HOUSTON -- On numerous occasions, Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch has referenced his psychology degree from Stanford and the role it plays in fulfilling duties in the dugout and the clubhouse, tasks that run the gamut from game strategy to manipulating the psyches of his players.
While the former requirement comes with the glare of a white-hot spotlight, the latter is no less taxing, particularly on a talented team with a weakness as glaring as the Astros' bullpen.
Thanks to their madcap 7-6, 11-inning victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night, the Astros evened the series at a game apiece despite another unsightly showing by their bullpen, with closer Ken Giles nearly fitted with goat horns.
Giles squandered a stunning late-inning power display by the Astros, who rode solo homers from Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa to a 5-3 lead going into the bottom of the 10th inning. Giles, who breezed through a perfect ninth inning, subsequently allowed two runs in the 10th and needed scuffling right-hander Chris Devenski to bail out both him and the club.
"Roles are softly defined, but I think Ken Giles is going to get another save in this series," said Hinch, who used the word "fabrication" to denounce a published report that he was involved in an altercation at a Pasadena, Calif., hotel bar following Game 1. "I think he's going to get some really big outs. I think when the crowd is standing in this ballpark over the next couple of games, if we can have the lead and he's the right matchup, he's going to get the last out.
"He's done it awfully well this year, and again I reiterate, just because somebody has a bad day at work does not mean they need to be condemned and sent away."
Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. will get the start for the Astros when they host Game 3 on Friday night at Minute Maid Park. Hinch doesn't have many obvious options for high-leverage situations should McCullers fatigue in the middle innings. Giles (0-1, 8.22 ERA over six games) has struggled mightily this postseason, allowing opponents to post a 1.015 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. But Devenski (1-0, 8.44 ERA), an All-Star who staggered throughout the second half, hasn't fared any better.
Opponents have produced a .905 OPS against Devenski over seven games this postseason. Right-handers Will Harris and Joe Musgrove have filled high-leverage roles during the season, but in the playoffs, Musgrove has pitched to a 7.36 ERA while Harris' allowed OPS stands at .905. That Hinch stuck with Devenski even after Devenski allowed a solo homer to Charlie Culberson in the 11th inning Wednesday reflects his unyielding belief in his players, through performances good and bad.
"It definitely meant a lot for me," Devenski said. "I'm glad he's had my back like that throughout the whole year, through my ups and downs. It was very special, and I felt like I built up some momentum, and we'll keep it rolling."
Right-hander Yu Darvish will start for the Dodgers in Game 3, introducing an element thus far unique to this World Series: familiarity.
Darvish is 5-5 with a 3.44 ERA over 14 career starts against the Astros, all made while with the Texas Rangers. He logged 89 innings with 118 strikeouts and a 1.067 WHIP with Texas against Houston before his non-waiver deadline trade to the Dodgers. He made two starts vs. the Astros 10 days apart in June, surrendering four runs on eight hits and four walks with 12 strikeouts over 12 innings. Darvish split those decisions, with Texas winning 6-1 in Houston.
"I feel like it doesn't really matter," Darvish said Thursday of his history at Minute Maid Park. "It's better to know that I've pitched here before. But tomorrow's game, it could be totally different from my previous outings here. Maybe it will give me a little bit of an advantage, but it really doesn't matter."
How deep Darvish pitches into Game 3 could depend on a number of factors, with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts facing criticism for his reliance on the bullpen. In Game 2, Roberts pulled starter Rich Hill after the left-hander worked four effective innings. Eight Dodgers relievers later, Houston completed a stunning rally that not only shifted the series locale, but also series momentum.
"I just feel that in a seven-game series you're going to have to lean on everyone," Roberts said. "But extending your 'pen to an extreme amount right now in Game 2 or Game 1, understanding you still have to win four games in a seven-game series, you still have to be very careful with that."
Roberts plans to start Joc Pederson in left field again Friday. Normally a center fielder, Pederson started in left Wednesday even though he has made only two career regular-season starts at the position.