By HAL McCOY
If there is one thing fans can expect in this most enticing and exciting and enigmatic World Series, it is this: Expect the unexpected.
Who would expect the Houston Astros to fall behind 4-0 and 7-4, then blow a three-run lead in the ninth inning and still win Game 5 Sunday night in Minute Maid Park?
But they did it in one of the most incredible World Series games in history, a tenth-inning walk-off 13-12 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. That gives the Astros a three games to two lead, one win away from the franchise’s first World Series title.
Who expected the Astros to win it against LA closer Kenley Jansen, the practically perfect and peerless closer?
They did it in the 10th inning with two outs and nobody on. Jansen hit Marwin Gonzalez with a pitch and walked George Springer — Jansen never walks anybody. Alex Bregman singled to left field to plate the winning run, ending a game that lasted more than five hours and encompassed nearly 450 pitches.
Who would expect Houston starter Dallas Keuchel to give up three runs in the top of the first and pitch only 3 2/3 innings, the shortest start of his career covering 156 starts?
Who would expect Los Angeles starter Clayton Kershaw to blow a four-run lead, giving up four runs in the fourth inning that began with an uncharacteristic walk and conclude with a three-run home run by Yuli Gurriel? That was the eighth home run given up by Kershaw in this post-season.
Who would expect Kershaw to strike out only two Astros after he struck out 11 in seven innings in Game One? Unbelievably, he had only four swings and misses by Houston hitters all night.
Who would expect that Kershaw would last only 4 2/3 innings and use up 94 pitches, 37 of them balls out of the strike zone, and walk the last two batters he faced?
There was, though, an expected event.
Houston’s bullpen has been wobbly and woeful throughout the Series and nearly blew this one, more than once as it lifted its ugly head Sunday night.
With the score 4-4 after four, Astros manager A.J. Hinch went to Collin McHugh, who hadn’t pitched in 13 days.
McHugh didn’t apply enough 3-In-One oil on his pitching arm to wash away the rust.
McHugh walked the first two Dodgers, Corey Seager and Justin Turner. After he struck out Kike Hernandez, he hung a 2-and-2 curveball to Cody Bellinger and Bellinger hung it into the right field rafters, a three-run home run to give the Dodgers a 7-4 lead.
Bellinger began the World Series 0 for 13 with 10 strikeouts, but had two doubles in Game Four and drove in the go-ahead run during a five-run ninth inning that pushed the Dodgers to a 6-2 victory.
Return now to the unexpected.
Who would expect the Dodgers bullpen to give up a three-run home run? With LA up 7-4 in the fifth inning, Kershaw walked two with two outs and nobody on. Manager Dave Roberts went to his bullpen, arguably the best in baseball. He brought in Kenta Maeda. On a 3-and-2 pitch, Maeda grooved a fastball and Jose Altuve nearly knocked the train off the top of the left field viaduct, a three-run home run to tie it again, 7-7.
The unexpected out of the LA bullpen, but not exactly unexpected out of Houston’s Mighty Might second baseman, 5-foot-6 Altuve, the American League batting champion and MVP candidate.
Who would expect to see Houston relief pitcher Brad Peacock in this game? Two nights ago he pitched 3 2/3 innings of no-run, no-hit baseball but used 55 pitches. Before the game Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Peacock would not pitch.
But there he was on the mound for the top of the seventh. And the first batter, Justin Turner, missed a home run by three inches and settled for a double. He was thrown out at third on Kike Hernandez’s sacrifice bunt attempt.
But Cody Bellinger lined one to center and George Springer attempted a diving catch. The ball skipped past him and rolled to the wall and Hernandez scored to push the Dodgers ahead, 8-7.
Who would expect LA relief pitcher Brandon Morrow to pitch? He had never pitched three days in a row and since he had pitched the last two nights Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he wouldn’t pitch.
But there he was on the mound for the bottom of the seventh, his fifth appearance in six games. And his first pitch to George Springer landed in Dallas, 448 feet from home plate, a home run to tie it again, 8-8. Morrow did not give up a home run during the entire regular season.
Morrow’s second pitch was lined to center field by Alex Bregman for a single and his fourth pitch was whacked to the left center field wall by Altuve for a double and the Astros led, 9-8. And three pitches later Carlos Correa lifted a two-run home run down the left field line and it was 11-8.
Who expected the deflated Dodgers to put up a fight in the eighth after the disastrous seventh?
But with one out, Joc Pederson doubled and Chris Taylor was hit by a pitch. Hinch replaced Peacock with Will Harris. He gave up a first-pitch double to Corey Seager and it was 11-9 with runners on third and second with one out.
Justin Turner lined hard to right field and it looked as if the swift Taylor could score after the catch. Third base coach Chris Woodward yelled, “Go, go, go,” but Taylor thought he was yelling, “No, no, no,” and he stayed.
The unexpected. . .and Chris Devenski came in to retire pinch-hitter Andre Ethier to leave the potential tying runs on base.
Who would think there was another home run in the Houston arsenal? But there was. Brian McCann, Houston’s No. 9 hitter, ripped one into the right field seats off former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Tony Cingrani and it was 12-9.
It was the fifth home run of the game for the Astros. Five different Astros hit homers, a World Series record.
Who expected the Astros to not use their closer, Ken Giles? But he has been ineffective and manager A.J. Hinch said he would not use him Sunday. And he didn’t. Chris Devenski pitched the ninth and it was a calamity — three Dodgers runs to tie it, 121-2.
Devenski walked the first batter, Cody Bellinger.
He struck out Logan Forsythe but, what else? Yasiel Puig hit a home run and it was 12-11. It was the 22nd home run of the Series, an all-time record, with at least one more game, maybe two.
Then Austin Barnes doubled to left center, putting the potential tying run on second with one out. Joc Pederson grounded out, moving Barnes to third. Then on a 2-and-2 pitch, Chris Taylor singled to center to tie it again, 12-12, a three-run game-tying ninth inning.
That took it to the 10th inning and Bregman’s game-ending heroics.
For those without a calculator, Houston’s top five batters had 11 hits and drove in 12 of the 13 runs and scored 11 times. George Springer was 2 for 3 with three runs scored and one RBI. Alex Bregman was 2 for 5 with two runs and an RBI. Jose Altuve was 3 for 4 with three runs scored and four RBI. Carlos Correa was 3 for 4 with two runs scored and three RBI. Yuli Gurriel was 1 for 4 with a run scored and three RBI.
Who expects the Dodgers to recover from this catastrophe when the Series resumes Tuesday in Dodger Stadium, especially with Houston sending Justin Verlander to the mound?
But that’s what the Dodgers thought when they sent Kershaw to the mound Sunday. Remember, this is the World Series of the unexpected.