That was basically the story of Game 2, when the Astros and the Dodgers combined for five home runs in extra innings â something that had never been done in major league history, even in the regular season.
Major leaguers combined for a record 6,105 homers in 2017, and the postseason has been no different. The very first batter, Minnesotaâs Brian Dozier, went deep to start the first wild-card game. In their National League Championship Series loss to the Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs scored eight runs on homers, and no runs any other way. Of the 17 runs scored in this World Series, 14 have come on homers.
âEverybodyâs swinging for the fences,â said a weary Ken Giles, the Astrosâ closer, who served up Yasiel Puigâs 10th-inning blast in Game 2. âHome runs this series have been the big play so far. We need to figure out a way to prevent it.â
On Friday, the series shifts to Minute Maid Park, where the Astros are 6-0 this postseason. Jose Altuve began the Astrosâ playoff run with three homers there in the division series opener. The Dodgers also got a three-homer game in the playoffs, by Enrique Hernandez in the N.L.C.S. clincher.
Teams generally must slug to win. The top eight teams in slugging percentage all reached the playoffs this season; the Astros were first, at .478, and the Dodgers were tied for seventh with the Cubs, at .437. If this World Series becomes one big home run derby, the Astros like their chances.
âIf it comes down to a slugfest, my moneyâs on us,â third baseman Alex Bregman said. âWe bang. Weâre the best-hitting team in baseball. Weâll step in that box ready to go every time. Itâs fun to be a part of an offense like this.â
Bregman homered off Clayton Kershaw in Game 1, the only blemish across Kershawâs seven dazzling innings. It was typical of the way opponents have tried to handle Kershaw this month: with little chance of bunching hits together, they simply try to swing big.
The strategy is failing; while Kershaw has allowed all eight of his runs on homers this postseason, he is 3-0 with a 2.96 earned run average. He is scheduled to face Keuchel in Game 5 on Sunday.
As for Keuchelâs assertion â widely shared by other pitchers around the league â that the balls have been altered, Commissioner Rob Manfred has consistently denied it. He reiterated that stance before the American League wild-card game this month.
âWeâre using two different labs that have been looking at the ball on a continuous basis all year,â Manfred said. âBalls are within specs; thereâs been no movement even within the range of the specifications in terms of the baseball. Iâve said before I think thereâs other issues causing the home runs other than the baseball â principally, the way the gameâs being played, the tolerance for strikeouts, power pitching, guys changing their swing.â
Manfred added that âfans like home runs,â a point that is hard to argue. Excitement surged through Dodger Stadium with each home run on Wednesday night, and the hitters reacted memorably: The Dodgersâ Joc Pederson joyously gestured to the crowd; Carlos Correa gleefully flipped his bat toward the Astrosâ dugout; Puig gently placed his bat on the dirt; Charlie Culberson cavorted as if he were Joe Carter.
âGuys have been superaggressive, trying to get a fastball or attack a first pitch â thatâs what Iâve been seeing,â said the Astrosâ Chris Devenski, who gave up Culbersonâs two-out homer in the 11th but struck out Puig with a changeup to end it. âItâs baseball. It goes in streaks; it goes in spurts at times.â
The last time the World Series came to Southern California, in 2002, home runs were also the big story. The Angels beat the San Francisco Giants in Game 2 in Anaheim, 11-10, with the teams combining for six home runs, out of a record 21 for the Series. Players openly guessed that the ball was juiced then, too.
Al Levine, a nonroster pitcher for the Angels, actually took a Ginsu knife and sliced open a World Series ball and a regular-season ball in the clubhouse during that game. He concluded that the World Series ball was wound tighter.
âWhen I cut them open, one was easier, definitely,â Levine said then. âThe World Series ball was a lot tougher to get through.â
Troy Percival, the Angels closer who had given up a towering homer to Barry Bonds, put it this way: âItâs like throwing a smooth rock.â
Predictably, baseball denied any shenanigans. By then, though, the owners and the players had agreed to implement steroid testing the next season. The program has gradually gotten tougher since then, including a provision that players suspended during the regular season cannot take part in the postseason.
We have been fooled before, of course, but this generation of players seems to want a clean game. A widespread, coordinated cheating epidemic that consistently beats baseballâs testing program seems a little hard to fathom.
In any case, this World Series has so far reflected the game in 2017: dinger after dinger after dinger, breaking records and turning most players into awe-struck fans.
âI donât know what to tell you, man,â Correa said. âIt was so much fun.â