LOS ANGELES -- Pitch 1: Yasiel Puig dug into the batter's box, and Chris Devenski looked for the sign, and I doubt that a crowd of baseball fans have ever felt so dazed and hopeful and thrilled and worried and, mostly, confused about how to feel.
Devenski, Houston's fifth pitcher of the night, threw an 83-mph changeup high in the zone. Puig watched it go by for strike one.
And it began.
It began ... it began ... Where do you begin? Where do you begin with this crazy, kooky, cuckoo dream of a World Series game? Where do you begin trying to explain how the Astros lost, then won, then lost, then won, then lost, then won Game 2 against the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium?
Maybe you begin with this actual quote from Astros manager A.J. Hinch after his team's epic 7-6 win in 11 innings:
"We were pretty unlucky at the beginning of the game when [Chris Taylor] dove in center field and the ball hit him in the face or head and kicked to [Joc] Pederson. I felt like the baseball gods were returning the favor by having an umpire standing in the way there."
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Yes, all that happened. A baseball really did hit the brim of Taylor's cap and bounce in a way that almost certainly prevented a Houston run from scoring.
Later, yes, a wild Devenski pickoff throw that was headed for the outfield instead hit second-base umpire Laz Diaz, preventing a runner from advancing.
And here's the craziest part: Neither of those is even close to the wildest play of the game.
Maybe we should just begin at the end.
Pitch 2: Devenski looked in for the sign, and Puig waited with his bat still, and how would you describe the atmosphere? Think of how it is at the end of the best concert of your life, the very best, and you are spent and numb and yet somehow feeling totally alive. And then you realize THERE MIGHT BE ONE MORE ENCORE.
One more encore.
Devenski threw another changeup, this one toward the outside corner, and Puig watched it go by for strike two.
Yes, the Dodgers had the game won going into the eighth inning, and again into the ninth. Won. They had a two-run lead, then a one-run lead, and they handed those leads to probably the best closer in the business, Kenley Jansen. How over was it? Everyone may deny it now, but you know Dodgers fans were glowing over a 2-0 Series lead, and you know Astros fans were worried about an 0-2 deficit. Well, sure. Jansen had blown one save all year. In the postseason, he was even better. The entire Dodgers bullpen had an aura about it; the relief corps went 28 straight innings without giving up a run. In fact, Los Angeles entered Game 2 of the World Series with a 98-0 record (including the postseason) when leading after eight innings.
"Kenley has been virtually unhittable," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said as he tried to piece together what happened.
Here's what happened: The Astros' Marwin Gonzalez stepped to the plate. Gonzalez had looked helpless all postseason, hitting .150 in the first 12 games.
But it didn't matter. Gonzalez crunched a home run to center field to tie the score. A raucous Dodger Stadium fell into silence.
Pitch 3: Devenski went with another changeup, this one a particularly nasty pitch that dived down and toward the dirt. Puig lunged at it and fouled it off. He was barely alive. The game was barely alive. Again.
After the Gonzalez home run, it was clear that Los Angeles did not really have a Plan B. Roberts had invested everything in Plan A, in having Jansen finish the job. With that blueprint gone, Roberts brought in reliever Josh Fields to pitch the 10th inning.
Fields had a pretty good season, but he had one significant problem. He gave up home runs all year long.
And then, with the count 2-0 to Jose Altuve, Fields threw a 97-mph fastball up and out over the plate.
Altuve had not looked like himself all game. His first two at-bats against Dodgers starter Rich Hill were two of his worst all year -- he struck out twice on three pitches. He looked lost. But it was an illusion. Altuve doesn't get lost. He might have the quickest bat in baseball. He turned on Fields' fastball and knocked it over the left-field wall to give Houston a one-run lead.
Carlos Correa followed. Fields threw him a hanging knuckle-curve, the sort of pitch Correa would undoubtedly order in bulk from Amazon if they were in stock.
Correa hit a home run that went very far, and he then launched his bat in an epic bat flip that went almost as far, and that was that; the Astros had won the game in glorious and impression fashion.
Pitch 4: Devenski threw his first fastball -- a 97-mph fastball -- but he had no interest in challenging Puig with it. He threw it about a foot outside, hoping for the chase.
Puig did not chase.
