Lance McCullers Jr. stellar in shutting down Dodgers

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LOS ANGELES – It wasn’t Game 7 of the World Series, although at times it felt like it was. The Astros’ long-awaited return to a crowded Dodger Stadium was full of drama and suspense, and right-handed Lance McCullers Jr. was more than happy to play the role of villain.

McCullers delivered one of the most clutching performances of his career by keeping the Dodgers on four singles while hitting nine thugs in 6 2/3 scoreless innings to lead the Astros to a scintillating 3-0 win in front of 52,692 fans on Tuesday night Spectators to watch a major league game this season.

“I enjoy playing in games like this and environments like this,” said McCullers. “It’s probably the most fun pitching I’ve had in a long time. I just wanted to go out there and give it my all for the boys. We’re trying to win ball games, we’re trying to be one step ahead in our division. “

Playing with fans in the stands at Dodger Stadium for the first time since the post-2019 shield theft scandal broke out, the Astros were showered with loud boos from the moment they stepped onto the field. Several inflatable trash cans and baseballs were later thrown onto the field, but not directly at the players.

“It was kind of wild,” said Reliever Ryne Stanek, who got the save. “It was maybe the sixth or seventh inning, it got a bit hectic in the bullpen. People started throwing at Astros fans and stuff, and for a few minutes you practically sat there and watched people throw full beers at people for half an inning. … It was definitely a crazy atmosphere to play. “

McCullers, who started Game 7 of the World Series in 2017 at Dodger Stadium, kept the Dodgers – and the crowd – at bay with a masterly performance.

“I enjoyed the reception on the way to the enclosure,” McCullers said of the boos. “I felt good, was calm. We had a lot of people here. “

Then it was thug Yordan Alvarez – swapped by the Dodgers for the Astros in 2016 – who stole the show with a double homer from left Victor González who was 115.1 mph straight away. That put Houston 3-0 ahead and sent the huge crowd to the exits in the eighth inning.

“That gave us some air to breathe,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker. “Especially when you score so late in a close game. And then you start counting the outs after that. When he hits that homer in the eighth, you realize, ‘Okay, guys, six more outs and we can go to the barn.’ We did that. “

McCullers relied primarily on his sinker (42 percent) and slider (41 percent), which together made 19 of his 20 calls.

“When you are effective with your fastball and ahead of the rackets, everything else will be better,” said Baker. “Do you see how many calls he had? This sinker mainly shot into the strike zone and corners. He acted tonight. It was fun to watch him pitch. “

McCullers said he told catcher Martín Maldonado he wanted to be in attack mode, track down and overwhelm the Dodgers.

“A big part of his job is being able to dissect what I’m best at right now,” said McCullers. “When I faced Bellinger with guys on the base [in the fourth], I wanted to go to breakball. He came out and talked to me and said, ‘Bro, your couple is great. You have to rely on it here. ‘ We got the pop-up, that was a big highlight in this inning. “

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts agreed.

“I thought Maldonado did a really good job with him using a couple of different balls,” he said. “The fastball was 92-93 and then it could reach 96-97. I just thought he did a great job mixing tonight and we couldn’t get anything together. “

Houston’s redesigned bullpen, without all-star turnkey Ryan Pressly (paternity leave), closed the door. There was no bigger out than left-handed Blake Taylor, who finished seventh after falling 3-0 to Max Muncy and then coming back with a strikeout to land two on base. Taylor said it was one of the biggest at-bats of his career to date.

“It takes a special player to put on an Astros shirt,” he said. “If you’re not ready to withstand the madness you get every time you step on the field when you can’t handle it, it’s a tough gig. We’ll go out there and support each other. “