The Houston Astros tilted the World Series on its axis Wednesday night.
The best offense in baseball slumbered through the first 16 innings of the Fall Classic against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, scoring two runs. Then it awakened, stripped L.A. closer Kenley Jansen of his invincible sheen, and rode the long ball through the 10th and 11th innings to eke out a 7-6 Game 2 victory to steal home-field advantage.
One of the great games in World Series history has recast the underdog Astros into a real threat to take down the Dodgers, the sport's best team from wire to wire.
"We didn't come to L.A. thinking we couldn't beat them," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said.
The Astros now get three games in Minute Maid Park. They have won all six postseason games they have played at home this month, including a pair of American League Championship Series elimination games against the New York Yankees. They averaged a sizeable 5.2 runs in those games, and they feed on the passion of a fan base that has endured despite suffering through the natural disaster of Hurricane Harvey.
"We're excited about it. The confidence is there," Astros right-hander Justin Verlander said. "Hopefully we can carry this momentum back to home. This is a game we probably shouldn't have won. Everything went right for the Dodgers until it didn't. ... I expect the momentum to carry into the next three games."
The Los Angeles bullpen had thrown 28 consecutive scoreless innings when Jansen was brought in with one on and no outs in the eighth to get a six-out save. And despite the fact Jansen hadn't blown a postseason save in 12 chances, this is where the Houston bats stirred.
Verlander, the stellar veteran acquired from Detroit on Aug. 31 and 9-0 in nine appearances since, had retired to the clubhouse after working the first six innings and exiting down 3-1. He returned to the dugout between the eighth and the ninth to exhort his teammates.
"So many people say how great this bullpen is for the Dodgers and how our offense has been struggling," Verlander said. "I just wanted to remind these guys how great they are. They showed it in the late innings."
"We have an offense that can make a lot of things happen very fast," Altuve said. "Now we play in front of the fans we love. We want to give them something ... win for them."
Don't get the impression this is going to be some sort of easy task now for the 'Stros.
There is an adage in baseball about momentum being the next game's starting pitcher. And while Houston will pitch right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. in his first outing since stifling the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS for the final four scoreless one-hit innings with his devastating curveball, the Dodgers are pitching Yu Darvish.
Los Angeles acquired the right-hander from the Texas Rangers at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. He will be the best pitcher on the free agent market this winter. Darvish is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA for the Dodgers in the postseason and has pitched remarkably well at Minute Maid Park: 4-1 with a 2.16 ERA in six starts.
It would have made sense for Darvish to start Game 2 instead of Rich Hill, but his track record in Houston informed the choice, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
And this glitch for the Los Angeles bullpen that seldom fails has not shaken the manager's faith. Roberts said, "I'll always take (Jansen) with a one-run lead in the ninth." Jansen said the Gonzalez home run came on a breaking pitch that stayed flat, but added, "I'll be ready to go Game 3."
This postseason has already shown something very unusual about the Astros and momentum. In the ALCS against the Yankees, New York manhandled Houston through the middle three games in New York for a 3-2 series lead. The Astros looked like a team going home to get closed out, but they proved they play their best at home.
This time they are going home with the momentum. We still haven't seen that yet, but the way the Astros were launching balls out of Dodger Stadium, it now feels like anything could happen.
"These are two incredible teams that are going to fight: seven-game series, you have to win four," Hinch said. "We've each won one. It doesn't mean it's going to be over in five, but it could be. That's the reality of these series."