The Houston Astros’ path to their first World Series title appeared to be set out following their 5-3 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Three on Friday night.
The win gave them a 2-1 series lead and made it seven wins out of seven at home in this year’s post-season. With two more victories needed to claim the title, and two more games coming up at Minute Maid Park, the script was written for a Sunday night celebration in Houston.
The Dodgers’ five-run outburst in the top of the ninth inning of Game Four on Saturday night ripped that script up, spoiling the Astros’ plans but adding an intriguing plot twist for the rest of us to enjoy. A 1-1 level game heading into the final regulation inning turned into a 6-1 Dodger lead that the Astros could only reduce by one run (on Alex Bregman’s homer).
This World Series is officially in a state of Desmond (2-2).
MLB acted quickly by issuing the Astros’ Yuli Gurriel with a 5-game suspension after his offensive behaviour during Game Three. The length of the suspension appears appropriate, the question is whether rolling it over to the start of the 2018 regular season was correct.
On balance, I think the right decision has been made.
The gesture was offensive towards Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish, but it wasn’t something that affected a play or the player during the game. Consequently, there wasn’t a clear need from a fairness standpoint to issue a penalty that affected the rest of the series (i.e. it wasn’t a transgression that cost the Dodgers and therefore fairly needed to be balanced out staight away).
The justified high-profile scrutiny and criticism, and proportionate punishment being issued in terms of length of suspension, also means that I don’t think it would be fair to say Gurriel was allowed to ‘get away with it’ by playing the rest of the World Series.
The Astros’ closer Ken Giles and fellow reliever Joe Musgrove were the fall-guys in Game Four. Combined with watching the previously unbreakable Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen being jumped on in Game Two, it’s made me think of relief pitchers – especially in the high stakes of the play-offs – as being a lot like penalty-takers in football.
The expectation is that a good penalty-taker should score and they can do so even if they don’t strike the ball cleanly or it doesn’t go quite where they were placing it. You get no extra points for style; so long as it goes in you’ve done your job under pressure.
It’s the same with a top relief pitcher. They earn that rank and role by coming out on top time and again, so they are used to handling the pressure and you expect them to do it pretty much every time. They too can succeed even if they miss their spot. If the hitter swings and misses, or makes weak contact and makes an out, all’s well that ends well.
However, as with a penalty shoot-out, one team has to lose and that means someone has to come out on the wrong end of it. Regardless of how good the relief pitcher is and how well they cope with the pressure, the person they are facing in the batter’s box is an elite ballplayer (just getting to the Majors proves that) and are just as desperate to succeed.
As has been written many times before, if it could happen to the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera in 2001, it could happen to anyone. That’s no great immediate solace to the relief pitcher as they trudge off the field, but something for the rest of us to remember as we watch the drama unfold.
The Astros and Dodgers are two excellent teams with some outstanding players. One of them has to lose. The rest of us can just sit back, enjoy the contest and hope it goes the full seven games.