LOS ANGELES -- When the history of the 2017 World Series is written, the sixth inning of Game 6 will be a minor footnote, buried behind the dramatics of Games 2 and 5 and whatever happens in Game 7. If the Los Angeles Dodgers do win the final game of the season, however, don't forget what transpired over those 42 sixth-inning pitches on Tuesday night. It might go down as the inning that saved the Dodgers' season.
Through five innings, Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander had dominated, throwing a one-hitter with eight strikeouts. He was looking as if he might challenge Sandy Koufax's 1965 three-hit shutout or Jack Morris' 10-inning masterpiece in 1991 or Josh Beckett's Game 6 gem to beat the New York Yankees in 2003 as the best clinching performance in World Series history.
In the middle of it all was an unlikely contributor, Chase Utley, a 38-year-old second baseman with graying hair who had been hitless the entire postseason and didn't even start the game.
The inning began with the Astros up 1-0 and Jose Altuve leading off against reliever Brandon Morrow, who got a huge out to end the fifth inning after replacing Rich Hill with the bases loaded and retiring Alex Bregman on a ground ball. It was Morrow's sixth appearance of the World Series. His fifth appearance had been a disaster, as he threw six pitches and gave up two home runs, a double and a single. But the pitch to get Bregman? A 99 mph fastball. After a day of rest, his velocity was back.
"A guy that we've trusted all year long in that spot," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after the game. "I felt that you have to use that bullet in Brandon Morrow, and I've believed in him all year long. And he came through in the biggest spot of the season."
Morrow retired Altuve on a grounder to third with an 89 mph slider, after reaching 99 mph on an earlier pitch. He then fanned Carlos Correa swinging on an unfair 1-2 slider that dipped below the knees.
"He was big," Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes said of Morrow. "All of his pitches seemed to be working. He's been used a lot, but we want him on the mound and he wants to be on the mound, so it's good to see him and the whole bullpen rebound."
Roberts had a tough choice: Leave in Morrow, who was due up second in the bottom of the sixth, or go to the lefty-lefty matchup with Tony Watson. He brought in Watson, but in doing so double-switched Logan Forsythe out of the game and inserted Utley in the Morrow's spot. It was a debatable move. Utley had been 0-for-14 in the postseason; and he doesn't have the range at second that Forsythe does. Yes, a pinch hitter would have been needed anyway in the bottom of the sixth against Verlander, but that could have been Andre Ethier, and the Dodgers would have kept Forsythe in the game.
Roberts has confidence in all his guys, however. That's why he brought in Morrow, even after the Game 5 implosion. He trusts Utley.
And then Watson hit McCann, bringing up tough switch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez. At 2-2, Watson threw a changeup, low and in, Gonzalez lined it up the middle -- right to a leaping Utley. In the pre-shift era, that's a base hit to center. In 2017, with the right positioning -- long an Utley specialty -- it was an out.
The hearts of Dodgers fans skipped a beat, but not Barnes'.
"I thought Watty made a good pitch there," Barnes said. "We fell behind, but I thought Utley was going to make the play."
So we went to the bottom of the sixth. Barnes was leading off against Verlander.
"I'm just trying to get on base any way I could," said Barnes, who grew up a Dodgers fan in Riverside, California.
Verlander had thrown 69 pitches, 48 for strikes. His final pitch of the fifth had been a 97 mph fastball that he blew past Forsythe.
Barnes took two close fastballs for balls -- thrown at 95 and 93 mph -- and then turned on 94 mph heater in the middle of the plate. It wasn't hit that hard, but he lined it into left for a leadoff single.
That brought up Utley, batting in the 9-hole. He took a slider low, then fouled off a fastball and a slider. The 1-2 pitch was another slider, and if there's one pitch from this game Verlander would like back, it was that one. It hit Utley in the foot. Two on, no outs.
"That was a huge AB there, getting two on and a guy in scoring position," Barnes said.
Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager offered his assessment of the situation.
"Verlander was tough," Seager said. "We just kept grinding, grinding. Finally, we got the big double from CT."
"CT" is Chris Taylor, October hero. On a 97 mph fastball with a 1-2 count, he dunked a little flare over first base into right field to score Barnes. In a different era, Taylor might have bunted. Not in 2017.
"I know Doc [Roberts] has trust in me to swing it," Taylor said. "The majority of the year, in that situation, he's let me hit. So I'm thankful he didn't give me the bunt sign, and I got the job done for him."
Then Seager also fell behind 1-2; if you're an Astros fan, think of those three 1-2 counts, and how any of them could have changed the outcome of the inning, and the game, and the season. He fouled off a fastball at 97 mph up in the zone, before drilling a slider to deep right field. The initial reaction at Dodger Stadium: home run. However, Josh Reddick made the catch in front of the wall but plenty deep enough to score Utley with the go-ahead run.
Verlander worked out of the jam from there, but the damage was down. Now down 2-1, A.J. Hinch had to hit for his ace in the seventh.
So we move on to Game 7. The sixth inning of Game 6 made it possible.