HOUSTON -- Alex Bregman is 23 years old and about to complete his first full season in the big leagues. But when he boarded a plane in Los Angeles late Wednesday night, he figured he had just played in what would be the most thrilling game of his career.
It took all of four nights to top it.
How best to explain what happened Sunday night in Houston under the roof at Minute Maid Park? The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers crammed a week's worth of drama into a Game 5 that lasted for 10 innings and more than five hours. Villains morphed into heroes. Heroes turned into goats and then became heroes again. Baseball's best pitcher looked mortal, its best hitter utterly infallible. Two mini-controversies that disrupted the Series converged in one swing of the bat.
And the home runs? Did we mention the home runs? There were seven of them, just for the record, including two tying three-run shots in back-to-back innings by Yuli Gurriel and Jose Altuve. The Astros overcame 4-0, 7-4 and 8-7 deficits, and the Dodgers rallied from an 11-8 hole, tying the game in the ninth inning when they were down to their final strike.
Everywhere you turned in a 13-12 victory that put the Astros on the precipice of their first title since the franchise was born in 1962 as the Houston Colt 45s was sheer bedlam.
"I feel like I'm going to have a heart attack out there every single time," shortstop Carlos Correa said of a game that was seen and still hardly believed. "It's high pressure out there. The game is going back and forth. Hopefully we can win one more game and take a break because this is hard on me."
But when Bregman dug in against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen with two outs and the winning run on second base in the 10th inning, he projected an eerie sense of calm. He tends to do that, you know. Bregman grew up wanting to be Derek Jeter, and often gets compared to Dustin Pedroia by teammates who describe him as a "baseball rat." As center fielder George Springer says, "The guy lives for this stuff."
And so, with 43,300 delirious souls screaming and stomping and clapping, Bregman slowed it all down. He looked back at the dugout and saw Correa, who told him, "It's your time." Then, as he walked to the plate, he thought about his home run against Jansen from the night before.
"He threw me a slider, and I was fortunate enough to put a good swing on it and hit it out of the yard," Bregman said. "I basically eliminated the slider, and I said I need to get a pitch that I can stay on top of because he's a guy that throws high cutters and a guy that gets a lot of fly-ball outs."
Sure enough, Jansen threw a first-pitch cutter, and Bregman punched it to left field to score Derek Fisher, a rookie who hadn't seen the field in this postseason before he came on as a pinch-runner just before Bregman's at-bat.
"I knew [Bregman] was going to do it," Altuve said. "He likes those kind of situations. He's calling for it. I knew he was ready to get the big hit. He did it."
Said Correa: "There's nobody more confident than that guy in the locker room. He was facing Jansen, the best closer in the game, and he went to hit knowing that the game was going to be over."
By the time the 10th inning began, Altuve, Correa and Springer -- the Astros' three homegrown superstars and the millennial Houston baseball fan's version of Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman -- had taken at least one big swing to impact the game.
Altuve's three-run homer in the fifth inning on a seven-pitch at-bat against Dodgers reliever Kenta Maeda tied it at 7-7, and his arcing RBI double two innings later opened a 9-8 lead. Correa's two-run homer in the seventh made it 11-8. And Springer started that big seventh-inning rally with a leadoff homer, avenging his failed attempt at a diving catch in center field that had given Cody Bellinger an RBI triple and the Dodgers an 8-7 lead.
"That was a very angry swing," Springer said of his home run. "I was upset at the bad decision I made [defensively]. That's a very lonely feeling to know that I made a bad decision. I'll own up to it. I should've stopped. But I got told by [bench coach] Alex Cora and A.J. Hinch, 'It's over. Just go have a good quality at-bat and see what happens.' To go from that low to that high is very emotional. I don't really know how to describe it."
So much about Game 5 defied description.
Astros starter Dallas Keuchel entered the game with a 2.32 ERA in 57 starts at home since 2014. In three previous playoff starts at Minute Maid Park, he allowed two runs in 19⅔ innings for a 0.92 ERA. But he gave up three runs in the first inning and lasted only 3⅔ innings -- a double whammy for an Astros team that has had its combustible bullpen exposed throughout the postseason.
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw didn't hang around much longer. Staked to a four-run lead, the three-time Cy Young Award winner gave it back in the fourth inning.
Naturally, the big blow just had to come from Gurriel, who aimed racially insensitive behavior at Dodgers starter Yu Darvish after a Game 3 homer and received a five-game suspension that won't be enforced until the beginning of next season. If Gurriel thought he would get booed at Dodger Stadium in Game 6, wait until he hears the reception after hitting the three-run homer that might prove to have been the moment that turned the series in the Astros' favor.
"I think everyone is aware it's going to be a rough setting for him [at Dodger Stadium]," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. "I don't think you can convince 55,000 fans to turn the page as fast as maybe the two teams have. I'm sure [fans' reaction to Gurriel] will be on the aggressive side."
With this World Series -- and Game 5, in particular -- stretching the limits of credulity, Gurriel's three-run homer had to come on a slider. Before the game, several pitchers and coaches from both teams alleged that the balls being used in the World Series are slicker to the touch than usual, preventing them from getting a good grip on their breaking pitches, especially the slider.
"It's hard enough to hit it," Springer said. "Whatever it is, I don't know. I don't pitch."
But all of the craziness seemed to subside when Bregman stepped in against Jansen. Just like his calm, accurate throw to the plate to cut down the New York Yankees' Greg Bird in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and a similar play in Game 3 of the World Series, the moment doesn't seem to overwhelm him.
"I think being calm in the moment is innate," Hinch said. "I think he understands, has a confidence level, has an awareness, like the awareness to beat them with a single. He's not trying the theatrics and dramatics, trying to hit a ball out of the ballpark. He's just trying to get a good single and get a good pitch to hit. He is cool and calm and completely in control of himself in these moments. I don't care if he's been in the league one year or 10 years, he's demonstrating some very unique traits in the biggest moments."
It doesn't get much bigger. And now, the Astros are on the verge of making history, a feeling Bregman described as "pure joy."
"I thought Game 2 was probably the best baseball game I ever played in," Bregman said. "I didn't think that would ever be topped. Who knows where this one ranks? Right up there with that game. Back and forth, the two best teams fighting to the very end and going toe-to-toe with each other."
It's been that way for five games. No reason to think it's going to change now.