LOS ANGELES -- About 15 minutes after the Astros' 3-1 loss to the Dodgers in World Series Game 6, Lance McCullers wandered onto the outfield grass. There, in front of hundreds of Dodgers revelers who had no interest in making a quick exit out of Chavez Ravine, he began stretching out his arm, long tossing in advance of the most significant game of his life.
McCullers will start Game 7 for Houston on Wednesday opposite Los Angeles right-hander Yu Darvish at Dodger Stadium, hoping he can do what Justin Verlander could not in Game 6: deliver the first championship in Astros history.
• McCullers starts getting ready for Game 7 right after Game 6
"He's a guy that wants the ball," catcher Brian McCann said. "He wants the ball in big moments. We're happy he's taking the mound and we'll all be ready."
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The Astros at least considered the possibility of using McCullers to close out Game 6, as they did in their American League Championship Series clincher against the Yankees. That night, McCullers struck out six in a four-inning save, raising eyebrows by throwing 24 consecutive curveballs.
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But when Houston fell behind Tuesday, the chance of a Game 7 became too great for manager A.J. Hinch to risk using his best-rested starter, McCullers, in a game his team might have lost anyway. So he held back McCullers for Game 7 at Dodger Stadium, where he will face a team that scored three runs off him in 5 1/3 innings in Game 3.
"This Series was destined to go seven pretty much the whole time," McCullers said. "We have two great teams here. I just have to stick with my game plan, and execute a little bit better than last time in certain spots, and just be a competitor out there."
None of the Dodgers' Game 3 runs occurred on RBI hits; the Dodgers came home on a double play, a groundout and a wild pitch, with leadoff walks sparking both of their rallies.
Along the way, McCullers threw knuckle-curves 62.1 percent of the time, the highest ratio of any pitcher in a single game -- regular season or postseason -- since pitch tracking began in 2008. Expect that trend to continue in Game 7, which should see McCullers lean heavily on what McCann said is "up there with the best pitches in baseball."
But don't expect McCullers to match the 87 total pitches he threw in that start. The Astros will have a fully-stocked bullpen waiting behind him, potentially including starting pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton on short rest.
"I'm sure it's going to be a battle, two teams that really want it," Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor said. "So it's going to be just like every other game, I'm sure. It's going to come down to the end."
Because McCullers believed he might contribute in some way in Game 6, he spent the entirety of the night in the visiting bullpen. He did not perform his usual routine on the eve of a start, wanting to keep his arm fresh. It wasn't until afterward that McCullers emerged onto the field, still in uniform, to loosen his arm with a series of throws.
As McCullers did so, his teammates inside the clubhouse lauded him as a big-game pitcher -- someone who, in Jose Altuve's words, "likes to compete." For a pitcher who posted a 4.25 ERA during the regular season, the evidence is plain to see in his 2.95 postseason mark, which he will carry to the mound with him in Game 7.
"The guys know in the clubhouse that I go out there and I'm not going to hold anything back," McCullers said. "I think they understand that I'm willing to give everything I have for the guys behind me and the guys in the dugout. That's something that I've always tried to pride myself on, regardless of how I'm pitching or how I'm feeling. But I'm always having those guys know that I'm going to go out there and give them everything I have."