HOUSTON -- He came to the Astros in a trade from the Tigers, not just on the last night of August, but in the last moments of the last night of August. Of all the moves that had been made by all the other contenders, this was the last and biggest of them all, because nobody that the other contenders acquired was as great as Justin Verlander had once again become in Detroit. He was not just brought to Houston to be an ace, even on a staff that already had Dallas Keuchel. He was brought in to win the Astros a World Series. That was the job. Now he gets his chance to finish that job, on the last night of October this time.
Before the Astros and Dodgers played Game 5 on Sunday night, and then into Monday morning in Houston, they had asked Verlander in the interview room about his approach in Game 6, whether it would be a clinching game, or the kind of elimination game he had already won against the Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
"No," Verlander said. "No change. Take the ball, try to win."
It is all he has done since he waived his no-trade clause and agreed to a trade to Houston. Verlander has won for the Astros, without losing a game. It looked like he might lose Game 2 to the Dodgers after he gave up two home runs -- the only two hits he gave up that night -- and left trailing 3-1. Of course, everything happened after that, and there were more home runs, from both teams, starting with Marwin Gonzalez's to tie the game in the ninth, before the Astros won in extra innings.
Now more of everything happened in Game 5 -- which the Astros won, 13-12, again in extra innings -- on a night when they trailed the Dodgers 3-0 and 4-0 and 7-4 and 8-7; a night when they blew a 12-9 lead of their own in the top of the ninth. So now the Astros' season is again in Verlander's hand, as it was against the Yankees. He had to win that one so that his team could keep playing. If he beats the Dodgers on Tuesday night, his new team wins the first World Series in its history.
So it has come down to this, in a Series that has so clearly featured the two best teams in the world, in a baseball October that has been out of this world and even better than the last one: The best pitcher in baseball right now tries to follow up one of the best World Series games you will ever see, and win it all for the Houston Astros.
Maybe this Series ends on Tuesday night, ends in Los Angeles, where it began. Maybe it goes one more night after that. But for now, the country will go to a baseball game on Tuesday night. They only play one Super Bowl every year in the National Football League. It now seems as if the Astros and Dodgers have been playing Super Bowls for a week.
"Who knows where this one ranks, right up there with [Game 2] -- back and forth, the two best teams in baseball fighting to the very end and going toe to toe with each other," Alex Bregman said when Game 5 was over.
He is the one who finally ended it in the bottom of the 10th at Minute Maid Park. He singled to left-center and you better believe that Derek Fisher, pinch-running for Brian McCann -- who had been hit by a pitch with two outs and nobody on -- was running all the way with two outs, flying from second base and around third, on his way to scoring the last run of Game 5. This was ages after the Astros' first comeback in this game, bottom of the fourth, against the great Clayton Kershaw, when they were down 4-0. In a blink, they had one run on the board, right before Yuli Gurriel absolutely crushed a three-run homer to make it 4-4.
Gurriel, by the way, hit one off Kenley Jansen in the bottom of the ninth that looked like it might be the eighth homer of Game 5. But he hit it to the worst part of the ballpark, a place in left-center that looks as far away as George Bush Intercontinental Airport. So it was only a long double. And right before Jansen came up and in on McCann and hit him on the arm, McCann had tried to hit his own walk-off home run to win Game 5, a huge shot, high and deep down the right-field line that even McCann couldn't lean fair the way Carlton Fisk once had at Fenway Park in 1975.
That was some game, that Game 6 between the Red Sox and Reds on a night 42 years ago when the Red Sox were trying to stay alive. That was some memorable World Series game. Just not like the one we got from the Astros and the Dodgers on Sunday night and into Monday morning. Just not what we got from Altuve and Carlos Correa -- think of them as the Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant of the Houston Astros -- in Game 5, and Cody Bellinger, who hit one of three three-run homers in the game and even reached into the stands to make an out on a foul ball; and Chris Taylor, who tied it at 12 at 12 midnight, exactly, in Houston.
"Just when I thought I could describe Game 2 as my favorite game of all time, I think Game 5 exceeded that and more," Hinch said.
Baseball had another moment at Minute Maid. Is having a moment this October, even better than the one it had a year ago when it came down to the Cubs and the Indians; when the Cubs came from three games to one down and finally won the team's first World Series in 108 years in another 10th inning, this one at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
After the Astros produced four runs on sseven pitches from Brandon Morrow in the bottom of the seventh to go from 8-7 down to 11-8 ahead -- George Springer home run, Bregman single, Altuve double, Correa home run -- I got a text from my youngest son asking how loud it was at Minute Maid. And I told him it was as loud as I had ever heard the World Series in my life. So loud you couldn't believe your ears, the way you couldn't believe your eyes in Game 5, Astros vs. Dodgers. A constant roar from the home crowd to match the roar of a baseball game that somehow just kept building.
"A roller coaster," is the way Dodgers manager Dave Roberts described what he and what we had all just witnessed.
Baseball has been like that for a week. The Astros and Dodgers have given us Game 2 now, these two teams. They have given us Game 5, an even better game for the ages. Now they go back to Los Angeles for the finish, either in Game 6 or Game 7. As the Astros, for now, get their chance at a dream ending, all they could have hoped for at the end of August:
Their season, this baseball season, in the right hand of Justin Verlander.
Before all the shouts of Game 5, in an interview room underneath Minute Maid, Verlander was asked about the intensity level of the postseason, having no idea what was about to happen between the Astros and Dodgers.
"As soon as the postseason starts," he said, "you're living or dying on every single pitch, and your whole team is living and dying on every single pitch."
Little did he know that the two teams in the '17 World Series were about to play a game that would live forever, in a World Series that will live forever. The two teams go looking for that Hollywood ending now, in a Series nobody much wants to end.