USA TODAY Sports’ Ted Berg and Jorge Ortiz break down the Dodgers’ 3-1 win in Game 6.
USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES – The situation felt so similar, Rich Hill couldn’t help but explode in anger when he reached the dugout.
Except this time the move worked, so Hill might want to at least pick up some of those water cups he spilled all over the floor.
Hill’s early removal from Game 2 had been one of the few questionable decisions Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had made this October in guiding the club to its first World Series since 1988. Hill had thrown only 60 pitches, struck out seven and left trailing 1-0. Roberts had to run through his bullpen in what wound up as a 7-6 victory for the Houston Astros in 11 innings.
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Considering the Dodgers’ worn-down relievers were battered around in Game 5, surely Roberts would give Hill more leeway in Tuesday’s Game 6.
Actually, the lefty got to throw two fewer pitches, but that turned out to be just the right amount as Los Angeles came back to register a 3-1 victory that forced a Game 7.
Not only did they live to play a winner-take-all game, but the Dodgers made Roberts look good after sticking with the strategy of not allowing the opponents to face Hill a third time through the lineup, then later relying on closer Kenley Jansen for another six-out save.
L.A. was again down 1-0, this time in the fifth, when Hill recovered from giving up an inning-opening single followed by a double. He struck out the next two batters to come close to extricating himself out of trouble. Except he wasn’t given the chance.
After George Springer went to first on an intentional walk, Roberts brought in Brandon Morrow, who induced a weak grounder from Alex Bregman to escape the bases-loaded jam.
“I just felt that with Verlander on the mound that was going to be the game,’’ Roberts said. “So a guy that we’ve trusted all year long in that spot, I felt that you have to use that bullet in Brandon Morrow. … And he came through in the biggest spot of the season.’’
Sunday in Houston, Morrow was summoned for the third night in a row and fifth time in six games, and the Astros drilled him for four hits and four runs in a mere six pitches. The former starter clearly benefited from Monday’s day off, and maybe just as much from his manager’s faith.
That faith only extends so far with Hill, a 12-game winner each of the last two seasons but also a 37-year-old veteran with a history of injuries. If Roberts was willing to pull him out of a perfect-game bid after seven innings, as he did in the 2016 season, yanking Hill after 4 2/3 innings in an elimination game didn’t give him much pause.
Hill didn’t much care for the decision and made the water cups pay, but denied afterward that such a quick hook impacts the way he pitches.
“It doesn’t creep into my mind whatsoever,’’ Hill said. “It’s irrelevant in this situation. We have to win, we won, we’re moving on to Game 7.’’
That’s because the Dodgers got 4 1/3 scoreless innings out of their bullpen, which held down the fort until the offense rallied for two runs in the sixth off a tough Justin Verlander. Joc Pederson’s solo homer in the seventh increased the lead to 3-1, but Roberts still wouldn’t take any chances, going to Jansen in the eighth.
Before the game, Roberts had said he’d likely use Jansen for only one inning, understandably so. The National League’s saves co-leader hasn’t been his usual unassailable self in the World Series, after logging a 0.00 ERA in eight innings during the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Jansen closed out the Game 1 victory but yielded the tying run in a two-inning stint the next night, then finished Game 4 as well. Whether fatigue caught up to Jansen or the Astros started to get the measure of him, he was vulnerable again in Game 5, yielding the final run in Houston’s 13-12 walkoff win. In the Dodgers’ three World Series defeats, he was on record for a loss and a blown save.
And yet, not long after Pederson had finished bouncing around the bases in celebration of his home run, the strains of “California Love’’ started coming through the loudspeakers as the bullpen doors opened and Jansen emerged in the eighth.
“I’m not trying to be a hero or anything, but there’s no tomorrow,’’ Jansen said. “We have to go out there and fight. He (Roberts) asked me how I feel and I gave him my honest answer that I’m good to go. With the adrenaline and everything, I feel great. I didn’t feel tired at all out there.’’
He looked fresh as a daisy. Jansen mowed down the six Astros hitters he faced on a mere 19 pitches, making it likely he’ll be available for more than one inning again on Wednesday. Then again, the whole pitching staff figures to be on call, including ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw.
That probably means scheduled starter Yu Darvish, who gave up six hits and four runs in 1 2/3 innings in a Game 3 loss, will be on an even shorter leash than Hill.
Roberts said he makes those kinds of decisions partly based on numbers but also relying on his gut. Perhaps he should consult with Yasiel Puig as well, since the brash outfielder predicted after Game 5 that the series would go the distance.
On Tuesday, he came close to forecasting a Dodgers championship.
“Come out here tomorrow. This is going to be incredible,’’ he said when asked for his message to the fans. “Soon we’re going to have a party. Tomorrow we’re going to run around the field after the victory, and we’re going to have a parade in Los Angeles and party big time.’’
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts masterful in Game 6 win vs. Astros – USA TODAY