HOUSTON -- Somewhere in the soup of bodies, Alex Bregman's helmet flew off, revealing the tight curls beneath it. His teammates crowded around him, grabbing his shoulders, his arms, the threads of his jersey. Bregman managed, eventually, to lift his head through the madness. His eyes were wide, his mouth agape, a screaming sea of orange around him.
"Pure joy," is how Bregman described the feeling.
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Bregman had just vanquished the game's best closer, lifting a Kenley Jansen cutter into left field for a walk-off RBI single early Monday morning at Minute Maid Park. With one drop of his shoulder and one uncoiled uppercut, Bregman carried the Astros to a 13-12 win over the Dodgers in World Series Game 5, and a 3-2 Series lead.
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"It's an unbelievable moment," Bregman said. "To be living a dream, one win away from [winning] the World Series, is really special."
For most of a night that saw George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel deliver history-shaping hit after hit, with the Astros thrice coming from behind to tie the score, Bregman was unseen. Through nine innings of one of the highest-scoring games in World Series history, Bregman had contributed a hit and a walk, crossing home plate twice.
This game was supposed to be about Houston's household names; when the Astros made two quick outs against Jansen in the 10th, it seemed unlikely that Bregman would even appear in the inning. But a hit batsman and a walk brought him to the plate, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to sub pinch-runner Derek Fisher -- the Majors' 17th-fastest player according to Statcast™'s sprint speed metric -- at second base.
Standing in the on-deck circle, Altuve "knew [Bregman] was ready to get the big hit."
At first base, Springer, who had drawn the walk, watched Bregman "dig in the box a little bit harder."
Correa turned to Bregman and said, simply, "It's your time."
With that, Bregman tapped his spikes three times with his bat, then turned to face Jansen. He eyed a first-pitch cutter down and away, shooting it onto the unguarded turf in left-center.
"Tried to go up and in and missed my spot," Jansen said, "and he did a great job."
Because Fisher was dashing around the bases at 29.8 feet per second, the play at home wasn't close. Fisher jumped into Brian McCann's arms as Bregman touched first and circled back, rushing over to meet his teammates. The first walk-off hit of his career was also the fifth by a third baseman in the World Series history, and the first since David Freese in 2011.
"I think being calm in the moment is innate," Hinch said. "I think he understands, has a confidence level, has an awareness -- even like the awareness to beat them with a single. He's not trying for the theatrics and dramatics, trying to hit a ball out of the ballpark. He's just trying to get a good single and get a good pitch to hit."
It was not because of Bregman's .827 OPS in his first full season that his teammates believed he would lift them, nor because of his four postseason homers entering Game 5. The Astros instead cited his cool under pressure, his unwavering demeanor regardless of context. During Bregman's postgame news conference early Monday morning, someone shouted, "We love you, Bregman!" through an open door. He hardly seemed to notice, finishing his answer without so much as a flinch.
About the only time Bregman cracked a smile was when he was asked about the emotions of his walk-off hit. He talked about emulating Derek Jeter as a child, about rising to the big leagues and enduring early struggles here. Bregman praised his manager's faith in him, both then and now.
"He is cool and calm and completely in control of himself in these moments," Hinch said. "I don't care if he's been in the league one year or 10 years, he's demonstrating some very unique traits in the biggest moments."
Springer describes Bregman as having "this odd aura about him that he's very, very confident," a notion few could dispute after Game 5. Bregman now has three home runs in five World Series games, along with steady defense -- he made a highlight-reel play to save a run in Game 4 -- and a walk-off hit that has the Astros on the cusp of a championship.
"It makes everything worth it; every weight that you lifted in the offseason, every swing that you took in the cage," Bregman said. "When you feel like you came through for your team, and you see the joy on their faces, there's nothing like it. It's such a special feeling that I'm so fortunate and blessed to feel."