The most heartbreaking losses are the ones that should have been wins, and so it was with the Astros’ 6-2 defeat by the Los Angeles Dodgers last night in game 4 of the World Series. For most of the game--all of it, in fact, until the top of the ninth inning--we watched a Fall Classic completely worthy of the name. We marveled at the mental and physical stamina of both starting pitchers, Charlie Morton of the Astros (who gave up just 3 hits and one run during 6+ innings of work), and Alex Wood of the Dodgers (1 hit, 1 run, 5+ innings). We thrilled to George Springer’s solo shot into the Crawford Boxes in the bottom of the sixth inning, and at least respected the Dodgers for coming back to tie the game in the top of the seventh. Although Will Harris gave up a single to second baseman Logan Forsythe that allowed L.A. to tie the game (after Morton had allowed a double to first baseman Cody Bellinger), he and Chris Devenski both delivered strong late-inning relief performances, as did the Dodgers’ Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson.
Which takes us to the top of the ninth inning, when the score was still tied 1-1, and the Astros’ closer Ken Giles was brought in to face the 2-3-4 hitters in the Dodgers’ lineup. It was then that the story took a dramatic and terrible turn. So delicate was the balance of the game, only 8 crappy throws to the plate (“crappy” was Giles own word for them later) and a period of mere minutes were all that was needed to turn a possible win for the ‘Stros into a probable loss, and it took only a few minutes more for Joe Musgrove, stepping in for Giles, to seal our fate in game 4. For the record, Giles gave up a single to Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, a walk to third baseman Justin Turner, and Bellinger’s second double of the night, while Musgrove delivered a pitch that Joc Pederson, the Dodgers’ DH, sent over the right field wall for a three-run homer.
Whatever our feelings on the efforts of Giles and Musgrove, and whatever our feelings on Hinch’s decision on when and why to bring them in, game 4 taught us a few important lessons about baseball, and maybe a few about life as well. For one thing, the game is as much about preventing one’s opponents from developing a sense of confidence--and trying to develop your own--as it is balls and strikes. Belief in oneself and one’s team matters tremendously in baseball, and both build on themselves. It can’t be a coincidence that Bellinger, who had previously gone 0 for 13 in the series, hit a second double last night after hitting his first one, and it would not surprise us in the least if the Dodgers, having now discovered that they can win in Houston, won again tonight in game 5.
Nor would it surprise us if they didn’t, because in baseball, as perhaps in life, as important as confidence and the momentum it generates can be, the most important thing to remember about each is that they’re fleeting. Both spring up and disappear in an instant. The best teams, the winning teams, it seems to us, are the ones that have an almost intuitive sense of when such moments are coming, for both their opponents and themselves, and are therefore ready to act immediately to either prevent or make the most of them. We’ve no good idea how they develop such intuition, nor how much of that skill is present in the brain trusts of Houston and L.A. But it’s a good bet that we’ll find out who possesses more intuitive wisdom in the days ahead, and a good bet too that the team that does will win the World Series.
Game 5 of the World Series begins tonight at 7:20 at Minute Maid Park, and will also be televised on Fox. Game 6 will start at the same time on Tuesday evening in Los Angeles, as will game 7, if necessary.