LOS ANGELES -- In trying to win their first World Series championship by beating the Dodgers in Game 6 tonight at Dodger Stadium, the Astros can put to bed their postseason heartaches of yesteryear.The Astros are positioned favorably to deliver a World Series championship to Houston, with Justin Verlander --
LOS ANGELES -- In trying to win their first World Series championship by beating the Dodgers in Game 6 tonight at Dodger Stadium, the Astros can put to bed their postseason heartaches of yesteryear.
The Astros are positioned favorably to deliver a World Series championship to Houston, with Justin Verlander -- unbeaten since joining Houston in a trade from the Tigers on Aug. 31 -- taking the mound against Dodgers lefty Rich Hill. The Astros, coming off a thrilling 13-12 win over the Dodgers in Game 5 on Sunday night in Houston, won't say it, but finishing off the Dodgers behind Verlander tonight to avoid Game 7 is crucial.
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Since 1985, when the League Championship Series for each league changed to a best-of-seven format, the team going on the road up 3-2 in an LCS or World Series has won the series half the time (14 of 28), but the road team that loses Game 6 has come back to win Game 7 only twice on 16 previous occasions.
"I think when you consume yourself with too much 'what ifs' in the future, it will only complicate matters," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Monday. "So I'm going to proceed just trying to win Game 6. And if that means I have to use guys in a unique way, that's fine. If the game warrants any decision to try to win the game, I think you have to try to win the game that you're playing that day and not concern yourself with a lot of unknowns."
Verlander is 4-0 with a 2.05 ERA in four playoff starts and one relief appearance this year. He allowed two hits, both homers, and three runs in six innings in the Astros' Game 2 win over the Dodgers. He is 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 10 games (nine starts) with the Astros, giving the team plenty of confidence.
"To go back there, it's not an easy place to play, but we're giving the ball to Justin Verlander and that's going to be awesome for us," outfielder George Springer said.
The Astros had never won a World Series game prior to this year, so they will take the field today with a chance to win the championship for the first time in their history. For generations of Astros fans, postseasons past have been nothing but heartache.
There was the 1980 National League Championship Series that went to a decisive fifth game that the Phillies won in extra innings (only Game 1 didn't go extra innings). There was the epic 16-inning Game 6 loss in the '86 NLCS to the Mets, who avoided having to face NLCS Most Valuable Player Mike Scott in Game 7 in Houston by winning the series, 4-2.
The Craig Biggio-Jeff Bagwell-led teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s couldn't get past the Braves (and Padres once), and the Cardinals sent Houston home in seven games in the NLCS in '04 before Houston broke through to win the NL pennant a year later. The Astros were then swept in the World Series by the White Sox.
Even the '15 Astros blew a late lead and a chance to clinch Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Royals, who went on to win the World Series. The postseason disappointment of two years ago is in the rearview mirror, but it can serve as a reminder of how fickle October baseball can be. The momentum the Astros carry into Game 6 is palpable, but it won't mean much after the first pitch is thrown tonight.
"I think it's going to be an intense game regardless of how Game 5 ended," Hinch said. "But there's certainly some positive momentum. We are going to get on the plane today, excited to get to Los Angeles, and play the game as fast as possible. Once we get to the stadium and we start our pregame work, and get to batting practice and the preparation for the game, it becomes about Game 6 and not about how we won Game 5. And our team will continue to be focused on that."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.