LOS ANGELES -- One play. Jose Altuve chops a ground ball to third. Justin Turner fields it. Cody Bellinger scoops the throw out of the dirt. Altuve is out by a blink.
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This is baseball. This is the story of this crazy Series. One play. We go to a Game 7, the first World Series Game 7 in the history of Dodger Stadium, a dramatic and emotional and riveting Game 7 that has been this season's destiny all year long.
Remember early in the year, when people were saying the Houston Astros had a chance to become one of the best teams in baseball history?
Remember a bit later in the year, when people were saying the Los Angeles Dodgers had a chance to become one of the best teams in baseball history?
So what happens when two great teams -- two 100-win teams that do everything well, two dominant teams with superstars filling the dugouts, two wonderful and exhausted and desperate teams -- play one game for their place in baseball history?
"Dave," Tommy Lasorda told Dodgers manager Dave Roberts in the momentary afterglow of Los Angeles' gutsy 3-1 victory on Tuesday to force Game 7. "It doesn't mean [bleep] until you win tomorrow."
Those coarse words apply to both teams. Both sides know it. One of these teams will be champion, and there will be a parade and a trophy, and a long championship drought will end. One of these teams will be the runner-up, and there will be regret and sleepless nights, and a long championship drought will go on. And what will create such divergent paths for the Astros and Dodgers?
It might come down to one play.
There were actually numerous choices for Tuesday night's deciding play. In the sixth inning, for instance, with Houston already up 1-0 and with future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander looking pretty invincible, the Astros put runners on first and second with two outs. A hit could have broken the game open.
Marwin Gonzalez then hit a line drive up the middle. It wasn't hit that hard (89.7 mph exit velocity), but it was at an ideal angle (9 degrees). That combination, by Statcast™ calculations, produces a hit 65 percent of the time.
Not this time. Los Angeles' defense was in its usual shift for the switch-hitting Gonzalez, who is a clear pull hitter from the right side. And so second baseman Chase Utley was close to second base and in perfect position to make the catch. A hit there probably scores a run and might change the entire landscape of the game.
So that's one play. There were others. The Dodgers chose to let Chris Taylor swing away rather than bunt in a key spot, and he dumped a run-scoring double over the first baseman's head. L.A.'s Joc Pederson hit an opposite-field home run, an event so unlikely that his teammate Kenley Jansen supposedly offered him $75,000 earlier this season if he would do it.
Here's another: In the fifth, Dodgers starter Rich Hill fell behind against Josh Reddick when the Astros had runners on second and third and nobody out. With first base open and the count 3-0, it seemed likely that Hill would simply walk Reddick with the pitcher's spot up next. Instead, Hill went after Reddick with three perfectly placed pitches on the outside corner; Reddick swung and missed at the last curve, and Los Angeles got out of the jam.
But sometimes, the one play is not so dramatic. Sometimes it's a simple ground ball.
Houston trailed 2-1 in the seventh, and it put runners on first and third with two outs. Altuve stepped in. We all know how good he has been -- he's probably the favorite to win the American League MVP Award -- but this has been an up-and-down Fall Classic for him. Altuve has had some big hits. And he has had some tough moments. This was as big a moment as any.
Altuve didn't get a good swing; he topped a fairly slow ground ball to third. But because he didn't hit it well, Altuve knew immediately that if he could just get down the line, he had a chance to beat the throw.
"I think I can beat out any ball I hit," Altuve said.
Altuve was not necessarily wrong. He can fly. Altuve sprinted down the line in 3.87 seconds, an absurdly fast time for a right-handed hitter, his third-fastest non-bunt time of the season. He knew, everyone knew, that if he could beat the play, a run would score, the game would be tied, the Dodgers might be rattled, and the Astros would be in great position to win the game.
Turner is a good third baseman. He doesn't have an elite arm, but it's reliable, and he's a good athlete and he tends to put himself in good position. Turner is also nursing a tight left calf that forced him to serve as the designated hitter in Game 5. On this grounder, he ranged left and fielded the ball at his hip. But Turner fielded it at a slightly awkward angle, and so he had to turn and wing the ball sidearm. The ball floated just a bit on him. As you watched the ball go across the infield, you could tell it was a little bit off and that the play would be very close.
Bellinger will probably win a Gold Glove Award at first base someday. He might win a bunch of them. Everyone has raved about his defense ever since he came out of high school. The sons of Major League players tend to be well-rounded, and Cody's father, Clay Bellinger, played in two World Series himself.
Roberts has talked a lot about Bellinger's defense this Series. He especially talked about it after Game 3, when Bellinger became the first Dodger to strike out four times in a World Series game. When asked if he would give Bellinger a rest, Roberts said that Bellinger's defense was so good, he would not consider taking him out of the lineup.
"When you get a young player that isn't there with the bat but can still have the presence of mind to still play defense and impact the game," Roberts said, "that's what we get in Cody."
Well, on Tuesday, Bellinger became the first player in baseball history to strike out four times in two World Series games. But no one will remember that part. Instead, what they will remember is Turner's throw landing short and in the dirt. Bellinger had to scoop it cleanly and keep his foot on the bag to get Altuve.
Bellinger scooped it cleanly and kept his foot on the bag. That ended the inning, the threat and, really, the Astros' hopes.
"The pick is big," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said after the game.
"The Altuve at-bat was a game changer," Roberts said.
One play. It doesn't necessarily seem fair for one play to separate two great teams that are so close to the dream ending. But this is the thrill of baseball. After the game, someone asked Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw -- who is absolutely available to pitch, as is everyone else -- about his preparation for Game 7.
"Preparation is out the door at this point," Kershaw said. "Routine is out the door. There's no excuses."