USA TODAY Sports’ Ted Berg and Jorge Ortiz break down the Dodgers’ 3-1 win in Game 6.
USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES — Justin Verlander stood at his locker for almost 15 minutes Tuesday night trying to explain how he ended up the losing pitcher in Game 6 of the World Series.
“That’s just, man, you know, uh, that’s baseball,’’ he said.
Almost tongue tied at times after he missed a chance to pitch the Houston Astros to their first world championship, Verlander eventually referred to the sport’s cosmic forces.
“I can’t say I’m surprised the baseball gods said, ‘OK, well, here we go. We’re going to Game 7,'” he offered after striking out nine but giving up two runs on three hits in six innings in a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers — Verlander’s first loss since being traded from Detroit to Houston on Aug. 31.
Let’s get something straight: The baseball gods, and life in general, have been more than generous with Verlander, 34.
He has a super model fiancee in Kate Upton. He has a Cy Young and MVP award. He has eight All-Star appearances. Two no-hitters.
And, well, a little potential legacy problem.
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That problem being Verlander still is in search of a World Series ring despite chances in 2006 and 2012. Yes, he and the Astros still have Game 7 Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. But on Tuesday night, Verlander seemed fixated on the fates and what went wrong at Dodger Stadium.
It started in the bottom of the sixth with the Astros leading 1-0. Leading off: the unimposing Austin Barnes, who is batting .238 in the postseason. Yet Verlander opened the count with two balls, then watched Barnes hit the third pitch — a 94 mph fastball — for a single to left field.
“I think when I sit down tonight and really reflect on this game, you know, the one thing I’ll be upset about is maybe falling behind Barnes,’’ Verlander said.
There should also be at least a tinge of regret over what happened next — Verlander bounced a pitch that struck Chase Utley in the foot, putting runners on first and second with no outs.
Once again, the perceived slickness of these World Series baseballs came to the fore, as Verlander said he was concerned he could not get a sufficient grip on his slider.
“I wasn’t going to get beat on a mediocre slider over the middle of the plate,’’ Verlander said. “I think it’s been pretty well documented how sliders haven’t been super effective.
“So that was on the back of my mind. I’m not going to lie. I’m not going to throw a slider that’s just going to be kind of spinning in the middle of the plate for him to hit a double on. So I yanked it, hit him.’’
More trouble followed. Up came Chris Taylor, who hit a 2-2 fastball to right field for an opposite-field, run-scoring double. Verlander looked anguished when recalling the details.
“You can’t really protect against that,’’ he said. “You know, I beat him to the spot. …I’ll take my chances on that 10-out-of-10 times. Unfortunately tonight it found the line and from that point it was just kind of battling.’’
Corey Seager followed with a sacrifice fly that appeared to be heading beyond the right field fence, giving the Dodgers a 2-1 lead before Verlander escaped without further damage. But for him the night was over. He was lifted for a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh and had no objection to the move by Astros manager A.J. Hinch.
“I didn’t look too great at the plate,’’ Verlander said with a chuckle, and no one could argue with him after watching him strike out in each of his two at-bats. “It was the right move. We gave ourselves a chance to score.’’
By that point, there was nothing Verlander could do anyway. The Astros would fail to score another run while the Dodgers added a run and pushed the World Series to Game 7 after Verlander’s defeat.
“I feel like I pitched pretty well,’’ he said, and it was hard to argue while watching him throwing 97 mph fastballs throughout his six-inning stint. Now his chances of winning a World Series ring likely will depend on his teammates — if not the baseball gods.