After working his entire baseball life to get to the World Series, Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch could’ve used a better start. Starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel’s first pitch to Los Angeles Dodgers leadoff hitter Chris Taylor was hit over the left field wall, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
“Obviously the place went crazy, the first pitch of the bottom of the first, you kind of got the crowd into it. It was obviously a tough start for us,” Hinch said. “But in the moment, I felt pretty good about it. He goes through the inning he gets the next three guys out. He comes out, he’s on the top step and he’s like, ‘Well that didn’t start very well for us, did it?’ So he was balanced and he was under control, and he really was locked in.”
Keuchel’s effort wasn’t enough, not after Justin Turner sent another baseball over the left-field wall, scoring the game-deciding runs on a two-run home run in the sixth inning. But on Wednesday, just hours before Game 2 at Dodger Stadium, Hinch was able to laugh off the tough start and look forward to handing the ball to veteran ace Justin Verlander. Since Houston acquired the six-time All-Star from Detroit, the 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner has gone 9-0, instilling plenty of confidence in Hinch that the Astros can leave Los Angeles with the series tied.
“When this guy is pitching, we feel like we have a chance to win. We believe it, and it’s proven—we haven’t lost with him yet,” Hinch said. “He’s got an edge to him, too. He’s at a different level, where I think he’s a 13-year big leaguer and he comes over from the trade he had to wave his no-trade to be a part of this. And that resonates with our players. Like this dude didn’t have to come, he didn’t have to say yes to the trade, he was comfortable being a legend in Detroit. But he wanted to be a part of this. And I think the respect is high for him, in that he changed his life in order to help us and help himself be a World Series champion.”
Hinch appreciated Verlander’s ability to pitch from afar. But but what’s impressed him the most is his willingness to adapt, even after 13 seasons in the big leagues.
“He’s had a good changeup in the past and he abandoned it during his later years with the Tigers,” Hinch said. “And we wanted him to use it a little more. So that was more of a longer-term thought, not necessarily a start-by-start thought. And then you look up in the ALCS and he punches out Brett Gardner on a nasty pitch. One of the most important pitches of Game 6, and we were like, ‘Hey man, we want you to use it. I didn’t necessarily mean you had to use it at the most critical moment of Game 6 to try to get out of the inning.’ But that’s how he rolls.
“If he finds something that can make him better, or finds something that can give him a bit of an edge, he goes full throttle.”