The cocky/distraught meter was clearly weighed down in the cocky side. Taking a game one from Houston that the Astros thought they had in the bag, the fanbase was already dreaming up going back to Philadelphia with a 2-0 series lead.
“We have our ace on the mound!”
“We shut down their lineup!”
These and many other things were being thought of, pondered, dreamed upon this morning across soccer fields, pumpkin patches and random birthday parties across the region.
The only thing is: Houston is really, really good. They weren’t going to go quietly.
The first inning showed that.
Having Zack Wheeler on the mound was enough to make the team feel like they had a legitimate shot at taking this game even though the Astros had an excellent starter of their own in Framber Valdez opposing him. Houston had a plan of attack coming in and boy did they capitalize in the first inning.
Jose Altuve led the inning off hunting a fastball and Wheeler delivered one right down the middle on the first pitch.
Just like that, lead off double for Altuve!— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 30, 2022
: FOX and the FOX Sports App pic.twitter.com/lhxgfbh7Nq
The next pitch? Double by Jeremy Pena.
The fourth pitch? Double.
It was a stunning opening for the Phillies, Wheeler leaving too many pitches over too much of the plate and the Astros capitalizing on all three mistakes, becoming the first team in World Series history to start a game with three straight extra base hits. Wheeler got the next two outs, but the second out was a fly ball to deep-ish center field, a play that Matt Vierling was a little flat footed on, allowing Alvarez to scamper to third on an aggressive tag play, putting him at third with two outs. The next batter, Yuli Guerriel, grounded to Edmundo Sosa at shortstop, who threw low to first on a play that Rhys Hoskins could not dig out, allowing Gurriel to reach safely and Alvarez to score a third run.
That felt big.
The game settled from there, both pitchers getting through the lineups without much resistance, but whatever Wheeler was able to do, Valdez was able to do better. Of course, this being the World Series, there are cameras everywhere, able to watch every little move, amplify it and make it something more than it probably is. And Valdez’s dominance caused some to start to wonder.
Personally? This is much ado about nothing. Sure, you can look at his spin rate numbers on Baseball Savant and start to scratch your head about why these numbers are all up, but it just feels like fishing for an excuse for why the Phillies were unable to hit him. Is it suspect? Sure. The reputation that Houston has means nothing can be considered “too far” for them, but as Rob Thomson said in his postgame conference, the umpires check him. Nothing was found. Focusing this much attention on something nefarious that probably wasn’t going on, it just feels like a stretch.
Back to the game, Valdez’s pitch count was creeping up and up as the night wore on, the Phillies still taking some decent at bats, so the game was far from over. We saw last night how quickly they could come back so long as the starter, in this case Wheeler, kept the game within reach. No mistakes were able to be made.
That one felt like a knife in the back, but still, the evidence was there that you could not walk away from the game just yet. In the sixth, Kyle Schwarber walked and Hoskins singled to start the inning, noise being made by the offense that made Valdez start to sweat a bit. However, that threat was quickly squashed as J.T. Realmuto struck out and Bryce Harper grounded into a double play that ended the inning with nary a runner crossing the plate.
In the seventh, Nick Castellanos started things off with a double, then went to third on a ground ball by Alec Bohm. That would end the evening for Valdez, Rafael Montero coming into shut things down. Jean Segura would step in a fly out to give the Phillies their first run, but that was all they would get, the score 5-1 going to the seventh.
The bullpen of Andrew Bellatti in the sixth and Connor Brogdon in the seventh kept things close for the Phillies, bringing their top of the order to the plate in the eighth. Bryson Stott, pinch hitting for Sosa, drew a long walk against Montero to start the inning, bringing up Schwarber to face Montero. After getting the count to 2-2, he got a pitch he turned on that was originally called a home run, but was overruled to correctly be called foul. It was a moment that went from euphoria to groans in an instant, but on the next pitch, he hit a ball that would fall just feet short of making the game 5-3.
Kyle Schwarber so close to HR’s twice in the at-bat— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) October 30, 2022
That...was a back breaker.
In the ninth, Bohm hit a one out double, then scored when Gurriel couldn’t corral a groundball off the bat of Brandon Marsh that made it 5-2, a pulse detected from the dugout, but it was for naught as the final out was made on a groundball by Stott that ended the game and tied the series.
Tonight just didn’t feel like the Phillies’ night. They gave the Astros too many extra chances that Houston capitalized on, they didn’t get some of the bounces they did in previous series and yet they still showed they can hang with this Goliath. It was never going to be easy and tonight showed that, but it’s over and they need to move on.