Hill’s batters-faced limit, Maeda is only used against righty batters. Maeda has been a season-long starter and has been collecting easy outs in the playoffs, so why not keep him in the game longer? It wouldn’t have made much difference but what if Roberts ditches his righty-righty matchup and just let Maeda pitch against a lefty batter? He could have finished the sixth and maybe even the seventh inning.
Instead, Roberts decided to bring in a lefty pitcher Tony Watson to face a lefty Astros batter. With just one pitch, Watson induces a groundball double play. Okay, great! The Dodgers then went ahead 3-1 on Corey Seager’s two-run home run.
With three innings to protect a two-run lead, Ross Stripling gets called to ideally finish the whole seventh inning. He instead gives up a four-pitch walk to the leadoff hitter, prompting Roberts to call in Brandon Morrow. In the perfectly ideal situation, like in Game 1, Morrow wouldn’t come out until the eighth and Jansen until the ninth. But here he was, pitching as early as the seventh inning. The Morrow-Jansen late innings tandem had to collect nine outs.
Morrow got through the seventh with no trouble and came back out for the eighth. Leading off for the Astros, Alex Bregman ripped a ball to right field that bounced into the seats for a ground-rule double. Yasiel Puig made a spectacular diving attempt for a catch but couldn’t get there in time. Roberts pulled the hook on Morrow to bring Jansen in. After the first out, Carlos Correa hit a single to drive in Bregman and cut the Astros’ deficit to just one run. That was effectively the start of the tried-and-tested game plan for the Dodgers bullpen.
When the game went to the tenth inning, the Dodgers had already used up four of their five best relievers—Maeda, Watson, Morrow, and Jansen—with only the left-hander Tony Cingrani available. But who does Dave Roberts call? Josh Fields.
Fields, who looks like a Wyatt Family member with his beard, was sent to face the heart of the Astros’ lineup: Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Yuli Gurriel, all right-handed batters. Fields gave up back to back solo home runs and then a double, failing to even record an out. Only then was Cingrani brought in to clean up the mess. Amazingly, the Dodgers succeeded in immediately tying the game back up in the bottom of the tenth but giving up the two runs shouldn’t have happened in the first place. The next inning, Brandon McCarthy, having missed all of August, having pitched in only three games in the last month of the regular season, and having been left off the postseason roster until the World Series, was brought in for the eleventh inning. He was rusty, so he gave up the decisive two-run home run to George Springer.
Seriously, Josh Fields against Altuve and Correa? Suppose Hill stuck around for five or six innings, Maeda wouldn’t have been used too early. Suppose Maeda was brought in for the seventh, Stripling wouldn’t have been wasted and could have instead gone out in the tenth, with Cingrani waiting in the wings as solid backup.
At least we can chalk it up as a one-off clunker. The Astros is a tremendous team on offense and there’s probably no better team than them able to pick apart the Dodgers bullpen. I don’t recall Jansen hitting a slump any time recently so it wouldn’t be surprising if he bounces right back up, faultless, the next time Roberts calls his number.
The statistics will still say that more than 97% of the time, the Dodgers will convert an eighth inning lead into a win. And with a bullpen that has cracked only once in ten postseason games this year, we can still generally say that Roberts’ plan works. But not all plans work perfectly, so for the benefit of the team and nervous Dodger fans, I hope there is a Plan B that we can count on.
On a sweltering October night in Los Angeles, the Dodgers and the Houston Astros clashed in one of the most exhilarating World Series games ever played. It was the second game of the best-of-seven series, with the Dodgers scoring the first win the previous night. From the other side of the world, I watched it on television, witnessing a combined total of eight home runs hit, the most in any one World Series game. The affair lasted eleven hard-fought innings, with the two teams, like two heavyweight boxers, trading blow after blow in the late stages. The Astros won by a score of 7-6 and even though the team that I cheered for was on the losing end, this game was nonetheless utterly fun to watch. Playoff baseball is amazing.
