LOS ANGELES — Justin Verlander marched back into the Houston Astros dugout, turned a corner and starting yelling at his teammates.
It was the top of the 11th inning of the instantly classic World Series Game 2, the game the Astros would eventually win 7-6 after a wild comeback to send the series back to Houston tied up. The Los Angeles Dodgers had just thwarted the Astros’ first comeback with a two-run 10th inning. It was a tie game, same as it was after Marwin Gonzalez’s dramatic ninth-inning homer.
The Astros had never lost a game that Verlander started since his end-of-August trade to Houston. He was their missing piece, the front office thought. He sure looked like it through five regular-season games and three postseason starts heading into Wednesday night, plus a relief appearance.
You think Justin Verlander was going to let that end without some yelling? On the same night he carried a no-hitter through the first five innings? You think he didn’t believe? C’mon.
So out marched Verlander, who had retreated to the clubhouse to watch the Astros hit because that’s where he was when Gonzalez hit that homer to tie the game. You know baseball players and their superstitions.
Oh, he’d get back to that same exact spot. But first he had a message for his teammates. Exactly what he said, we may never know. Different Astros players said different things. Like with any good postseason pep talk, folklore had apparently already taken over.
— David Scott (@Finna_Go_HAM) October 26, 2017
“He said ‘Keep playing, keep fighting, let’s go,’ ” said third baseman Alex Bregman.
“He said, ‘Let’s go, let’s go, let’s keep scoring runs. We can do this,’ ” said shortstop Carlos Correa.
“I just wanted,” Verlander said, “to really remind these guys how great they are. I’ve pitched against them, I know how good they are. It doesn’t matter how good a pitcher you are, this lineup can hurt you so quickly. And I guess maybe that was just my message, is stay positive. Remember how good you are.”
Yes, remember how good you are. The same refrain could apply to Astros center fielder George Springer, the guy who struck out four times in Game 1 of this series. The lead-off hitter who had a grand total of three hits in his previous eight postseason games. Manager A.J. Hinch had already been starting to field questions wondering why he was sticking with Springer.
Maybe Springer heard Verlander. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe this crazy Game 2 was bound for another crazy turn either way.
But there was Springer, a few minutes after Verlander’s rant, with Cameron Maybin on second base as the go-ahead run. And there was Springer, silencing every single doubter by launching a pitch from Brandon McCarthy into the right-field bleachers. Forget a go-ahead run. Springer gave the Astros a two-run lead.
“He’s an incredible player,” Hinch said after the game. “I don’t really ride the roller coaster with players. You have to believe in what they can do, not what they’re doing. If you respond to every bad game or tough game, you’ll bounce these guys around and ruin their confidence in a heartbeat. This is one of the our best players. And there’s no need to panic over a bad night against Clayton Kershaw.
“I believe in players, and I specifically believe in George, and tonight is an example why,” Hinch said. “He wasn’t broken, his swing is not bad, he’s not gone for the series. He had a bad night and came back with one of the best nights.”
It wasn’t just the homer. Springer had three hits on the night — the most since his red-hot performance in the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox. Springer looked like he was that guy again.
Alex Bregman’s locker is right next to Springer’s in the visitor’s clubhouse, so he noticed when Springer showed up early for Wednesday’s game. Bregman said he looked ready to go.
“This game has so much failure in it,” Bregman said. “You’re going to go through stretches where you’re not feeling great. and you’re not putting together great at-bats. It’s how you come back, how you bounce back.”
That was the story of the Astros in Game 2. They started strong, with Verlander looking unhittable. Until he wasn’t. Two L.A. homers put the Dodgers up 3-1 and things started to look bad for the Astros.
Before the comeback, the homers and the dugout pep-talk, the Astros looked like they were on the fast track to elimination. You lose the first two games of the World Series with your two aces pitching, and odds aren’t going to be good. Doesn’t matter who you are.
It would have been easy enough to fold right then and there. But the believers believed. And the guy they traded for to save their season might have done just that — but with a rant instead of a complete game.
We saw the Astros’ dangerous offense show up. We saw their resiliency ooze out of the dugout. And saw Houston’s faith — both in Springer and in Verlander being the missing piece — rewarded.
“If you’re beating us, you’re beating us,” Bregman said, smiling in front of his locker. “And guess what, we’re still coming, we’re coming for you.”
Starting with none other than Justin Verlander.
More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:
– – – – – –