HOUSTON – The last time they played a Game 4, the Houston Astros were in the American League Championship Series, and their bullpen devolved into a sputtering mess in a loss to the New York Yankees. In Game 4 of the World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers treated them just as rudely and guaranteed there will be another game in Dodger Stadium this October.
A double from rookie Cody Bellinger precipitated a ninth-inning meltdown by Astros closer Ken Giles, and a Joc Pederson home run capped the outburst in a 6-2 victory that evened the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.
What started as a well-pitched matchup between the team’s No. 4 starters turned into a horror show for the Astros with the entrance of Giles, their struggling closer, into a 1-1 game in the ninth. Corey Seager singled. Justin Turner walked. Bellinger’s RBI double handed Los Angeles a 2-1 lead.
The Astros had not trailed over the first 71 innings of their postseason at Minute Maid Park. What came next stunned the 43,322 in attendance silent.
Reliever Joe Musgrove struck out Yasiel Puig, offered an intentional walk to Logan Forsythe to load the bases and saw Austin Barnes plate Turner on a sacrifice fly. Then Pederson launched a three-run home run deep to right field. It was 6-1, and with Kenley Jansen giving up a solo home run to Alex Bregman – only the Astros’ second hit of the game – but finishing the ninth inning, the series was tied and Houston had lost at Minute Maid for the first time this postseason after winning its first seven home games.
For the first five innings, Charlie Morton and Alex Wood engaged in a fascinating pitchers’ duel. Morton pounded the bottom half of the strike zone with 96-mph sinkers, looping curveballs and fading splitters. He dominated the Dodgers much as he had the Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. The Dodgers mustered one hit off him over the first five innings. He needed just 50 pitches and struck out seven.
Wood wasn’t as sharp as Morton. He didn’t feature the overwhelming repertoire of pitches. All he did was throw 5 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball in only his second appearance in the last 32 days. The Astros couldn’t solve him until the lineup turned over a third time, George Springer came to the plate and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts faced a decision.
Los Angeles is as process-oriented an organization as exists, and with Springer a significantly better hitter against left-handed pitchers and Brandon Morrow warming and ready in the bullpen, Roberts could have pulled Wood in the middle of a no-hitter he wasn’t going to finish or let him pitch to Springer. He chose the latter. Springer deposited a ball 394 feet into the left-field Crawford Boxes and gave the Astros a 1-0 lead.
It was short-lived. Astros manager A.J. Hinch stuck with Morton despite a wobbly sixth inning, in which he needed an Bregman-to-Brian McCann play at home to escape a first-and-third-with-one-out pickle. Bellinger, who had been hitless in 13 previous World Series at-bats, doubled into the awkward left-center-field corner adjacent the Crawford Boxes with one out in the seventh. Morton exited, Will Harris came on and with two outs, Forsythe ripped an RBI single into center field to tie the game.
Though the starting pitchers dominated the first two-thirds of the game, neither factored in the ultimate decision. The Astros’ bullpen made sure of that.