When the Astros and Dodgers woke up Monday morning — assuming they ever went to sleep — they probably paused to wonder whether their memories of Game 5 of the World Series actually happened.
For the bleary-eyed Astros, an unrealistic fantasy. For the exhausted Dodgers, the worst kind of baseball nightmare. In both cases, basically a fever dream come to life.
That’s why, no matter the outcome in Games 6 or 7, it will likely be Game 5 that becomes a standalone moniker associated with euphoria or heartache in Houston and Los Angeles. For now, though, we just don’t know which city will wear which emotion.
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If the Astros take the series, the Dodgers will forever look back with pit-of-the-stomach anguish on Game 5 as the one that got away — multiple times.
They handed a 4-0 lead to Clayton Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher on the planet, and — along with nearly everyone else — almost certainly pictured a joyous flight back home, with Game 6, or possibly Game 7 if the Astros put up a fight, as a mere formality in the way of more champagne and a confetti-deluged championship parade through the streets.
But the normally superhuman Kershaw proved mortal again in the postseason. That 4-0 lead evaporated, as did a 7-4 lead later, and an 8-7 lead after that. The Dodgers were 5-for-16 with runners in scoring position, a standard ingredient in October disappointment.
L.A.’s 13-12 loss was sealed after Kenley Jansen, so often otherworldly during the regular season, showed cracks that let the Astros wedge their way to a 10th-inning win. Just hours earlier, Los Angeles had every reason to feel in control. The Dodgers had it, until they didn’t.
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It’s a familiar World Series story that rears its head in different ways from time to time. Sometimes it yanks a title right out of your hands. (Ask the 1986 Red Sox or the 2011 Rangers.) Sometimes it’s a slow boil. (Ask the 2016 Indians.) Other times, it just lets you know this isn’t your year, no matter how many games are left. (Ask the 1996 Braves.)
Without proper redemption, these are the types of losses that can haunt a team for decades. However …
If the Dodgers recover and win the series, it will be the Astros who look back with anguish on Game 5 and wonder how they let such a rapturous propellant wear off and not push them straight to their first championship.
They came back against Kershaw, who doesn’t blow 4-0 leads. They battled back twice against the Dodgers’ bullpen, which usually holds the leads it’s given. They beat Jansen, who’s been about as automatic as a closer gets.
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Every time they were knocked down, either by the Dodgers or by themselves, the Astros got right back up and punched harder. Houston has every reason to feel invincible after those 5 hours and 17 minutes of insanity. The Astros were defeated, until they weren’t.
It was the type of win that can define a franchise for a long time. At this point, for the Astros and their fans, a championship probably feels like destiny.
Game 5 was arguably the greatest World Series game ever played, and its effect could well go beyond the final score. As the Astros and Dodgers prepare to play Game 6 on Halloween night, that ghost will linger, waiting to follow one team into the winter.
Yes, “Game 5” is all we’ll need to say from now on in Houston and Los Angeles. The only mystery is how each city will take it.