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Anything Can Happen in Baseball, and Most of It Did in Game 5

The flatbed cart bringing the apparatus bags of the Los Angeles Dodgers zipped clearly through the field-level passages of Minute Maid Park recent Monday morning. The driver was in haste, and why not? The Dodgers had just blown three advantages to the Houston Astros in one of the most delirious games in World Series history. Home never looked so engaging.

In his haste, though, the driver cultivated right into an armchair jutting out near a passage, in full view of Jim Crane, the Astros’ owner. This could be a difficulty.

“That’s all right,” said Crane, who made his possessions in the carriage business and figure out the hazards. “We can purchase some new furniture.”

Crane was in a merciful mood. He bought the Astros in 2011 when they were the lowest team in the major leagues. Now they are one winning away from a championship, after extant — there is no other word — a 13-12 odyssey in Game 5. The two sides smashed seven home runs and required 5 hours 17 minutes to complete in 10 innings.

“Listen, you never suppose a game like that,” Crane said. “That was just an absurd game. I had people texting me, ‘Jim, whoever wins, this is the great game I’ve always seen!’ You need to be on top, of course. But it’s just unimaginable for the fans and the city.”

In the 657 World Series games that arrived before, only one had more total runs. Only one had more feats. Only one lasted longer. And none, perhaps, served onlookers with such a rapid cocktail of enchantment and revelry.

The Astros and their fans have craved for a moment like this. Founded in 1962, the franchise has never won the World Series and has made it only once before, in 2005, when it was an anchor to a 5-hour-41-minutes, 14-inning loss to the Chicago White Sox that was a component of a four-game sweep. Two times in the 1980s, the Astros lost the final game of the National League Championship Series at home, in additional innings, as the guests left town with a streamer.

Now, it looks, the Astros have studied to play the stylish game better than everyone else. In the main league season that contained more home runs than always before, the Astros led all teams in bashing percentage — while also having the fewest strikeouts. In that way, Game 5 was their classic. The Astros got feats from Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Brian McCann, and fanned just six times in 47 trips to the plate.

The final batted ball was a two-out single to left by Alex Bregman off the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen. Derek Fisher, a colt pinch-runner, had been inserted just before that pitch for the first time in the series. He chased home from second, slid his orange spikes across the plate, ahead of the delivery, and popped up to grasp McCann, the skilled who had told him he would do something special.

“You never know when your time’s going to be, but you’re going to have a time,” Fisher said McCann had agreed on him. “And it’s going to be an essential time.”

For the winning run to score on such a play — a first-pitch line drive, a two-base dash, and an easy final slide — was oddly assuring. Most of what arrived before was another home run derby, the second of the series. In Game 2 at Dodger Stadium last week, the teams connected for a record eight homers in a comeback win for the Astros, by 7-6, in 11 innings.

“I didn’t determine that would always be topped,” said Bregman, who debuted in the big time last year. “I thought that would be the great game I always played in my career. Who knows where this one ranks? Right up there with that game.”

The teams have connected for 22 homers in five games, breaking the World Series record of 21 set in seven games in 2002, the last year before baseball started testing for steroids. One theory for the new power growth is that hitters have studied to tailor their rhythm to launch more fly balls, argument that fly balls produce more runs than grounders.

Many pitchers, though, doubtful the balls are tipsy because baseball needs more offense, as the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel asserted after the Game 2 slugfest. Before Sunday’s game, another Astros pitcher, Justin Verlander, told a roomful of reporters that the balls for this World Series were sleeker, creating them harder to constraint and leading to volatile location.

McCann — who hit last in the Astros’ structure on Sunday despite 12 seasons as one of the great slugging catchers in baseball — gave a more nuanced confession.

“Neither team was fluctuating out of the strike zone,” he said. “It’s really imposing. Both teams are having wonderful at-bats. You play a team for seven games, you begin seeing weaknesses back and forth.”

Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ ace, had held the Astros to one run in seven innings of the Series opener, striking out 11 with no walks. This time, after facing the minimum number of batters through three innings, Kershaw lost command and the 4-0 lead his hitters had made against Keuchel. He could not finish the fifth.

“I don’t really pay debate to it,” Kershaw said when asked about a probable change in the baseballs. “I just think that both sides are handling it, so I’m not going to anguish about it.”

Jansen, who blew the save in Game 2, permitted a homer in Game 4 and lost Game 5, gave a likewise cagey feedback when asked about the ball.

“Something funny with it,” he said. “This is my eighth season in the big leagues. I have my hopes; I’ll manage them to myself.”

Major league officials, generally, insist that the balls yield to specifications and that the only variation is the gold color of the printing stamped to them. Whatever the sense — the balls, the hitters, the heat in Los Angeles, the engaging left-field porch in Houston, something else — home runs are climbing.

“All these hitters are so good, it’s just wonderful,” Crane said. “Anybody who gets up can hit it out of the ballpark, on either team, almost. I went into the commissioner’s box, we had a three-run lead and I was excitement pretty good. But I said, ‘It’s not over.'”

It was not over until Bregman delivered the game’s 25th run, a total matched in a 1997 World Series game but dimmed only in Game 4 in 1993, when Toronto beat Philadelphia, 15-14. That game, at least, had a late oasis of shutdown pitching by Toronto backups. Here, nearly all of the 14 pitchers looked helpless.

“I’m sure everyone’s pretty disabled after that,” Kershaw said. “Emotionally and physically.”

That was true, said Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers’ rookie first baseman, who homered and tripled in Game 5. But Bellinger, 22, could also structure it within a bigger backdrop.

“That was perfect entertainment,” Bellinger said, adding later: “Everything can happen. That’s why sports are so good, the amazing. I don’t think everybody expected this.”

In a way, the spirit of that comment reflected the one Cincinnati’s Pete Rose made to Carlton Fisk at Fenway Park in Boston during Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. When he arrived to bat in the 11th inning, Rose told Fisk, the Red Sox’ catcher, “Isn’t this the most stimulating game you always played in?” The next inning, Fisk homered to win it for the Red Sox, who endured to play a Game 7 — won by the Reds on a single in the 9th inning.

In that 1975 World Series, concluded perhaps the finest always played, the home team won Games 1, 3 and 5, while falling Games 2 and 4. That actual pattern has held up in only one other World Series in history: this one.

In 1975, the Red Sox won Game 1 in Boston but lost Game 2. When the series deviated to Cincinnati, the Reds won Game 3, lost Game 4 and won Game 5 — setting up the sublime sixth and seventh games. Similarly, in this World Series, the Dodgers took Game 1 in Los Angeles, but the Astros won Game 2. When the series deviated to Houston, the Astros won Game 3, lost Game 4 and won Game 5.

With a tournament in reach on Tuesday, the Astros will send Verlander to the mound at Dodger Stadium for Game 6.

“This is not going to be flawless Tuesday,” the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig vowed. “There’s going to be a Game 7.”

For a series this exciting, we should all be so lucky.

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