LOS ANGELES -- Justin Verlander stood behind the Dodger Stadium pitcher's mound, surveying the scene that had burst to life around him. Corey Seager had just hit a two-run home run to give the Dodgers a two-run lead in Game 2 of the World Series, eviscerating the night's early narrative.
Gone were Verlander's 4 2/3 no-hit innings. Gone was his near-flawless postseason. Staked to a one-run lead that the Astros hoped would hold, Verlander instead came close to becoming the first pitcher to lose a World Series game in which he allowed two or fewer hits since Whitey Ford in 1963. Only Marwin Gonzalez's game-tying, ninth-inning homer spared Verlander that indignity, the first chord of a wild, 7-6, 11-inning Astros victory Wednesday that evened the World Series presented by YouTube TV at a game apiece.
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"My teammates … they've picked me up so many different ways," Verlander said. "It's been so much fun to be a part of this ride. And it doesn't get any better than this game. That was one of the most gut-wrenching, most exciting -- I mean, you can't have a better game of baseball than that. And for it to be in the World Series, it's incredible."
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Long before the extra-inning dramatics, there was Verlander. Resting comfortably in the mid-90s with his fastball and dialing it as high as 98 mph, Verlander struck out four of the first six batters he faced. He did not allow a baserunner until he walked Chris Taylor to lead off the fourth inning, eventually erasing Taylor on a Justin Turner double play. But with two outs in the fifth, Verlander allowed his first hit, a game-tying Joc Pederson solo homer.
He then walked Taylor again in the sixth, bringing up Seager and the eventual end of Verlander's night. The Astros lifted their ace for a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh after 79 pitches. He allowed just two hits, but also three runs.
"He was good," Seager said. "He pitched really well against us in Detroit, too. We just have to figure out a way to scratch some more hits, scratch some more runs off him."
Late-October struggles are nothing new for Verlander, who is 11-2 with a 2.42 ERA in 17 American League Championship Series and Division Series games, but 0-3 with a 6.43 ERA in four World Series starts. Mostly, home runs have been his demise. Verlander served up two of them in his Fall Classic debut in Game 1 in 2006, including Scott Rolen's game-tying homer and Albert Pujols' game-changing two-run shot. Six years later, Verlander allowed two of Pablo Sandoval's three Game 1 homers in a game the Tigers never led.
The difference Wednesday was that his teammates made sure the home runs would not haunt him.
"I mean, I've been part of some pretty exciting games," Verlander said. "But with all that this one entailed to be in the World Series and to be down a game, the roller coaster of emotion ... this is an instant classic, and to be able to be part of it is pretty special."