HOUSTON -- After a night in which the Astros barreled a bunch of baseballs against Yu Darvish and seized the lead in this World Series with a 5-3 victory in Game 3 on Friday, it's quite clear that Houston's Minute Maid Park perfection is a very real factor in this
HOUSTON -- After a night in which the Astros barreled a bunch of baseballs against Yu Darvish and seized the lead in this World Series with a 5-3 victory in Game 3 on Friday, it's quite clear that Houston's Minute Maid Park perfection is a very real factor in this Fall Classic. And if the Astros can continue their home heroics in tonight's Game 4, they'll put themselves on the cusp of their organization's first World Series title.
Charlie Morton gets the Game 4 assignment for an Astros team that is now 7-0 at home this October. Houston is just the eighth team to win at least seven home games in a postseason. The previous seven (most recently the 2015 Royals) all won the World Series. The only other team in history to begin a postseason 7-0 at home or end one 7-0 or better at home was the 2008 World Series champion Phillies.
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So Game 4 of the World Series puts the pressure squarely on the Dodgers, who send Alex Wood to the hill to try to stop the Astros' bats in their ornamental train tracks. The vibe created by Houston's closed roof and rocking crowd is an advantage unto itself.
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"You know," said Morton, "it gets loud. It gets real loud. For me, that's awesome, because it feels like the whole city is behind me. It kind of envelops you into that moment. And in a lot of ways, you can get lost in a good way. You can kind of let some things go and just compete. So it allows you to be emotional in a good way."
Emotional edges can't be calculated, but run differentials can. The Astros are outscoring their opponents 36-10 in this building during the postseason. Opposing starters are 0-6 with a 7.43 ERA.
It's up to Wood to halt that trend.
"Obviously, this crowd is into it, very educated, very enthusiastic," Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts said. "They've got some confidence over there, that team. And it's up to us, up to Alex to go out there and set the tone, get a quick first inning. Bats have to come alive, keep getting guys on base, getting that big hit. But honestly, I don't think we see it as pressure, just go out and play a good clean game."
The Dodgers won't be rolling Clayton Kershaw out on short rest, so Wood will make just his second appearance since Sept. 26 -- a span of 32 days. In Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, he gave up three runs on four hits in 4 2/3 innings to take the Dodgers' lone loss in that series.
"It has its pluses and minuses," Wood said of his ample time off. "Something to where physically it helps me feel a lot more ready, because you have so much time off, but at the same time, trying to stay sharp and stay on top of your game. We've tried to do our best with bullpens and live [sessions] and throwing flat grounds trying to stay mentally locked in. ... Really at this point it's more about kind of mental fortitude than anything."
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Mental fortitude has been a strength of the Dodgers this season, and they'll need it to avoid being put on the ropes in Game 4. They'll need effectiveness and efficiency from Wood, because Darvish's 1 2/3-inning outing compromised the bullpen. Kenta Maeda threw 42 pitches in Game 3, so he's unavailable for Game 4, and setup man Brandon Morrow, who hasn't pitched four times in five days at all in 2017, pitched for the third time in four days.
On the Astros' side, Brad Peacock will likely be unavailable after covering the final 11 outs of Game 3, and that will add to manager A.J. Hinch's nightly challenge of locking down late leads with a bullpen that hasn't been as consistent in the postseason as it was in the regular season. Still, a 2-1 lead builds confidence.
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"It's about getting 27 outs," Hinch said. "I love our bullpen, and our bullpen is going to get outs, but this is a race to 27 outs with a lead."
A little historical perspective going into Game 4: Since the World Series moved permanently to the current 2-3-2 format in 1946, teams taking Game 3 at home for a 2-1 lead have won 11 of 16 times and eight of the past nine. However, the exception was the most recent example, with the Red Sox rallying past the Cardinals in 2013. The '16 Cubs and '14 Giants also came back from 2-1 deficits after dropping Game 3, but they were at home for that game.
Home has been very good to the Astros in this postseason. If they can keep that good thing going tonight, not even the roof will be able to contain the roar.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.