HOUSTON -- By the time Ross Stripling managed to get his first out in this World Series, on George Springer, bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh of Game 3, a 400-footer from Springer that needed about five more feet to be a grand slam, it had officially become the World Series of Dodger Pitching Changes. Since Dave Roberts, the Dodger manager, allowed Clayton Kershaw to pitch through the seventh inning of Game 1, there have been 20 innings played since in the '17 Series. Roberts used 17 pitchers in those innings. It's not just a World Series record. It might be a world record.
You know how many relief pitchers A.J. Hinch of the Astros used in Game 3, a game his team won 5-3? Hinch used one: Brad Peacock. Who started 21 games for the Astros this season. Who pitched the game of his life as a reliever in the biggest game of his life. Who didn't give the Dodgers a hit from the time he came in with one out in the top of the sixth.
"We absolutely thought we could get through games like this," Hinch said.
He meant with two guys pitching, and not an army. Because of the way Peacock pitched out of Hinch's bullpen on Friday night, the only Astros pitcher to come through the door and the only one the Astros needed, they are now ahead of the Dodgers two games to one. The Dodgers were an inning away from getting a game off Justin Verlander, and going ahead of the Astros 2-0. But then Marwin Gonzalez hit one out to center field in Dodger Stadium to tie that game, and the Astros finally won 7-6 in 11 innings, in what became an instant Fall Classic classic.
Now the Dodgers need to win a game on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park or they will have to ask Kershaw to save their season on Sunday night. Things change fast in a short series. And change a lot. They just don't change the way Roberts changes pitchers.
Roberts pulled Rich Hill from Game 2 after four innings and one run and seven strikeouts. The conga line began. Eight more Dodgers pitchers in that one before it was over. Six more Friday night through Stripling in the seventh, before George Springer tried mightily to put him and Roberts and the Dodgers out of their misery with a grand slam.
Seventeen pitchers in one 20-inning stretch. In it Roberts really did use everybody except Koufax, Drysdale, Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser. All of whom, presumably, had offered to give him an inning. The ironic part about all of this, considering when Hill got pulled from Game 2 after the way he had pitched, was that Roberts left Friday night's starter, Yu Darvish, out there to give up four runs in the second inning and put the Dodgers in a hole they spent the rest of the evening at Minute Maid trying to dig their way out of, mightily but ultimately in vain.
So much else happened on this loud World Series night in Houston. Yuli Gurriel hit one out to left to start the bottom of the second. Later, after Lance McCullers -- who had sat for half-an-hour while his team was scoring him those four runs in the second -- had walked the bases loaded, Gurriel helped start a double play to help him out of that jam, a beaut of a 3-6-1, a play that reminded you all over again what a wonderful defensive team the Astros are, and have been throughout October. Springer would later make a diving play in short center in the fifth with a runner on third.
The Dodgers may yet come back and get three more games off the Astros out of the next four. But it is the Astros who remain the best show in the sport, as much fun to watch play baseball as it is watching the Warriors play basketball. They were as close as they were to going down two games. They were close to losing a Verlander start for the first time since he joined the team at the very end of August. But they got that tie in Game 2 on Gonzalez's home run -- it will be the moment that altered this Series if the Astros win -- and kept hitting home runs from there to even the World Series.
On Friday night, they got ahead in the Series. Peacock came on to pick up McCullers the way McCullers came on for Charlie Morton in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, also in the sixth inning. McCullers shut out the Yankees from the sixth inning on. The only reason that the Dodgers didn't get good and shut out by Peacock on this big baseball night in Houston is because Peacock threw a wild pitch with Justin Turner on third, and that is how the Dodgers got their last run in Game 3.
Three-and-two thirds for Peacock. No hits. One walk. Four strikeouts. His first career save, "one he'll never forget," as A.J. Hinch said after it was over.
"We didn't get many great at-bats against [Peacock]," Dave Roberts said. "Didn't get many good swings."
It was pointed out to Hinch after he followed Roberts into the interview room that Peacock had indeed picked up McCullers the way McCullers had picked up Morton on the night when the two of them had pitched the Astros into this World Series.
"It's a unique way to win games," Hinch said.
He said: "It's a race to 27 outs with the lead."
Finally he smiled and said, "This postseason I've enjoyed bringing back the three-inning save."
McCullers gave him four in Game 7 against the Yankees. Peacock nearly gave him four on Friday night. Brad Peacock threw 53 pitches against the Dodgers on the baseball night of his life and 35 of them were strikes. Those were the numbers that mattered, on the night when Hinch simply managed the game by what he was seeing from Peacock. Race to 27 outs with the lead. It turns out you don't need 27 pitchers to get them.