The 2017 World Series got exactly what it deserved -- a seventh game. It will be the first time in 15 years that baseball will showcase a seventh game of the World Series in back-to-back seasons -- and the first time ever for Dodger Stadium.
This Fall Classic has been just that -- plus a little bizarre to boot. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros have leaned on strengths to get to this point, but it hasn't exactly been textbook stuff. It might be tough to top last year's Game 7, when the Chicago Cubs needed 10 innings to outlast the Cleveland Indians and end a 108-year World Series curse, but while the first six games of this matchup haven't always gone to script, they have produced almost unmatched drama.
As we've been told so often, it's all about the pitching -- except when it's all about the hitting, which in reality is about the pitching most of the time. The Dodgers came into this matchup with a decided edge in the bullpen, while the Astros were relying on the strong arm of Justin Verlander to give them needed depth among their starting pitchers.
The Astros were counting on Verlander going undefeated after the trade that brought him from the Detroit Tigers Aug. 31. And he was, until losing, 3-1, in Game 6 Oct. 31, when the last six outs recorded by the Dodgers may also have a direct bearing on tonight's Game 7.
Having seen the implosion of both bullpens in this series, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts took no chances last night, summoning ace closer Kenley Jansen to take charge of the last two innings. If the Dodgers are going to win this series you can almost bet Jansen will need to get six outs for a save or a win.
In the other dugout, the strategy for manager A.J. Hinch is no different than the one employed in Game 6 -- he needs his starter, this time Lance McCullers Jr., to carry the brunt of the load, just as he needed Verlander to do last night. In six sterling innings, Verlander had a mini-lapse that lasted three batters -- enough to produce a single, double and sacrifice fly that produced two runs and wiped out a 1-0 lead.
The Astros needed Verlander to win a 1-0 game. He couldn't quite get there, thanks to a double Dodgers center fielder Chris Taylor poked into right field. It wasn't crushed, but it turned out to be the crusher.
There will be a lot of expensive pieces taking up space in the two bullpens for Game 7. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and Astros' Dallas Keuchel -- who both started Game 1 and Game 5 -- first up if the situation calls for long relief.
With five straight powerful hitters at the top of the lineup, it's difficult to understand why the Astros would ever struggle against left-handed pitching. But watching Rich Hill dominate Jose Altuve at least offered a hint.
By the way, Hill still hasn't thrown more than 80 pitches in a postseason game this year. If the Dodgers keep restricting him to twice-through-the-lineup outings, he's not going to qualify for many more wins -- but that won't reduce his sizeable paycheck any.
Speaking of Altuve, does anybody else wonder why he isn't in the discussion for best player in the game that the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout seems to dominate every year? He's a cinch for the American League MVP Award this season (he'd qualify for my MOP -- Most Outstanding Player -- too) and has deserved to be in consideration more than he has in the past.
I don't know how many 5-foot-6 baseball players there have who combine Altuve's speed and power, but I'm guessing you don't need two hands to count them.
Like most of the reasonably new venues, Houston's Minute Maid Park came into being with its own set of quirks. They finally got rid of the uphill climb in center field, but I'm not sure how they'll ever figure out how to deal with that 90-degree corner in left-center field. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "angles in the outfield."
Houston third baseman Alex Bregman is enjoying a nice coming out party. It makes it pretty easy to understand why the Astros laughed when his name came up in discussions about a possible trade for Orioles closer Zach Britton.
Speaking of Britton, as this series has played out, some have speculated the Astros needed him even more than they needed Verlander. Of course, those speculators overlook the fact that once trade discussions were finished and the O's were officially declared null and void for the season, Britton got the last two weeks off for needed rest.
Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger has one of the sweetest swings these eyes have ever seen. Even his misses are a thing of beauty.
Apparently, Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson's refresher course in the minors this year was time well spent.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxline.com