As a writer, I will indulge myself in typing up the game story, albeit mostly from the perspective of only one team, and unfurling the excitement that came with the ups and downs. I think this makes for an enjoyable writing exercise in storytelling. For a sports fan like me, it’s joyful to write the stories of these spectacles with gripping, unpredictable narratives that take you along as the moments develop. Admittedly, I’m straddling between objective and opinionated on this post so it may not be the best written account of a baseball game that I produce but this was simply an awesome game that I still can’t stop thinking about even after a few hours since its conclusion. It was a memorable game for me, so for posterity, I’m writing about it.
In my offhand World Series prediction, I didn’t like the chances of a Dodgers win in Game 2. In Game 1, they had Clayton Kershaw on the mound, and nailed down an important win because of what came next. The Astros had Justin Verlander pitching in Game 2, who had been undefeated in this year’s postseason. Particularly in the ALDS against the Yankees, his march towards this year’s World Series has been a showcase of his strengths as one of the best pitchers in the Majors—pitch velocity and stamina. Coming off two electric starts against New York, he was named the MVP of the ALCS. So I was resigned to accept that if the Dodgers can’t get to him, it would have been just fine.
The Dodgers matched Verlander up with Rich Hill, sticking to the usual pitching rotation. He may not look as intimidating a pitcher as his counterpart but the 37-year-old lefty is crafty and effective. Whereas Verlander’s pitches had zip, Hill’s had spin.
As always, Hill tossed slow but lively curveballs complemented by a deceptive fastball that caught Astros hitters out despite barely topping 88-mph on the radar gun. A somewhat shaky third inning led to the Astros’ first run but that was it. Hill had been cruising but manager Dave Roberts pulled him out of the game after only four innings. It has always been mentioned that Hill struggles on his third “lap” around the opposing lineup, not mention that Roberts has been unhesitatingly keen on going to his bullpen for early relief pitching. Kenta Maeda, who was normally a starter during the regular season, took care of business in the top of the fifth inning. No trouble there.
Meanwhile, as I have predicted, Verlander was bulldozing through the Dodgers lineup. His pitches were on-the-money and he looked indomitable. However, it took only one pitch to unsettle the giant. Joc Pederson launched a home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to tie the game up at one apiece. Suddenly, a tiny bit of vulnerability was fleshed out from Verlander. An inning later, NLCS co-MVP Chris Taylor drew a two-out walk. Corey Seager then proceeded with a two-run home run. Dodgers up by two. At that point, they had effectively beaten Verlander.
All that was needed to be done was to shut the Astros down for three more innings. It seemed like just another routine job for the Dodgers bullpen to handle. Ideally, Brandon Morrow pitches in the eight inning, followed by Kenley Jansen in the ninth if all goes well. Ross Stripling was brought in for the seventh and promptly gave up a four-pitch walk. Not taking any chances, Roberts called in Morrow quite early and it worked, as it curtailed any attempt of a rally from the Astros. Morrow was asked to continue on into the eighth but he gave up a leadoff double to Alex Bregman. Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig made a spectacular diving effort for the catch but to no avail.
Kenley Jansen came in for a six-out save assignment, as he’s used to getting more than the usual three outs anyway. The Astros didn’t miss a lot of his pitches and would score just one run in the eighth. Crisis averted once again.
In the top of the ninth, with the Dodgers up by only one, Kenley comes back out for his second inning. He gives up a solo home run to Marwin Gonzalez. Just as the Dodger hitters scraped at Verlander and left him scratched, the Astros clawed back on the Dodgers bullpen and this one left a wound. By the time the game went to extra innings, this wound turned into a laceration.
With Maeda, Tony Watson, Morrow, and Jansen all used up, who do the Dodgers call upon? Right-hander Josh Fields was called in, primarily because the Astros hitters due up were also righties. Fields then coughed up back to back solo home runs to Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Lefty reliever and former Cincinnati Reds closer Tony Cingrani mopped up the mess.
