LOS ANGELES -- For five innings on Tuesday night, Justin Verlander put the Astros on his back, doing everything in his power to carry his team to its first World Series title.
Then came the sixth, when in the span of 14 fateful pitches, a night filled with so much promise turned in the Dodgers' favor. Three innings later the World Series was headed for a winner-take-all Game 7 thanks to Los Angeles' 3-1 Game 6 victory.
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"This has been a great Series; I don't think anybody in here is shocked that this is going to Game 7," Verlander said. "These are two great teams going at it back and forth."
Verlander was brilliant through the first five innings, retiring 15 of the 16 Dodgers he faced. Yasiel Puig's single in the second inning was the lone early blemish on Verlander's ledger, which included eight strikeouts, 15 first-pitch strikes and only one three-ball count through the fifth.
He had also been quite economical, throwing 69 pitches through five innings. Given his history, it seemed possible that he could give the Astros seven or eight -- or possibly even nine -- innings to lead them to the title.
"He brings so much energy and so much aggressiveness to the game," manager A.J. Hinch said. "I thought he entered the game with that, and I thought he was obviously cruising."
Cruising, indeed. But clinging to a 1-0 lead gained on George Springer's home run in the third inning, Verlander knew he had no margin for error as he tried to navigate his way through the Dodgers' dangerous lineup.
Even as he took the mound with his team 12 outs from its first World Series championship, Verlander hadn't started to envision what might happen in the ensuing hour or two.
"Absolutely not; no chance," Verlander said. "Not the way this Series has gone, not the way these guys' lineup is. If we could have squeaked across one or two more, I might have changed my mentality a little bit. I've played this game too long."
Verlander took the mound in the sixth and quickly fell behind, 2-0, against catcher Austin Barnes. Barnes then lined a single to left field, putting the potential tying run on base as a previously anxious Dodger Stadium crowd came to life.
Verlander then got ahead of Chase Utley, who was 0-for-14 in the postseason to that point, before hitting him with a 1-2 slider.
"I'm not going to throw a slider that's going to spin in the middle of the plate for him to hit a double on," Verlander said. "So I yanked it and hit him."
Hinch emerged from the dugout to discuss the situation with Verlander, who was set to face the top of the Dodgers' lineup for a third time. Chris Taylor then fell behind before lining a 1-2 fastball to right field, his double scoring Barnes to tie the game while leaving a pair of runners in scoring position.
Opposing hitters had been 0-for-17 against Verlander's four-seam fastball in the highest part of the strike zone this postseason, the result of the highest spin rate on that pitch of anybody in the game this year. Taylor's double snapped that streak, putting Verlander in a precarious position.
"You can't really protect against that; I beat him to the spot, and he hit it off the label," Verlander said. "I went back and looked at it; I'll take my chances on that 10 out of 10 times. Unfortunately tonight, he found the line. That's baseball.
"It sucks that it happened in the World Series in a clinching game, but I'm not going to go home tonight and think, 'Man, I pitched horribly.'"
Corey Seager nearly turned it into a three-run game with a blast to right field, but the ball died at the warning track, forcing the Dodgers to settle for a long sacrifice fly and a 2-1 lead. Neither Justin Turner nor Cody Bellinger could get Taylor in from third base, as Verlander limited the damage, but the Dodgers had done just enough to take a lead.
"The way that this Series has gone, and the way that these games have been going, to be able to keep the third run off the board with the heart of their lineup up, I thought it was huge," Verlander said. "It gave us a much better chance to come back."
But that comeback never took place, as Kenta Maeda and Kenley Jansen finished off the Astros over the final three innings.
Verlander, who is now 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA in six outings (five starts) this postseason, said he would be available out of the bullpen in Game 7 if needed.
"No matter what, this Series is going down in the history books as one of the best Series of all time," Verlander said. "I think tomorrow is going to be nothing short of spectacular either way. I hope we blow them out, but the way these things have been going, I don't see that being the case. It's going to be a battle.
"It's all hands on deck for both sides. When you have a great team with their back against the wall -- and both of ours are -- it's hard to beat them. That's what makes Game 7 so special, especially in the World Series. Win, you're a champion. Lose, you're not."