HOUSTON – Over the course of the three minutes he spoke after another late-inning disintegration, Ken Giles uttered the word “tomorrow” eight times, as though the Houston Astros might use him in Game 5 of the World Series the way they did Saturday in Game 4. This will not happen. Giles is broken, and scant time remains in the Astros’ pursuit for a championship to run the risk of another collapse at his hands.
Defiant, accountable and self-assured, Giles stood in front of the throng of cameras at his locker and declared himself ready to throw again after an eight-pitch debacle that turned a tie game into a 6-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Like Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, the Astros witnessed a sterling start in Game 4 of the World Series devolve into late-inning mess with Giles front and center.
Gone was the Astros’ spotless October record at Minute Maid Park, where 43,322 greeted Giles’ walk off the mound with a cascade of boos. The Astros said goodbye to their series lead as well, with Los Angeles tying it at two games apiece and ensuring a return to Dodger Stadium. Lost, too, was the chance for Giles to pitch in another meaningful situation this season, because with so few innings remaining, Astros manager A.J. Hinch no longer can rely on Giles, even if his raw stuff remains among the best in Houston’s janky bullpen.
Tomorrow brings Game 5, brings Clayton Kershaw, brings another minefield through which Hinch must navigate to find 27 outs. The hope is Dallas Keuchel, the Astros’ starting pitcher, goes deep and Collin McHugh, regularly a starter, can play the same role Brad Peacock did in Game 3, in which he finished the game with 3 2/3 shutout innings. Then, with Peacock fresh to relieve Justin Verlander in Game 6 and Charlie Morton, author of an excellent Game 4 start, there to piggyback on Lance McCullers Jr. for a potential Game 7, the Astros don’t find themselves in quite as dire a position as it may seem.
Still, the collapse of Giles not just this series but all postseason put the Astros, who entered October with a dubious bullpen, in an even more precarious situation. Giles has pitched seven times this October. He has allowed runs in six of those games, the first pitcher to do so since Jose Mesa, who blew Game 7 of the 1997 World Series for Cleveland.
The idea that the 27-year-old Giles will get the opportunity to do the same is farfetched. Beyond the parade of starters-as-relievers that Hinch may employ, he’s got Will Harris and Chris Devenski, who don’t particularly frighten Dodgers hitters. Neither Luke Gregerson nor Francisco Liriano, the unused relievers on the Astros’ roster, matches up particularly well with Dodgers hitters and would likely be called upon only in a low-leverage situation.
That same scenario might be Giles’ only shot for pitching again Sunday, even if he believes otherwise.
“I’m going to be ready to go tomorrow,” Giles said. “I’m going to go after them tomorrow. And that’s all there is right now.”
All there was in Game 4 were baserunners. Hinch tabbed Giles to pitch the ninth with the heart of the Dodgers’ order coming to the plate. Corey Seager greeted him with a groundball that scooted through the right side despite an extreme shift intended to prevent against it. Justin Turner walked on five pitches. And Cody Bellinger, who broke an 0-for-the-World Series streak with a seventh-inning double, followed with another to the left-center-field gap, scoring Seager and staking the Dodgers a 2-1 lead.
“They’re all crappy pitches, not where I want them,” Giles said. “I need to do better. I need to pick up this team. I need to carry my weight. I need to do better for these guys.”
He’d said the same after Game 2, in which he blew a two-run lead in the 10th inning only to be rescued the next inning by the Astros’ offense. His struggles were apparent then, and Game 4 not only exacerbated them but uglied his stat line, with the other reliever on the roster, Joe Musgrove, allowing a sacrifice fly and three-run home run to Joc Pederson that turned a taut, tense game into a laugher. Giles’ ERA this postseason is now 11.74. Since the ALCS began, he has faced 28 batters. Fourteen have reached base.
It’s particularly staggering considering how good Giles was going into the postseason. In the second half, he struck out 44 in 30 1/3 innings and allowed only four runs. His issues from 2016, during which he lost the closer’s job early in the season and didn’t regain it until that August, had vanished. At his best, Giles throws a high-90s fastball and a wipeout slider. Few closers feature better raw stuff.
When Giles struggles, he tries to fill up the bottom half of the strike zone, even though his greatest successes come when he’s throwing high fastballs and burying sliders. He fell into that pattern again in Game 4, and the Dodgers pounced on the mistakes, with Bellinger punishing a thigh-high fastball.
“I just need to make better pitches,” Giles said. “I need to be ready. I need to go out there with a vengeance and be ready to go tomorrow. Just gonna pound that zone tomorrow. And if it’s just one out, I’m gonna get that one out and get me on track.”
He sees a kindred spirit in Bellinger. He was the 0 for 13 in the series with eight strikeouts. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts fielded questions about dropping him in the lineup. He stuck by Bellinger.
“Just like I am, he was one hit away,” Giles said. “He was one pitch away. I’m on the same path right now. And I’m going to be ready. And it’s gonna come tomorrow. I’m going to be ready to go.”
He might be ready. He might even be one pitch away. This series is too close for the Astros to risk using him, though. Ken Giles had his chance – seven of them, really. He could’ve been pitching important innings in his team’s pursuit for a championship. Only an aphorism applies to him and especially his word choice: In a World Series this close, there is no tomorrow.