Yes, some Dodgers fans left before the bottom of the 10th inning. Who could blame them? There's school in the morning. There's work in the morning. They had seen those back-to-back home runs. No team comes back from back-to-back home runs.
And yet ... L.A.'s first batter in the bottom of the 10th, Puig, smashed a home run so hard -- 109-mph exit velocity, according to Statcast™ -- that it was gone before fans even had a moment to cheer its flight. Puig then laid his bat on the ground gently, the way you would release a baby bird that you had saved. He then stomped around the bases to the sound of stunned wonder.
Then the Dodgers found themselves down to their last out. John Forsythe drew a walk, then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Enrique Hernandez faced Houston closer Ken Giles needing a single, but that seemed about as unlikely as anything. Los Angeles had only three hits up to that point. All three were home runs. It was that kind of night.
So it was about as shocking as any play to see Hernandez go the opposite way and hit the single that tied the score. Hernandez went to second on the throw to the plate.
This is when Devenski was brought into the game, and this is when Devenski made the wild pickoff throw that hit Diaz.
But we move on. With this game, we just can't get to everything.
Pitch 5: One more changeup from Devenski, this one in the dirt. Puig somehow had the presence of mind not to swing.
The game went into the 11th inning, and everyone was spent. It had been back and forth, wild play after wild play -- heck, we haven't even mentioned the time Puig knocked a ball into the stands for a ground-rule double and then slammed his glove in disgust, as though he was in "The Bad News Bears." We haven't even mentioned Justin Verlander dominating the game except for two bad pitches, both of them home runs, and then him wandering back into the dugout to tell his teammates, "You're going to win this game! I know how good you are!"
Pitch 6: Changeup again, outside again, but this time Puig swung to end the ga ... NO. The first-base umpire said he checked his swing. Replays were either conclusive or inconclusive, depending on your particular rooting interest, but whatever, this game was NOT going to end on a questionable check swing. The count was full.
In the top of the 11th, the Dodgers went with Brandon McCarthy, a starter by trade, one of the funniest and most thoughtful players in baseball. They were out of relievers; McCarthy was Los Angeles' ninth pitcher of the game. McCarthy promptly gave up a single to Cameron Maybin, and Maybin promptly stole second, winning everyone in America a free taco from Taco Bell.
Next up was George Springer. Springer was one of the Astros' best players during the season but had looked so overpowered in the postseason (including going 0-for-4 in Game 1 of the World Series) that before the game, people asked manager A.J. Hinch if he considered benching him.
"He's an incredible player," Hinch would say. "I don't really ride the roller coaster with players. You have to believe in what they can do. ... This is one of our best players, and there's no need to panic over a bad night against Clayton Kershaw."
McCarthy threw four pitches to Springer, the last one an 89-mph slider that was somewhat down but over the heart of the plate. Springer did not miss. On this night, nobody seemed to miss. Springer's two-run blast to center field gave the Astros another two-run lead ... and there was no way they could possibly lose another two-run lead.
Verlander celebrated so hard that he almost passed out.
Pitch 7: Devenski floated another changeup, this one on the outside corner. Puig fouled it back.
Pitch 8: Devenski floated his seventh changeup of the at-bat, this one to the same spot toward the outside corner. Puig again fouled it back.
The tension was impossible. In the bottom of the 11th, the Dodgers surely seemed out of miracles. Two of their best hitters -- Corey Seager and Justin Turner -- lined out against Devenski. With two outs, light-hitting utility infielder Charlie Culberson stepped up. There wasn't much to dream about in this situation. Culberson had hit one big league home run in the past three years. (It was a walk-off home run that clinched the division and was simultaneously Vin Scully's final call at Dodger Stadium, so we can't say Culberson isn't capable of some magic.)
And then, it goes without saying, Culberson hit a home run. Well, sure he did. He knocked it over the left-field wall. Culberson looked so happy running around the bases, you didn't want to break it to him that the Dodgers still trailed by a run. But in this game, what was a run? Puig was coming up.
One more encore.
And that's how we get to the end, how we get to the ninth pitch of Devenski-Puig, how we get this overwhelming moment where everything had already happened and yet anything seemed possible.
Pitch 9: Devenski threw one last changeup, 84 mph, down and sinking fast. Puig swung over it for strike three. The Astros had won.
And then, like that, too suddenly, like that moment when you snap out of a dream, the game was over.