HOUSTON -- One by one, the Astros filed out of the clubhouse after Saturday night’s Game 4 loss to the Dodgers, this time by the score of 6-2 at Minute Maid Park. The minutes ticked by. Ken Giles’ locker remained empty, surrounded by reporters.
Finally, with nearly all of his teammates long gone, Giles emerged 34 minutes after the final pitch, squeezed between the TV cameras and stood to answer questions.
The procrastination was understandable. Yet again, Giles was the architect of another late-inning failure. Called on to keep a 1-1 tie in place for the start of the ninth inning, Giles was the Dodgers’ best buddy, giving up a leadoff single to Corey Seager, a walk to Justin Turner and a go-ahead double by Cody Bellinger. Once Bellinger got to second, Astros manager A.J. Hinch began his dismal stroll to the mound to retrieve the baseball. After handing it off, Giles was crushed by boos on the long walk back to the dugout.
“I didn’t do my job — it’s that simple,” said Giles, whose postseason ERA rose to 11.75 over seven games. “I let the team down.”
Giles sounded despondent, and for good reason. He’s allowed at least one run in six of his seven appearances this October, and this was his second straight meltdown. In Game 2 at Dodger Stadium, Giles failed to protect a 5-3 lead in the 10th inning, when he allowed a leadoff homer by Yasiel Puig, a walk and the tying single by Enrique Hernandez.
The Astros bailed out Giles that night at Chavez Ravine, but after Saturday’s performance, Giles can’t blame Hinch if he’s kept away from any more high-leverage situations. Still, it’s not as if the Astros have a ton of alternatives. Hinch leaned on Brad Peacock for 3 2⁄3 scoreless innings to close Friday night’s Game 3 win, and the Houston manager has been open to employing a starter or two in relief as well. Chris Devenski, who supplied a scoreless eighth Saturday night, could always be switched into the closer role.
It’s just tough to envision Hinch trusting Giles any longer, especially now that the World Series is down to a best-of-three scenario. When asked about that, however, Hinch didn’t sound as if he were totally abandoning Giles. Or maybe he was just trying to be supportive for a closer whose self-esteem appears to have cratered.
“Clearly he’s trying to push through the adversity that he’s had,” Hinch said. “But to be a back-end reliever, you’ve got to live on that edge of not carrying too long of a memory because of the things that can happen at the back of the game. But you have the ball in your hands at the most critical times because you have the best stuff. He can get outs, and he’ll continue to get outs, but it’s been tough on him.”
The Yankees were in a similar place with Dellin Betances before their playoff exit, and Joe Girardi had no choice but to relegate him to project status, using him only when the game had been decided one way or another. Even in those minimal-pressure situations, Betances never snapped out of it, and there’s got to be some thought that Giles is too far gone to correct himself with so little time left — and so much at stake during that span.
When pressed about his slump, Giles kept repeating that he was only one pitch away, one out away, from being the same closer who had a 1.14 ERA in his final 38 regular-season games. But those pitches and outs are getting increasingly difficult to come by for Giles, who has a 27.00 ERA in two World Series games.
“I know A.J. has confidence in me,” Giles said. “He knows I can do this. I’m not going to let the team down. I’m going to get back on track. I’ll be ready with a vengeance tomorrow and it’s going to come back.”
The Astros were nine outs away from going up 3-1 in the series after George Springer ended Alex Wood’s no-hit bid with a solo homer in the sixth inning. But Will Harris gave up a tying single by Logan Forsythe with two outs in the seventh, and two innings later, Giles basically put a match to the Astros’ remaining hope by failing to record an out. Joe Musgrove didn’t help matters by allowing a sacrifice fly by Austin Barnes and a three-run homer by Joc Pederson.
With Giles apparently lost right now, the Astros’ suspect bullpen is going to have an impossible task matching up with the Dodgers’ relief corps in these last few games, however long this series goes. Unless, that is, Giles figures things out pretty quickly.
“I’ve done a lot for this team and it’s time for me to carry my weight,” he said. “I’ve got to dust myself off and be ready to go.”