HOUSTON -- Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow may want to pick up the phone this weekend, call the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, and make an appointment.
He has a license plate he needs to change.
Luhnow doesn’t want to jinx himself, so he’ll wait, but after the Astros’ 5-3 victory Friday night over the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Astros find themselves in the driver’s seat in this World Series.
The Astros are up 2-1 in this best-of-seven series, but the margin suddenly feels a whole lot bigger.
The Dodgers are scuffling to find offense, collecting four hits, giving them a total of 12 the first nine innings of these three World Series games.
The Astros will play the next two nights in raucous Minute Maid Park, where they haven’t lost a game this postseason -- only the second team in history to win their first seven games at home -- with starter Charlie Morton and a fresh bullpen ready for Game 4, and co-ace Dallas Keuchel on-deck for the potential clincher in Game 5.
It’s quite possible they have taken their last road trip of the season.
“You know what, it’s really hard not to think about that,’’ says second baseman Jose Altuve, “because you’re talking about a World Series champion.
“We want to stay humble, stay quiet but it would be so nice to win the championship here in front of our fans. It would be a dream come true, not just for us, but for everybody, the fans, the city.
“They’ve been through a lot. They’ve been here since we lost 100 games three years in a row, and they kept coming back to the ballpark supporting us.’’
Certainly, it’s enough to at least have Luhnow googling his closest DMV bureau near his house and asking the office hours.
It was four years ago that the Astros lost 111 games, the third consecutive year they lost at least 106 games, embarrassing Luhnow, who was in his second year on the job.
Luhnow went to his local DMV, and traded his old license plate for a vanity plate: "GM111."
“I wanted to remind myself every time I got into my car,’’ Luhnow said, “that I never wanted to experience anything like that again.’’
When the Astros made the playoffs two years ago, Luhnow finally changed his license plate to “OctoberBB.’’ The old license plate hangs on his office wall.
And now, just two victories away from being the last team standing, does he have plans for that new plate yet?
“Maybe, maybe,’’ Luhnow said, breaking into a wide grin. “I don’t want to jinx anything.’’
Yet, the way this series is playing out, he might want to make a reservation now, just to avoid those long lines.
“This was huge, this was a must-win game,’’ Astros All-Star center fielder George Springer said. “It was absolutely huge. It allows us now to come out and kind of play our game (Saturday). We can come out and not have to chase them.
“We can come out and be who we are.’’
Darvish had been 4-0 with a 0.88 ERA in his last five starts since Sept. 13, including two postseason starts. In Game 3, the Astros banged out four extra-base hits and four runs off him. Darvish threw 49 pitches, and only once did the Astros swing and miss.
He hardly resembled the same guy who was 4-1 with a 2.16 ERA in six career starts at Minute Maid Park, nearly throwing a perfect game against the Astros in that dreadful 2013 season.
Darvish’s worst start leaves the Dodgers in survival mode now, with two more games in the next 48 hours without the benefit of an off-day or DL stint.
The Dodgers, incredibly, have now used 17 pitchers in the last 21 innings since Clayton Kershaw departed in Game 1.
Yes, that is a World Series record.
This night, they had to use five relievers after Darvish’s exit, and most damaging was that Kenta Maeda was used the most, throwing 42 pitches over 2 2/3 innings. Maeda, who has yielded just two singles to the 28 batters he has faced this postseason, now is unavailable for Game 4, and could be limited pitching in Game 5.
The Dodgers, given starter Alex Wood’s track record, could have to extensively use their bullpen again Saturday night in Game 4. He has only pitched into the seventh inning once in the last three months, and has only pitched 4 2/3 innings this entire postseason.
In contrast, the Astros’ bullpen, thanks to Brad Peacock’s brilliant 3 2/3-inning hitless outing for his first career save, is fresh. They only needed two pitchers the entire night. Lance McCullers took the first 5 1/3 innings, and Peacock did the rest.
And for a team that is built on their analytic genius, they sure are going old-school on us, with McCullers going four innings in his save in Game 7 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees.
“We’re bringing the game,’’ Astros reliever Luke Gregerson said, “back to where it was.’’
The Astros, suddenly relaxed and buoyed with confidence, are going for the jugular. The Dodgers can sense this is a different team than they saw the first 16 innings in Los Angeles.
And, now, just two victories away, where they’ve never gone before, with a vanity license plate to be named.
“We’re confident,’’ Springer says, “and we feel good, but we know it’s not over. We have to stay humble.’’
Well, at least for now.
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