HOUSTON — Words fail. Analogies go limp. A common refrain for a game like Game 5 of the 2017 World Series is that baseball is drunk. Baseball is not drunk. Drunk people don’t fall up the stairs, through a window, and explode upon contact with the moon. This is not a movie. Movies have plots, logical progressions from A to B. This is not an avant-garde movie, either, where the director was trying to be weird. Both the Dodgers and Astros really, really, really wanted to be normal, and they absolutely could not.
Game 2 of the 2017 World Series forced me to break out the hyperbole stick, and angry readers wrested it from my hands and beat me with it. It was somewhat deserved. But the hyperbole stick is in control now. There’s nothing you can say about it that isn’t at least partially grounded in the truth. It was Michael Bay directing a movie based on Snoopy’s novel. A door slammed! A maid screamed! Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! The two teams rolled on the ground grappling beneath the murderous hooves! A left and a right! A left! Another left and right! An uppercut to the jaw! And there were explosions, explosions, explosions the whole time.
No, seriously, there were explosions.
I would like you to consider two truths, both equally valid. The first one is that this is the best baseball has to offer. It was lead change after lead change. It was the absence of hope followed by redemption, several dozen times, on both sides. This was a Rocky movie, where the on-screen boxing didn’t resemble real boxing, but nobody cared because it was so damned compelling. There were homers when you expected them and homers when you didn’t expect them.
(Just kidding. You expected all of the homers, and they still made you laugh.)
The second truth is this: That was unbelievably awful baseball. I have here in my hand a list of 205 stupid, dumb, irredeemable parts of this game. It was unthinkable calamity all around. Think about all of these dumb, awful baseball things:
- The strike zone
- The hanging sliders
- The pitchers who couldn’t pitch
- The strike zone
- When Marwin Gonzalez attacked a fly ball like an infielder playing the outfielder
- When Dave Roberts used his cleanup hitter to bunt
- The game was well over five hours, and if you watch it again, I promise you that there are several extremely boring parts
- Too many dingers
- Slippery balls
- George Springer diving for a ball he had no chance to catch
- The strike zone
- More than 400 pitches thrown
- Joc Pederson watching as a ball caromed off the left-field wall, as curious as all of us
- Clayton Kershaw walking everybody without missing bats after being spotted a four-run lead
- There were five different half-innings in which a team scored three runs or more, which means there was a lot of screwing up on both sides
- The Crawford Boxes, looming, 178 feet away from home plate, with unhinged jaws
- Dallas Keuchel missing low and high and left and right
- The strike zone
- The completely un-baseball feel of the game. This was Poochie the baseball game, and it died on the way back to its home planet
And yet it was the absolute best baseball game. And the absolute worst baseball game. But also the best! When you mix the two of them together, it becomes a best-worst slurry that looks like this:
Everyone in the stands was pensive or angry or barfing or all of the above. Walking back and forth on the club level in the top of the ninth inning, I saw grown men throwing whatever was in their hands and grown women screaming unholy curses into the blackened void. After the bottom of the 10th, half the crowd vanished in the departure and the other half milled around in white clothes, smoking a lot and wondering what it all meant.
Fossil records indicate that the Dodgers were leading 4-0 at one point in Game 5, and Clayton Kershaw was pitching. After the Dodgers scored early runs, it was obvious that he was going to mow through the Astros, one right after the other, taking the Dodgers back home with a commanding 3-2 series lead. He threw 12 pitches in the first inning, and it was almost disappointing. When he allowed a leadoff single to Evan Gattis in the third inning, he rebooted and immediately got a double play.
That’s almost the best part about this game: It was so completely normal and predictable at one point. The Dodgers pounced on Dallas Keuchel, whose command failed him against a team that is incapable of chasing garbage outside of the strike zone. There was an early lead, and one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball was in a groove. It was going to be a dull, predictable game for the rest of the night. It was a boring prequel to Game 6, nothing more.
It was the Yuli Gurriel home run that initially caused the bananas to rain down from the heavens. Here was the player who shouldn’t rightfully be in the lineup but for collectively bargained bureaucracy, hitting a limp slider that probably had something to do with the weird, empirically different baseballs. It was both of the controversies du jour over the weekend, shot through the Large Hadron Collider and exploding into a multiverse of takes.
That was 48 years ago. We’ve all learned a lot since then.
After that three-run homer, there was, let’s see, a Cody Bellinger three-run homer, a Jose Altuve three-run homer, a triple, a homer, a double, a homer, a double, a homer, a homer, a two-out, two-strike single to tie the game, and a two-out single to win the game. In between all of that, there were walks and blown calls and singles and balls that caught far too much of the plate.
This was the grand ol’ game of baseball molting its exoskeleton and becoming something unrecognizable. Are the baseballs juiced? Or slick? Did the grind grind grind of relievers in the hook-happy postseason catch up to both teams? Does the season-long attention paid to pitch counts affect the stamina of pitchers trying to slog through an extra month of high-adrenaline baseball? Is this just how baseball is now, a cavalcade of unfathomably strong super-athletes waiting for mistakes that will inevitably come because pitchers have reached the upper limits of what the human body will allow?
It’s yes to all of the above, unless it’s no to all of them. Hell, I don’t know. You don’t either. It’s just different. We’ll get used to it just in time for everything to change again.
Game 5 was a wonderland of thinking, “What if this guy hits a home run right now?” and being instantly validated. I thought that exact sentence three different times tonight (Gurriel, Altuve, McCann) and was rewarded with what I was thinking, like the kid from the Twilight Zone episode. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing. I’m OK with going a month or two without having three moments like that. The rarity of the old way allowed for a more refined appreciation.
On the other hand, look at all those balls sailing into the night. George Springer’s ball exploded when it left the atmosphere. Gurriel’s nearly tore a hole through the wall behind the Crawford Boxes. Even the ones that just sailed out, like Correa’s and Puig’s, were majestic in their own ways. Sure, it took a slippery baseball and a short porch, but there was still the anticipation when the ball was in the air, a collective intake of breath, that was absolutely delightful.
Baseball is broken, baseball is redeemed, baseball is the best, baseball is the worst. It took more than five hours for the Dodgers and Astros to play Game 5, and it felt like 100 hours of baseball was packed into it. At some point, there was a shirtless dude in American flag shorts being led off the field in handcuffs, doing a little dance and getting cheered by the crowd. That was this game. Stupid, boorish, unwelcome, but also very much appreciated for its dumbness and willingness to go to jail.
The 2017 World Series is five games old. It’s already set several records, including the most home runs in a World Series, which is bonkers, considering there’s still a game or two to go.
I figured Game 2 was the wildest game we would see for months. It didn’t even take a week for baseball to get sillier and dumber. The Astros are a win away from their first ever championship, and the Dodgers are still two home wins away from their first in nearly 30 years. I’ve counted both of them out at several points during this World Series.
Prediction: Game 6 will feature a pterodactyl. I’m not saying if it’s live or dead or reanimated. Just that it will feature a pterodactyl. I’d complain, but that would bring some normalcy to what has been the wildest back-and-forth World Series we can possibly imagine. Finally, a pterodactyl, I’ll say. It’s about time we have something that’s easy to understand.