Verlander, Astros aim for first championship

LOS ANGELES (AP) — At this rate, Justin Verlander might very well hit his first home run for real.

A classically poor-hitting pitcher, the Houston ace knocked one over the wall last week at Dodger Stadium in batting practice. Maybe that bolstered his belief that this batch of baseballs is slick and juiced.

On Tuesday night, Verlander aims to lead the Astros to their first championship when he faces the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of a power-packed World Series that’s already set the mark for home runs.

“We’re just making memories right now,” Astros catcher Brian McCann said, a day after he homered.

A total of 22 homers so far, more than 1¢ miles of dingers.

These nightly episodes of home run derby are connecting with fans, too — in much of the country, they stayed up well past midnight to watch Houston outlast the Dodgers 13-12 in 10 innings at Minute Maid Park, TV numbers showed.

With each swing, perhaps this Series really is becoming more riveting.

George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel and McCann launched longballs in the Astros’ back-and-forth thriller. Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig homered for the Dodgers — seven different players on each side have homered.

“This is not going to be finished Tuesday. It’s going to be Game 7,” Puig said.

Springer has hit three in the Series. His assessment of Game 5: “Bedlam.”

“This is the craziest atmosphere I’ve ever played in, the craziest results, just big hit after big hit, big play after big play,” the Houston leadoff man said.

Major League Baseball set a record this year for most home runs in a season and, fittingly, Minnesota leadoff man Brian Dozier began the playoffs with a homer.

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, meanwhile, has been tagged for a record eight home runs in a single postseason. Gurriel got him in Game 4, and Houston has 13 overall against the Dodgers.

Did anyone expect this many at this time in October? Surprising, right?

“I guess a little bit, just because both teams are putting up incredible at-bats in the most important times,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Monday on a conference call.

“I think we realize on the pitching side, both teams are at the very end of their rope,” he said. “Their mistakes are getting hit. But the volume is certainly record-setting, and certainly the intensity of the moments that are ending in home runs is hard to fathom.”

Dodgers lefty Rich Hill opposes Verlander in a rematch from Game 2. That night, the teams wound up combining for a Series-record eight home runs, with Houston holding on to win 7-6 in 11 innings.

Los Angeles reliever Ross Stripling was among 14 pitchers, seven on each side, who worked in the Game 5 slugfest.

“If we can just hold them to less than 12 runs, we can get some wins,” Stripling said.

There were 6,105 home runs during the regular season, an average of about 2.5 homers per game. There have been 4.4 per game in the Series.

The ball has been flying out of the ballpark all year,” said Justin Turner, whose tiebreaking homer helped Los Angeles win the opener, when the gametime temperature was 103 degrees.

“So, no, it’s not surprising. I will say that you might see a little bit different game here tomorrow night, a little bit different weather. It’s going to be a lot cooler here than it was for the first two games, and it might be a different ballgame than you’ve seen in the first five games.”

Los Angeles landed back home at 4 a.m. PDT after Sunday night’s game, and the Astros traveled Monday. Neither team worked out.

“I think that it’s obviously different than a regular season tough loss,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Obviously the emotions and focus and energy were at an all-time high. But I think that our guys, even on the airplane, just as tough as that was, just looked forward to today, just having an off day, and being ready to win a game on Tuesday.”

Forty-three of the 65 teams with 3-2 Series leads have won the title, including 25 in Game 6. Home teams have won four of the last five Game 6s and 15 of 20.

Last year, Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in the Series, lost Game 5 at Wrigley Field, and failed to win either Game 6 or 7 at home.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch thought back to this year’s AL Championship Series, when the home team won every game.

“So we have to go no further back than the last series that we need remember that anything is possible, and the team that is down is going to come out just as hungry as the team that’s ahead,” he said.