HOUSTON—When the Astros selected Alex Bregman second overall in the 2015 draft, they knew they were getting a player who would never be fazed by a big moment.
In high school Bregman homered in his first at-bat of the New Mexico state championship game. He was a freshman.
He showed up as a freshman at Louisiana State, the most championship-laden program in college baseball, and won the starting shortstop job. He won Baseball America's Freshman of the Year in 2013, became a two-time All-American for the Tigers, and starred for the U.S. Collegiate National Team, too.
So when Bregman stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning with the score tied and the indomitable Kenley Jansen on the mound in Game Five of the World Series, there was little doubt from anyone in the Astros dugout that the 23-year-old third baseman and former Top 100 prospect would deliver.
"There is nobody more confident than that guy in the locker room," shortstop Carlos Correa said. "He was facing Jansen, the best closer in the game, knowing that the game was going to be over. That's what makes him so special."
Bregman drilled a first-pitch, walkoff RBI single off Jansen to score Derek Fisher from second base and lift the Astros to a 13-12 victory over the Dodgers in the wee hours of Monday morning, the exclamation point on a 5-hour, 17-minute seesaw marathon that saw World Series home run records fall.
Bregman's liner into left field gave the Astros a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series as the teams head back to Los Angeles. Game Six is Tuesday night.
"He's Alex Bregman, and that comes a lot with him," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He is cool and calm and completely in control of himself in these moments. I don't care if he's been in the league one year or 10 years. He's demonstrating some very unique traits in the biggest moments."
It was the second straight night Bregman got the best of Jansen. He previously homered off of him in the ninth inning of Game Four.
"I took one more swing in the on-deck circle and I looked at Correa, and Correa said 'It's your time,'" Bregman said. "I saw (Jansen) last night and he threw me a slider and I was fortunate enough to put a good swing on it and hit it out of the yard. I basically eliminated the slider and I said 'I need to get a pitch that I can stay on top of because he's a guy who throws high cutters, gets a lot of fly ball outs.' So I was looking for something down in the zone that I could stay on top of…As soon as it left my bat, I knew Fisher would score."
Bregman ended a game it seemed no one else could. The Dodgers had leads of 4-0, 7-4 and 8-7 and couldn't hold any of them.
The Astros had leads of 11-8, 12-9 and 12-11 with one strike to go. They couldn't hold those, either.
The teams combined for seven home runs as they staged rally after rally. That made for 22 total homers, a new World Series record, in only five games.
It was the Astros who won the Home Run Derby masquerading as a World Series game.
Down 4-0 and facing Clayton Kershaw, Correa got the Astros on the board with an RBI double in the bottom of the fourth, and Yuli Gurriel tied it up with a stunning, majestic three-run shot off the left-field façade.
Cody Bellinger responded a three-run homer of his own the next half-inning to make it 7-4 Dodgers, giving Kershaw another lead to work with.
The Astros had none of it. George Springer worked an eight-pitch walk and Bregman followed with a 10-pitch walk to chase Kershaw from the game after only 4.2 innings. Kenta Maeda entered, and Jose Altuve hit his 94-mph fastball 415 feet into the fan overhang in left-center to make it 7-7.
Bellinger again gave the Dodgers the lead in the seventh with an assist from Springer. The Astros center fielder dove for Bellinger's sinking one-out liner, missed it, and the ball rolled all the way to the warning track to allow Kike Hernandez to score from first.
In came Brandon Morrow, the Dodgers renaissance man and setup reliever extraordinaire, to hold that 8-7 lead in the seventh. Pitching for the fifth time in six days, he couldn't.
Springer atoned for his defensive miscue with a leadoff, game-tying home run of mythic proportion, a 448-foot missile that carried over the train tracks atop left field and slammed into the windows at the back of Minute Maid Park, setting off the fireworks and turning the stadium into a madhouse of 43,300 bouncing, roaring fans.
"That was a very angry swing," Springer said. "I was upset at the bad decision I made. I was just fortunate enough to square it up."
The Astros weren't done tormenting Morrow. Bregman singled and Altuve doubled him home to give the Astros their first lead at 9-8. Then came Correa, pulling his hands in on a 96 mph sinker high-and-tight, and sending it skyward to the heavens.
Dodgers left fielder Joc Pederson raced back, feeling for the wall in front of the Crawford Boxes in left field. The crowd went silent, waiting to see if the towering drive would have enough carry. Pederson moved to his left slowly, tepidly, tried to give one more inch back—and hit the wall. The ball fell into the stands, missing the yellow line atop the wall by inches. The crowd exploded. Correa yelped. The Astros players flooded the field out of the dugout. The Astros had taken a 7-4 deficit and turned it into an 11-8 lead, taking with them control of the crowd and the momentum.
"We knew going into this series this is the best offensive ballclub that we were going to see all year," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "They can slug you. They spoil pitches. They're athletic.…It's the best lineup we've seen, one through nine, especially in this ballpark."
Following the pattern of the entire night, though, the Dodgers came back. Pederson doubled and Chris Taylor was hit by a pitch with one out in the eighth, and Corey Seager drilled Will Harris' first pitch for a run-scoring double to make it 11-9. The rally stalled when Justin Turner's hard liner to right found the glove of Josh Reddick in right field, and Reddick made a perfect throw to prevent Taylor from tagging up at third. Chris Devenski entered and induced a grounder to first from Andre Ethier, ending the threat and stranding the tying run on second base.
Brian McCann joined the launch party with a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth for insurance. It would prove vital as the Astros bullpen, which entered with a 5.21 ERA in the postseason, wilted yet again.
Staked to a three-run lead, Devenski walked Bellinger to lead off the top of the ninth inning. Two batters later, Puig lined a homer into left to make it 12-11. Austin Barnes followed with a double to put the tying run in scoring position with one out. Pederson moved him to third with a groundout.
And up came Taylor, the find of the year in Major League Baseball and the man who elevated his game more than anyone else to become a star this season.
Taylor worked the count to 2-2 on Devenski. Devenski unleashed his changeup, his signature pitch so effective it is nicknamed "The Circle of Death." It fell off the outside corner at the knees, right where it was supposed to be. And Taylor drilled it back up the middle, scoring Barnes and tying the score 12-12 after the Dodgers were down to their final strike.
"These are just two really good teams," Hinch said. "Just throwing haymakers at each other, trying to outlast one another."
It was Bregman who delivered the knockout. Joe Musgrove gave the Astros a much-needed scoreless top of the 10th. McCann got hit by a pitch with two outs, Springer walked to push McCann to second, and the speedy Fisher took over second base as a pinch runner.
That was all Bregman needed. The Albuquerque native who used to imagine he was Derek Jeter hitting game-winners in the World Series as a kid stepped up, barreled a 91-mph cutter down and away, and shot it to left field, allowing Fisher to race home and beat Ethier's throw to plate comfortably, causing bedlam in the stands and sending the Astros players streaming onto the field in celebration.
"I think this World Series has been an example of our team this whole season," Bregman said. "We're going to put together good at-bats. We're going to fight until the end. And now look at us. We're one win away from being World Series champions."