Astros hold off Phillies in Game 5, move a win from World Series title

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PHILADELPHIA – As Kyle Schwarber’s 99 mph hotshot cleared the first base line, sealing the fate of the Philadelphia Phillies’ Game 5 comeback attempt, Houston Astros first baseman Trey Mancini didn’t have the time to think about the fact that he hadn’t played an inning in the field in a month or so.

He didn’t have time to worry about being hitless in the postseason, of all the October nights he spent wishing he could somehow hit, like he had in the eventual 3-2 victory of the Astros on Thursday. And he certainly didn’t have a second to spare from worrying that the Philadelphia Phillies, masters of comeback magic in their raucous home field, might stage another one in the eighth inning of a pivotal World Series game .

Because for all the time that the game leaves for speculation, for concern and for doubt, it has not allowed Mancini anyone in the biggest moment of the season of the Astros, the biggest defensive moment of his career. Before the pitch, bench coach Joe Espada told Mancini to hug the line. After the pitch, there was the crack of the bat and the arrival of the ball in Mancini’s glove – no room for confidence, no time for doubt.

“I didn’t have anything going through my head,” Mancini said. “I just dealt with it basically.”

Thus ended the most promising performance the Phillies could muster in Game 5 of the World Series, the last of which was played in front of a home crowd that willed them through a magical postseason and never saw them lose until the Game 4 on Wednesday night. They couldn’t score in the ninth either, thanks to a spectacular catch at the wall by Chas McCormick, who stole extra bases from JT Realmuto and held off the Phillies’ late-inning flurry in a way that no other team could. here.

Because here, at least until being unsuccessful on Wednesday night, the 2022 postseason Phillies were unstoppable. So inning after inning Thursday, even as the Astros took a lead in the fourth and added a run in the eighth, the crowd in the lower bowl at Citizens Bank Park stood still. The Phillies trained him to stay upright, always delivering the swing they needed, always getting the one break that opened the doors to a comeback. They always found the magic. They always found a way.

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But Thursday night, as Justin Verlander secured his first career World Series victory with five strong innings, as the Astros’ bullpen bent but never broke, they didn’t. It was the closest game of the series, the kind that seemed set up for another classic Phillies win, but the swings they needed never came. Or maybe, they got the swings they needed from Schwarber and Realmuto. Perhaps, somehow, fate has changed its mind.

Svrluga: Dusty Baker and Justin Verlander created a World Series comeback moment

Because if McCormick had played a little more to the left, had been an inch or two shorter, had not played much basketball, he may not have had a chance at Realmuto’s shot in the bottom of the ninth. The sluggers who have been at the heart of countless Phillies comebacks this postseason were all due to that inning. One of them, Rhys Hoskins, had already struck. Postseason hero Bryce Harper was on deck. When McCormick saw Realmuto hit the ball toward the wall, he said later, he told himself he would “run through a wall” to catch it, he told himself to approach it like a dunk, to jump and hope and not slow down.

“McCormick always bragged about his basketball skills,” Astros Manager Dusty Baker said afterward. “I think I have to believe in him.”

Unlike Schwarber’s pitching, everyone in the dugout and the Astros’ defensive line had time to wonder what might have happened if McCormick didn’t come through. Right fielder Kyle Tucker rushed in in case he fell. Harper was due next. The tie would be in scoring position. Tucker wanted to be there to play caromed, to try to keep Realmuto at second. Instead, he arrived to find McCormick lying on the ground, the ball safely in his glove, a villain in his hometown, an instant World Series hero.

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“Come on Chas,” Tucker said he told him. “Get up”

The Astros lead the World Series three games to two. I’m one win away from a title.

McCormick later said Tucker told him the Astros needed to win just one of the three games they played in Philadelphia this week. The Phillies were so unstoppable there, so propelled by a wild, fanatical force that a win was no guarantee.

But if Game 5 had been held elsewhere, the matchup would have favored Houston. The Astros started Verlander, a Cy Young Award candidate and one of the all-time greats, even though his World Series history is in check. He was matched by Noah Syndergaard, a righty who hadn’t pitched much in the past month and wasn’t expected to last more than a few innings.

Syndergaard has started in the World Series before — just once, when his New York Mets played the Kansas City Royals in 2015. He won that start. Then he was 22, with a triple-digit fastball and a low-90s slider, just blowing strikes. Tommy John surgery in March 2020 made those days a distant memory. His fastball sits in the mid-90s now, and he relies on a curveball a lot more than he once did.

José Altuve hit Syndergaard’s second pitch of the game off the wall in right-center, narrowly missing a go-ahead homer. He ended up on third down as center fielder Brandon Marsh struggled to corral the ball. And with nobody out and a man on third in the first, the Phillies decided to bring the infield in, apparently suggesting they didn’t expect to score many runs against Verlander. Rookie Jeremy Peña hit a weak grounder up the middle, one that could have been played if a shortstop or second baseman was playing, and the Astros had an immediate lead.

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Verlander had made eight World Series starts. He hadn’t won one. But he faced a hitless Phillies team Wednesday night, which hadn’t had a hit in 11 consecutive innings. A five-run lead wasn’t enough for Verlander in Game 1, so a run didn’t seem decisive, though the Phillies appeared to be playing as if it were.

Highlights and analysis from Game 5

Unfortunately for Verlander, the Phillies were noticeably unnerved by the experience of becoming the second team ever to go winless in the World Series. And two pitches in, decked out in the powder-blue and maroon uniforms they treasure here, Schwarber hit a fastball high over the right-field wall to give the Phillies their first hit and run since Tuesday.

Baker took over his bullpen in the fourth, but Verlander pitched. He got his bullpen back in the fifth when Harper doubled, forcing Verlander to try to hold onto second base. And the bullpen was still on top when he threw four straight two-strike pitches to Castellanos, as Castellanos struck him down, then eventually hit a weak flyball to right field to end the inning. Verlander left the game with a lead. He ended the night by being thrown into a laundry cart and taking a celebratory shower, winning the World Series for the first time in his two-decade career.

“I can say I had one,” Verlander said later with a smile, though the magnitude of what the Astros accomplished in setting up another Phillies charge was no laughing matter. He knows better than anyone how hard it is to win this time of year, how quickly things can change. His manager did too, after going decades without ever winning a World Series, refusing to because he didn’t, then watching two impossibly clutch defensive plays lift him nine innings from his first. For all the time baseball leaves to worry and to plan, to hope and to pray, all that someone can do in the greatest of moments is to breathe and react.

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