Astros remain unbeaten at home in playoffs with 5-3 defeat of Dodgers in Game 3
Built like an airplane hangar, named after orange juice, the contours of Minute Maid Park evoke camp and claustrophobia.
The foul poles are sponsored by Chick-fil-A. A conductor runs a train beyond the left-field fence, high above the Crawford Boxes, which beckon for home runs only 315 feet from the plate. The retractable roof creates a caldron of noise.
On Friday evening, in the second inning of Game 3 of the World Series, the quirks of this ballpark taunted Dodgers starter Yu Darvish as the Houston Astros battered him en route to a 5-3 victory to capture a 2-1 series lead. The Crawford Boxes swallowed up a homer smashed by Houston first baseman Yuli Gurriel. The building rattled with so much noise that Darvish had to duck his head so catcher Austin Barnes could shout instructions in his ear. The advice wasn’t enough.
The Astros sizzled enough hits for four runs, building a deficit that the Dodgers’ offense could not overcome and creating a mess for manager Dave Roberts with implications beyond Friday’s loss. Houston remains unbeaten at home in the postseason. The Dodgers now understand why. Two days after a bullpen collapse in Game 2, Darvish imploded at the start.
“He just really didn’t have the feel, and couldn’t get any type of rhythm going,” Roberts said. “Right there, you found yourself after five outs down, 4-0, I had to go to the ’pen to give us a chance to stay in that game.”
The crowd serenaded Darvish with jeers when Roberts exited the dugout with two outs in the second inning. The abbreviated outing forced Roberts to ride Kenta Maeda for 22/3 innings, which effectively removes him from appearing in Game 4 and possibly Game 5. Maeda kept the Dodgers within sight of the Astros, but the offense bungled early opportunities and could not touch Houston reliever Brad Peacock, who went the final 32/3 innings in relief of starter Lance McCullers Jr.
The details of Darvish’s outing illuminate the pain. It was the shortest outing of his career. He generated only one swinging strike in 49 pitches. In the second inning, the Astros hit five balls with an exit velocity of 99 mph or more. Darvish looked miserable in the moment, the television cameras capturing his unraveling.
As Darvish crumbled, his teammates picked an inopportune time to play sloppy baseball. They ran into outs on the bases. They made two errors in the field. The quartet of Chris Taylor, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger went one for 13. Bellinger struck out four times, including thrice against McCullers.
The usage of Maeda could have grave consequences. Roberts refused to concede the game, hoping that his offense could even the gap. Except by expending Maeda on Friday, Roberts removes a weapon from his holster and adds pressure on Game 4 starter Alex Wood. Wood could not finish the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs in the second round. Houston presents a much thornier challenge.
“When your starter goes five outs, you’ve got to find a way to cover some innings,” Roberts said. “Everyone tomorrow is available, outside of Kenta. Alex is going to have to go deep.”
As the Astros prepared to hit in the bottom of the first, the right-field scoreboard replayed the highlights from Game 2. There was Yasiel Puig diving and just missing a crucial double by third baseman Alex Bregman. There was outfielder Marwin Gonzalez taking Kenley Jansen deep for the tying run in the ninth. There was outfielder George Springer launching the game-winning homer off Brandon McCarthy.
Houston could craft an entire reel of footage off Friday’s second inning.
Darvish had thrived inside this strange space. In six starts here, all made while he pitched for Texas, Darvish owned a 4-1 record with a 2.16 earned-run average. Most of those outings occurred against an Astros team tanking to rebuild and reach this stage.
Darvish lacked the feel for his cutter and his slider, the weapons he utilized to handcuff the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Cubs. His cutter kept riding high in the strike zone. His slider hung over the plate. His fastball command was pitiable. “The breaking ball just wasn’t there tonight,” Roberts said.
Gurriel walloped a 95-mph fastball to start the second. The ball soared into the Crawford Boxes.
Gurriel celebrated in crass fashion. In the dugout, he made a gesture that mocked Darvish’s facial features. Gurriel apologized after the game. Darvish was magnanimous, though he referred to the gesture as “disrespectful” to Asian fans, and suggested Gurriel may have damaged his organization’s reputation.
“He made a mistake,” Darvish said through his interpreter, Hideaki Sato. “We have to learn from it. We are all human beings.”
In the next at-bat, former Dodger Josh Reddick stroked an opposite-field double. Darvish walked designated hitter Evan Gattis. The skittishness caused Roberts to visit the mound.
The message did not land. Gonzalez banged a hanging slider off the wall for a well-struck RBI single. Brian McCann fouled off four pitches, before lacing a 94-mph fastball for an RBI single. “They just took advantage of some bad pitches,” catcher Austin Barnes said.
The hit subjected Darvish to more danger. Bregman hit a sacrifice fly. After second baseman Jose Altuve doubled off the wall, Roberts dispatched Maeda to sweep up the mess. Betrayed by one starting pitcher, Roberts leaned on Maeda, a converted starter, to buoy the team.
For the Dodgers’ offense, a four-run deficit in this ballpark was far from insurmountable. But they just couldn’t make it happen.
The hitters squandered a series of openings. McCullers gifted the first. He walked the first three batters he saw in the third, loading the bases for Corey Seager.
Seager had no interest in walking. He swung through a 1-0 curveball. McCullers followed up with another. Seager chopped it to the right side of the infield into a 3-6-1 double play. A run scored, but the rally withered.
“It was a pitch I could have handled,” Seager said. “I just missed it.”
There were more opportunities to fumble. Puig got tagged out trying to stretch a single into a double in the fourth. A one-out double by Joc Pederson was wasted in the fifth. The Dodgers netted two runs in the sixth, but could not record a hit after a leadoff walk by Seager and a double by Turner. Bellinger struck out and the runs scored on a groundout by Puig and a wild pitch.
Peacock recorded his team’s last 11 outs. The Dodgers could not collect a hit against him. They finished the evening going 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
As the Astros celebrated their victory, the ballpark’s kitsch came alive. The train’s horn blared as fireworks pop-pop-popped behind the tracks. A furry creature named Orbit sprinted around the outfield waving a flag. Smoke drifted over the diamond as the Dodgers retreated to their clubhouse, unable to crack the code of Houston at home, hopeful for better Saturday.