The Astros had to send their closer Ken Giles back in for a second inning of work in the bottom of the tenth. Puig hit a solo home run to close the gap back to one run. With two outs, Logan Forsythe drew a walk, then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Kiké Hernandez slapped a single to bring home Forsythe, dramatically tying the game again. The Astros replaced Giles with Chris Devensky, who recorded the third out. Two runs was all the Dodgers could produce but at least it wasn’t over yet.
In the eleveth, with virtually no options left, the Dodgers turned to Brandon McCarthy, who worked primarily as a starter and was only making his first ever postseason appearance in his entire career. The rust immediately showed after Cameron Maybin singled to lead off the inning, followed by a George Springer two-run home run. The Astros unbelievably took back their two-run lead. Mercifully, McCarthy wouldn’t cause further damage after that.
Another comeback was required from the Dodgers. Seager flyed out. Justin Turner lined out. Charlie Culberson hit a solo home run to cut Houston’s lead back to one. With two outs, Puig was up to the plate again and battled Devensky very well but ultimately struck out to end the tremendous back-and-forth game.
The Series, now tied 1-1, moves to Houston for the next three games. It’s now effectively a best-of-five and a race to three wins.
On the weekend of the 2002 United States Grand Prix, I was only seven years old. It was the same weekend that I had my appendectomy. I had the operation on Saturday morning and spent the next two days in the hospital, traumatized by the IV needle stuck in my left arm and the fact that I had just been professionally sliced open and had an organ, albeit useless, pulled out from my insides. Looking back, I’m quite amazed that I only spent two full days confined in hospital because I felt like I was there forever. After the longest 48 hours of my life, I was discharged on Monday morning.
When I got home, I still moved very gingerly but I thought that at least I wasn’t in the hospital anymore. And at least I can finally eat again after being disallowed to ingest any food by mouth for two days.
That evening, my dad and I caught a rerun of the F1 US Grand Prix on television. What better way to instantly lift my spirits back up! I sat back and tried my best not to get too excited over the start of the race lest I over-exert myself and my nightmare scenario of re-opening my surgical cut came true. Thankfully, I controlled myself and it was highly likely the first time I’ve ever watched an F1 race without jumping up and down in excitement.
The race featured a dominating Ferrari performance, typical during the early 2000s. Michael Schumacher led the way, followed closely by Rubens Barrichello. No wonder I didn’t get too excited because this was the kind of race that I was so used to seeing!
And then came the ending. Schumacher and Barrichello were pretty much cruising through the final few bends. Suddenly, Michael slowed down, allowed his teammate to get alongside him to finish the race side-by-side. On the official results, Rubens finished 0.011 seconds ahead of Michael to claim the win. The result had little effect on the championship, as Michael had already become champion at that point.
Two Ferraris taking the checkered flag line astern sure made for an awesome image. Earlier that season in the Austrian Grand Prix, Rubens was set to take the win but slowed down after the final corner, yielding the victory to Michael in a very controversial finish. In the Italian Grand Prix, the Scuderia’s home race, the two Ferraris finished together in formation but Rubens had a clear advantage of about a car’s length. In Indianapolis, they attempted it again and I never imagined that it would be so shockingly close at the line. I never imagined that Michael would slow down a bit too much and I thought that maybe Rubens would keep back a little more.
I was familiar that these finishes more often happened in American oval racing, so it was really special to see it happen in F1, despite the circumstances being that it was induced artificially. It was a moment that really popped out when I saw it for the first time and still pops out every now and then when I’d randomly recall F1 memories from my childhood as a dedicated fan of the sport.
Ultimately, this moment had a tiny bit of artistic purpose which was nonetheless fulfilled. It created a stunning image of two scarlet Ferraris crossing the finish line together. It created an eye-popping moment for the sport that would be remembered for years to come as one of the absolute closest finishes in F1 history. And personally, it created a colorful memory that made me immediately put behind the miserable time I spent as a patient in the bleak, austere environment of a hospital.