HOUSTON — The would-be Game 1 hero backtracked and jumped for the fly ball that soared over the right-field wall. But couldn’t take that explosion off the bat of JT Realmuto. And tonight, the Fightin’ Phils weren’t stopping.
Realmuto’s leadoff homer in the top of the 10th, just over Kyle Tucker’s outstretched glove, gave a Phillies team that entered the playoffs with the sixth seed in the National League its wildest win and most resistant to date. In a 6-5 triumph Friday night at Minute Maid Park, the Phils not only became the first team to beat the Astros this postseason, they also became the first team in the World Series in 20 years to win a game that he had lost by five runs. .
“That,” Realmuto said, “is a win for the Phillies right here.”
It was a game the Astros had led, 5-0, after three innings. A game that looked like it would be best remembered for Tucker’s first two home runs off Aaron Nola.
In all best-of-seven postseason series, the teams that won the first game have won 121 of 187 times (65%). In series with the current 2-3-2 format, teams that have blown a 1-0 lead on the road have won 39 of 69 times (57 percent), including the Phillies’ Game 1 win over the Padres in the NL Championship Series.
The last team to win a World Series game that was down by five runs? The 2002 Angels in Game 6…against Dusty Baker’s Giants.
We’ll see if that loss is as big in this year’s series as it was. But lasting or not, the bitterness of this loss was palpable, given the way this game started.
“They took it from us tonight,” Baker said.
Minute Maid Park had been loud and proud when Tucker’s Ted Williams swing produced a solo shot to second on a Nola changeup and a three-run shot to third with a pen. This was a coming-out party for one of the most underrated Astros, a 25-year-old right fielder who can influence the outcome with his bat, glove and legs.
“Kyle, he’s been great for us all year,” Verlander said. “He should probably win a Silver Slugger. One of the best hitters in baseball. So I don’t think anybody in our locker room is surprised.”
Tucker’s hitters had put a 5-0 lead in Verlander’s hands. And in an attempt to overcome World Series struggles, the 2022 AL Cy Young leader had been perfect through three efficient innings. He was undefeated in his last 67 decisions in which his team gave him five or more runs.
But baseball games have nine innings and this Phillies team has nine lives.
In the franchise’s first playoff game since 2011, the Phillies had just a 3.4 percent chance to win Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series against the Cardinals with one out in the ninth, but they come back with a six-run inning. At their lowest points, they had a 17.3 percent chance to win Game 4 of the NLCS and a 21.4 percent chance to win Game 5 of the NLCS, both of which turned out to be victories.
So when the Astros were up 5-0 after three, the Phillies’ 6 percent chance to win read like a minor inconvenience.
Verlander couldn’t hold onto the lead, in part because he couldn’t hold on to the ball. With Rhys Hoskins on first and one out in the fourth, Realmuto hit a liner into Verlander’s outstretched glove, but the ball went right out to prevent what would have been an easy inning-ending double play with Hoskins away from the bag first base
Instead, Verlander could only retire Realmuto at first, and the inning unraveled from there. It was followed by a laser liner to right by Bryce Harper that dropped, a perfectly placed single to left by Nick Castellanos that scored a run, and a double by Alec Bohm that drove in two.
“Once we hit three, you could feel it,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “Like, ‘OK, we’re back at it, now the momentum has shifted.'”
Verlander unraveled further in the fifth, giving up a leadoff double to No. 9 hitter Brandon Marsh, walking Kyle Schwarber and then giving up Realmuto’s double off the left-field wall to tie the score and add to his Series ERA World at 6.07…worst ERA of any pitcher with at least 30 innings pitched. He is 0-7 in eight Fall Classic starts.
“My team gave me a five-run lead, and I couldn’t hold it,” Verlander said. “I’m very confident that 99 percent of the time I’m able to hold that lead and unfortunately today I wasn’t. I have to give a lot of credit to those guys in the other dugout. When I made some pitches , fouled them or put them in play. And when I didn’t, they hit them hard.”
Thomson, who replaced Joe Girardi in June, deployed high-leverage lefty Jose Alvarado in the fifth, presumptive 3rd Ranger starter Suarez in the seventh and top option Seranthony Domínguez in the eighth. Dominguez got into a two-out jam in the bottom of the ninth when Jose Altuve singled and slid to second, but Castellanos made a great catch on a Jeremy Peña fly ball to right to end the inning.
The Astros got a particularly important out in the seventh, when former Phillie Héctor Neris was called with two out from Baker to get Castellanos chasing strike three with the bases loaded.
And so the game remained tied at 5-5 and went into extra time, but it did not remain tied there. Realmuto ran up the count against Luis García at the top of the 10, then nailed a four-seamer on the outside edge of the zone for the opposite field blast.
“Honestly, I thought I had enough,” Realmuto said, “but I kind of had flashbacks to the play that Tucker did. [Aaron] Judge’s ball this last series. Once I saw him running towards the wall, I was thinking in my head, ‘Oh please don’t catch him, don’t catch him’.”
Tucker didn’t get it.
In the bottom of the 10th, Alex Bregman’s double put the pressure on reliever David Robertson, who then walked Yuli Gurriel with two outs and threw a wild pitch to put both runners in scoring position.
Pinch-hitter Aledmys Diaz then embarked on an entertaining at-bat against Robertson. On a 2-0 count, Diaz was hit by a pitch, but was called back into the batter’s box by plate umpire James Hoye, who ruled that Diaz did not attempt to leave the pitch. game Two pitches later, Diaz’s grounder to third was caught by Edmundo Sosa and thrown to first in time to cap an instant classic defined by Phillies ferocity.
“We know there’s no giving up, really,” Castellanos said. “We really respect the 27 outs. We take it seriously and we take it personally.”
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