By Cliff Corcoran
The Astros' 7-6 win over the Dodgers in 11 innings in Game 2 of the World Series Wednesday night was one of the wildest World Series games ever played, with both teams blowing saves, the lead changing hands three times in extra innings and the two teams combining for five extra-inning home runs, an MLB record. Game 2 will also have reverberations in this Series beyond the simple fact of the Astros evening the Fall Classic at one game apiece.
The Dodgers' bullpen bled
Like Ivan Drago in "Rocky IV," the Dodgers' bullpen looked invincible coming into this Series. From Game 1 of the Division Series through Game 1 of the World Series, the Dodgers' bullpen had posted a 0.88 ERA and 0.46 WHIP in 30 2/3 innings, striking out 33 against just two walks. When Brandon Morrow recorded the final out of the seventh inning in Game 2, it marked the 28th consecutive scoreless inning recorded by Dodgers relievers this postseason, which is a record.
However, the Astros made a small nick when Carlos Correa singled to lead off the sixth inning against righty Kenta Maeda, the first hit allowed by the repurposed Dodger starter this postseason. In the eighth inning, they drew blood, when Alex Bregman led off with a double off Morrow and came around to score on an RBI single by Correa off closer Kenley Jansen. In the ninth, Houston opened up a gash, with Marwin Gonzalez leading off the inning with a game-tying home run off Jansen, who hadn't allowed an extra base hit since Sept. 27 and hadn't blown a save since July 23.
In extras, the Astros beat up on the soft underbelly of the Dodgers' pen. In the tenth, Jose Altuve and Correa greeted righty Josh Fields with a pair of home runs. Then Brandon McCarthy, who was making his postseason debut, gave up a single and a George Springer homer for what proved to be the winning runs.
Going forward, that outburst could make Dodgers manager Dave Roberts even more hesitant to scrape the bottom of his bullpen depth chart. More importantly, it should give the Astros newfound confidence in the confrontations they are guaranteed to have against Roberts' best relievers, while planting a seed of doubt in the heads of those pitchers. Jansen, Morrow and Maeda remain outstanding relief options for LA, but they are men, not machines, and not impervious to the power of what was the Major League's best offense during the regular season. Speaking of which ...
The Astros' bats woke up
Talented and powerful as the lineup may be, Houston hit just .187/.271/.294 against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, averaging 2.9 runs per game. The Astros then managed just one run on three hits and no walks in Game 1 of the World Series, only getting a runner past first base on Alex Bregman's solo home run. Through the first 16 innings of this Series, the Astros had scored a total of two runs, both driven in by Bregman.
Then came Game 2's late outburst. In their final three plate appearances, the top four men in the Astros' batting order -- Springer, Bregman, Altuve and Correa -- combined to go 6-for-12 with two doubles and three home runs, scoring four runs and driving in five in a span of just four innings. Yes, much of that came against Fields and McCarthy, but some came against Morrow and Jansen, and Springer, Bregman and Correa each had a single earlier in the game, as well, to give the quartet nine hits on the night. With that, Houston's best hitters found their groove just in time to head home to Minute Maid Park, where the Astros have averaged 5.2 runs per game this postseason.
The Astros stole homefield advantage
Heading to Houston 1-1, this is now effectively a best-of-five series in which the first three of the five remaining games will be played on the Astros home turf. A perfect 6-0 at home thus far this postseason, Houston now has a chance to win the World Series without having to play another game at Dodger Stadium.
The Astros played better on the road than at home during the regular season, but with crowds at a fever pitch in the postseason, they have looked like a very different team in enemy territory. In contrast to the 5.2 runs per game they have scored at home this postseason, the 'Stros averaged just 2.3 runs per game on the road prior to Game 2 of this Series, and had scored a total of just six runs in their previous four road games.
The Astros' win in Game 2 also guaranteed that this Series will extend to Game 5, which will bring Houston's lefty ace, Dallas Keuchel, back to the mound against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, this time in Houston. Keuchel was a hard-luck loser in the low-scoring Game 1 in LA, but he has been better at home all season. Including the postseason, Keuchel has posted a 3.80 ERA on the road this year, but that shrinks to 2.03 ERA at home.
What hasn't changed
Roberts' aggressive use of his bullpen
In the fallout from Game 2, some blamed Roberts for having a premature hook with starting pitcher Rich Hill, and thus over-extending his bullpen. Hill allowed just one run on three hits and three walks while striking out seven, but was pulled after four innings and just 60 pitches when the Astros' order was due up for a third time (Hill held opponents to a .408 OPS when facing them for the third time in a game during the regular season). The Roberts criticism is valid, but I don't expect it to change how the manager operates. His goal in this game was to have Jansen on the mound with a lead in the ninth, and he got to that point. Jansen is no stranger to lengthy outings in the postseason. On each of the three occasions that he was asked to get six or more outs in last year's postseason, he held his opponents scoreless, including a nine-up, nine-down performance against the Cubs in the final game of the NLCS. He had a perfect five-out save against the D-backs in Game 2 of this year's Division Series. After allowing Gonzalez's game-tying home run to lead off the ninth inning Wednesday night, Jansen got through the rest of the inning without further damage, allowing just one other baserunner, a two-out double by Springer. Expect Roberts to stick to his game plan and continue to trust both Morrow and Jansen in extended outings, particularly after Thursday's off-day gives all of his relievers, none of whom reached 30 pitches in Game 2, a day of rest.
A.J. Hinch still can't trust his relievers
Astros fireman Chris Devenski struck out two in a perfect eighth inning while trailing in Game 1 of this Series and got the win in Game 2. Closer Ken Giles pitched a perfect ninth against the heart of the Dodgers order in Game 2. However, Houston skipper Hinch, who opted to use starter Lance McCullers for four innings in Game 7 of the ALCS rather than trust any of his traditional relievers, isn't any more likely to trust his relief aces coming out of Game 2 than he was going into it. The last batter Giles faced in the ninth, Cody Bellinger, missed a game-winning home run by maybe six feet. Then, the next inning, he blew the save. On the postseason as a whole, Giles has allowed runs in five of his six appearances, posting an 8.22 ERA and 1.83 WHIP while surrendering three home runs in a mere 7 2/3 innings of work.
Devenski has been better, his numbers skewed by an outing in Game 3 of the Division Series in which he failed to retire any of the three Red Sox he faced and was charged with three runs. Still, he has allowed a run in two of his last three appearances, including a home run to Charlie Culberson while trying to nail down the win Wednesday night. Prior to Culberson, Justin Turner absolutely scorched a Devenski fastball to Bregman, who snared it for the second out. In the previous inning, Devenski nearly threw Game 2 away, literally, with a wild pickoff throw to second base that, to the Astros' great fortune, hit umpire Laz Diaz, preventing the runner from advancing. Exactly whom Hinch will turn to should Game 3 starter McCullers hand him a slim lead on Friday is anyone's guess.
Cliff Corcoran is a Sports on Earth contributor and a regular guest analyst on MLB Network. An editor or contributor to 13 books about baseball, including seven Baseball Prospectus annuals, he spent the last 10 seasons covering baseball for SI.com and has also written for USA Today and SB Nation, among others.