LOS ANGELES -- The team on the cusp of a crown sends its unbeaten man to the mound.With the Astros having taken the 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven set with their 13-12 victory Sunday night in the wildest World Series game since, oh, last Wednesday, Game 6 at Dodger Stadium
LOS ANGELES -- The team on the cusp of a crown sends its unbeaten man to the mound.
With the Astros having taken the 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven set with their 13-12 victory Sunday night in the wildest World Series game since, oh, last Wednesday, Game 6 at Dodger Stadium is Justin Verlander's game and his chance to be the hero Houston has waited 55 years to salute.
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"It's not an easy place to play," leadoff man George Springer said of Dodger Stadium, "but we're giving the ball to Justin Verlander, and that's going to be awesome for us."
The alternative to a Verlander victory, of course, is a Dodgers surge that keeps this epically entertaining Fall Classic alive with a glorious Game 7 on Wednesday night. To give the baseball world at large that gift, the Dodgers, who will start Rich Hill in Game 6, will have to take down a dude who has been mostly indomitable since coming over to the Astros from the Tigers on Aug. 31. The Dodgers, though, aren't fazed, even despite the tough Game 5 loss.
"This is not going to be finished Tuesday," said Yasiel Puig after Game 5. "There's going to be a Game 7. ... Everybody is going to be ready for Verlander [on] Tuesday night. The best pitcher they have."
• Dodgers put season on Hill's left arm in G6
The Dodgers can take comfort in knowing they did get to Verlander in Game 2 with a pair of home runs from Joc Pederson and Corey Seager. But their 3-1 lead was wasted in that one with a rare blown save from Kenley Jansen, paving the way to the insanity of extra innings in what became a 7-6 Astros victory. (We'll let the baseball historians sort out whether Game 2 or Game 5 was the crazier of the two contests many moons from now.)
Bottom line is that Verlander didn't suffer the loss in Game 2 and, in fact, hasn't taken a loss since joining Houston. He is 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA since coming over from Detroit, and the Astros have not lost a single game he has pitched in (that includes relief appearances and postseason games). Everything in Verlander's baseball life has been dialed up a notch since that deal went down.
Never higher than right now.
"Absolutely, I think the level of focus and intensity does go up," Verlander said. "It especially goes up in the playoffs. I think that's something that you just can't sustain that over a full season. You'd be burnt out. You can't focus that much mental energy and physical drain on hanging on every single pitch that way and the crowd and the intensity that it all encompasses; you just can't do that every single day out for 34, 35 starts. But as soon as the postseason starts, you're living or dying on every single pitch, and your whole team is living or dying on every single pitch. It changes everything."
• Verlander: Game 6 start 'what it's all about'
In a game of this magnitude, one pitch can change everything. And for that matter, so can one pitching change.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts caught a lot of heat for the way he managed Game 2, when he yanked Hill after four innings in which the veteran allowed only one run on three hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. But Roberts managed games aggressively all year, and especially in October, and it will be interesting to see, given how gassed the bullpen looked in Game 5, how aggressive he is with Hill in this effort to avoid elimination.
• How Roberts, Dodgers can get 27 outs
"I think if you look back at the Alex Wood start and what he did for us in Game 4, I think that it's kind of the same blueprint, where you obviously have to watch the game and see how he's throwing the baseball," Roberts said. "But I look for Rich to throw the ball really well. And under the circumstances of Game 5, you've got to be open to pushing him, and I know he's up for the challenge."
Hill was visibly upset when he was pulled in his first start of this Series. And though he understands why Roberts did what he did (the Astros had five right-handers looming in the lineup), he would like to pitch deeper into this one, if possible.
"It's something that all of us have been preparing our entire careers for," Hill said. "And for such a big stage and such a great opportunity to go out there and leave it all out on the field, and go out there with an intensity and a passion that everybody has for playing baseball, that is as an ultimate competitor. So going out there in Game 6 and having the ability to be in that position and leave everything on the field is just an amazing thought."
Houston, a team swept by the White Sox in its lone previous World Series appearance in 2005, goes into this ballgame with one amazing thought: Win this game, win it all.
"We'll try to build off the momentum that Justin Verlander is going to create for us in Game 6, and then we're going to try to get to 27 outs with the lead," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Who that is or how we get there, it's going to be played out. But we have confidence that we have enough left in the tank to finish this."
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.