LOS ANGELES -- Fueled by a hot afternoon that saw a gametime temperature of 91 degrees, Dodger Stadium served as a launching pad for both the Astros and the A's, who combined for six homers in Houston's 10-5 win in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Monday. It was just two homers shy of the postseason single-game record of eight.
Power could decide the winner of the series, which features all afternoon games at Dodger Stadium. The weather is expected to be similar for Game 2 on Tuesday, before cooling down a bit the rest of the week. It could also affect bullpen usage going forward, as both Astros right-hander Lance McCullers and A's right-hander Chris Bassitt lasted just four-plus innings. It marked the first postseason game in Dodger Stadium history in which both starting pitchers allowed multiple home runs.
“I knew it was going to be a high-scoring game,” Bassitt said. “You ask any Dodger player, they’ll say a day game in this stadium will be a showdown. The ball flies. There’s no pop flies here. The pop flies are home runs. I think everyone experienced that.”
But of the six homers, only two were perhaps aided by conditions. The others were crushed and would’ve left any park. So does that have any significance leading into the rest of the series?
Well, Dodger Stadium has become more homer friendly in recent years. There have been 28 occurrences of six combined homers in a game there, and 26 of those have come since 2016. That includes a postseason-record eight homers in Game 2 of the World Series between the Astros and Dodgers in ‘17. And before this season, a six-homer game had occurred only once with a gametime temperature of at least 90 degrees at the ballpark; now it’s happened three times in ‘20.
How that will affect the rest of the series is anybody’s guess, according to George Springer, who went 4-for-5 but didn’t leave the yard.
"I don't know,” Springer said. “It is hot. And the last couple times we've been here, it's been hot. So I don't know what'll happen. We'll see."
The A's struck first with a two-run homer from Khris Davis in the second on a first-pitch sinker from McCullers over the heart of the plate. It was crushed to right field, leaving the bat at 103.8 mph and traveling a projected 418 feet, per Statcast.
A's rookie catcher Sean Murphy struck next with a solo shot in the third on a 1-1 changeup from McCullers, becoming just the fourth catcher in franchise history with multiple homers in a single postseason, joining Mickey Cochrane (1930), Gene Tenace (‘72) and Ray Fosse (‘74). It was also a no-doubter, as it had an exit velocity of 104.7 mph and went a projected 414 feet to center.
The Astros came back to tie it with two homers and three runs in the fourth off Bassitt, who had allowed just two earned runs dating back to Sept. 1. That span includes a strong start against the White Sox in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series on Wednesday, in which he surrendered one run over seven innings.
Alex Bregman was the first to go deep for Houston with a solo shot on a 1-2 curveball, giving him a homer on Oct. 5 for the fourth straight year. Bregman got just enough of it, as it left the bat at only 95.8 mph and went a projected 370 feet to left, suggesting he could’ve been helped by the elements. According to Statcast overlays, Bregman’s blast would’ve been a homer in 16 parks -- though not at the Oakland Coliseum.
“Early on, especially, it looked like some balls that if you just get it in the air and hit it halfway good, it’s going to go out,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Not that some of those balls weren’t hit really good. It typically does play a little smaller in the daytime here, but last time we played here at night, it played small, too. It’s just balls carrying and both teams have some guys that can hit the ball out of the park.”
Two batters later, Carlos Correa tied it with a two-run blast on a 2-0 cutter from Bassitt. Unlike Bregman's, Correa's was crushed, exiting the bat at 106.3 mph and going a projected 421 feet to left-center.
Oakland retook the lead in the bottom of the fourth on a solo homer from Matt Olson on a 2-1 curveball from McCullers. It was hammered 108.7 mph off the bat, and it was a moonshot with a launch angle of 40 degrees that kept carrying just beyond the center-field wall. It had the second-highest launch angle on any homer to straightaway center this season, behind only Tampa Bay's Brandon Lowe's blast at 41 degrees on Aug. 2, suggesting it too might have benefitted from the weather conditions. It would’ve gone out in 12 parks, per Statcast, and it gave the A’s a homer in three straight innings in the postseason for just the second time in franchise history, along with Game 3 of the 1989 World Series.
"I don't know if there just wasn't as much moisture in the air,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.
“Usually, it's not this hot in October here. It's usually 15-20 degrees cooler. I think it led to the ball carrying today."
Houston scored four times in the sixth after a two-out error from shortstop Marcus Semien, and surprisingly, the rally didn't feature any long balls. But Correa put the cherry on top with his second career multihomer game in the postseason, thanks to a solo blast on a 1-1 fastball from reliever Lou Trivino in the seventh. It was no cheapie, as it had an exit velocity of 105.4 mph and went a projected 408 feet to center. He became the first shortstop with two career multihomer postseason games. Correa now has the most postseason home runs (14) and RBIs (38) before turning 27 in Major League history.
"Correa's presence can never be underestimated," McCullers said. "I think he's the best shortstop in baseball. When he's right, nobody is better, and that's just facts."