Dodgers manager Dave Roberts (right), here with Justin Turner, knows a thing or two about how a series can turn in a single moment.
HOUSTON — If anyone can relate to the idea of an impromptu plot twist setting the wheels in motion for an epic turnaround in the Major League Baseball postseason, it’s Dave Roberts.
In 2004, Roberts came off the Boston Red Sox bench and stole second base with New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera on the mound in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. The steal led to a win, which began a comeback from a 3-0 deficit, which led to a four-game sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Thirteen years later, Roberts can protest all he wants, and he’ll never have to pay for lunch or a cold beer when he visits New England.
The importance of momentum — real or imagined — was a natural topic of conversation after Roberts’ Los Angeles Dodgers and A.J. Hinch’s Houston Astros recovered from their 4-hour, 19-minute ordeal at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday. The teams experienced as pronounced a set of emotional swings as possible before Houston emerged with a 7-6 victory in the 11th inning.
The Dodgers looked to be golden with closer Kenley Jansen on the mound protecting a 3-2 lead in the ninth. But Jansen surrendered a solo homer to Marwin Gonzalez, and the Dodgers finally coughed one up after going 98-0 when leading after eight innings this year.
The Astros, conversely, appeared to be in trouble after scoring a total of two runs in the first 16 innings of the series. Then, suddenly, they broke loose for four home runs in 13 plate appearances, and they were a hugging and (in Carlos Correa’s case) bat-flipping portrait in euphoria.
So could there be an emotional carryover when the teams meet Friday night in Game 3 at Minute Maid Park? Is this a wave the Astros can continue to ride now that they’ve returned to the comforts of home?
“If we lost, I would have said no,” Hinch said, laughing. “Since we won, I’d say, ‘Absolutely, this will be a big swing.'”
Roberts has a harder time laughing because his team blew an opportunity to take a 2-0 lead in the Series heading into the Houston portion of the program, and it did so because of an uncharacteristically tough night for what had been a rock-solid bullpen.
“I think it’s what you make of it,” Roberts said. “I’ve said it time and time again — every team is different. Every season is different. That team we had [in Boston], yeah, we rode that momentum wave. We knew good things were going to happen, and we won eight straight games to win a championship.
“Right now, for us, we do a great job of looking at each game individually. I believe that every day we come to the field, there’s a certain mindset for us to win a baseball game.”
A day after the teams set a World Series record with eight home runs, several of the principals reflected on events with a mix of good fortune and wonder. As Astros third baseman Alex Bregman and DH Carlos Beltran disembarked from the team’s charter flight upon arrival in Houston, they began hashing over pivotal moments in Game 2. The conversation ran on considerably longer than they expected.
“I was like, ‘What was going through your head when [Jose] Altuve hit the homer?’ And he was like, ‘I was going crazy in the dugout,”‘ Bregman said.
The next thing Bregman and Beltran knew, they were reliving Correa’s homer, George Springer’s homer and the extra-inning homers hit by Los Angeles’ Yasiel Puig and Charlie Culberson. The five extra-inning homers Wednesday were a record for a big league game — regular season or postseason.
“It was an incredible game,” Bregman said, “and it was just fun to be a part of.”
The Astros didn’t need much of a lift in returning to Minute Maid Park, where they’ve ramped up their game in October after posting a 48-33 regular-season record. In the playoffs, the Astros are 6-0 with a 31-7 run differential, 10 home runs and a 1.17 team ERA at home. They’ll try to continue that run when Lance McCullers Jr. takes on Yu Darvish in Game 3.
During Thursday’s media availability, the Houston players made one thing clear: They have no desire to see an open sky this weekend. MLB will make the call on whether to play with an open or closed roof, and its decision is based in part on the factors that guide the home team during the regular season. For what it’s worth, the roof has been closed for all six Astros home games this postseason, just as it was for Houston’s two division series games against Kansas City in 2015.
“We want it closed,” reliever Chris Devenski said. “We’ve got to leave it closed. I feel the electricity when it’s closed is so much better. And we love playing here. We have so much excitement being here and the electricity and the vibe. And I feel like we feed off it.”
If his players feel that strongly about it, Hinch isn’t about to argue. But he knows that talk of roofs and momentum and emotional swings is ultimately secondary to the main question: Which team will hit, pitch and field better over the next three, four or five games?
“We’re coming off one of the most epic baseball games in any of our careers,” Hinch said. “So that feels good. It will feel good right up to first pitch, and then it will be a new game. I think our guys are ready.”