Are the Phillies Inevitable?
Call it good juju. Call it a Cinderella story. But whatever you call it, don't pretend you saw this coming.
Good morning, friends. I’m still reeling from last night’s epic Phillies’ comeback (or was it an apocalyptic Astros’ collapse?)
Before yesterday’s meltdown, the Astros had won 65 straight games when leading by five or more runs.
All MLB teams were 589-18 when leading by five runs or more in a postseason game.
And, even crazier, the Astros scored five runs last night (and Kyle Tucker homered twice!) before the Phillies even had a baserunner. They still lost.
I was at Game 7 of the 2017 World Series when Houston jumped out to a 5-0 lead on the Dodgers in the second inning. Even though the Dodgers had 24 outs left to play with, that deficit felt insurmountable to everyone in the building, not least the men in white and blue on the field. (They wound up losing 5-1, but the score felt way more lopsided than that because the early hole sucked the wind out of team).
But not these Phillies.
As we saw in Game 1 of the wild-card round vs. the Cardinals when they came storming back with six runs in the ninth inning to beat St. Louis, 6-3…
As we saw in Game 4 of the NLCS when Padres took a four-run lead on them before they even had a chance to bat, and wound up beating San Diego 10-6
And as we saw last night as the Phillies tagged Justin Verlander for five runs to tie the game In the fifth, and then won it on a J.T. Realmuto homer in the 10th inning, this is a team that will not die.
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Because it is spooky season, with Halloween on Monday, I just googled “how to kill a vampire” and found that WikiHow offers a solution in three easy steps.
Identify the vampire(s).
Ok. They’re in maroon, and one of them (Brandon Marsh) has terrible hair I can’t figure out.
Ward off the vampire.
The Astros will try to do this tonight when Framber Valdez takes on Zack Wheeler. Wikihow suggests clutching holy objects like crosses or bibles. For the sake of this situation, we can consider Dusty Baker’s toothpick a holy object, though he completely destroyed any good juju he had by mentioning pre-game yesterday, for no good reason whatsoever, that he had received World Series well-wishes from his friend Bill Cosby. (In retrospect that association may have sunk the Astros’ World Series hopes completely.)
Still, Valdez is a really good pitcher, despite allowing *rubs eyes* 10 earned runs in 4.2 innings (scattered over two appearances) in last year’s World Series. (I said in my podcast with Joe Posnanski yesterday that I expected this Series to go back to Philadelphia tied 1-1, and I’m still holding to that.)
Decapitate the vampire by cutting off its head, then stuff its mouth with garlic so it doesn’t come back to life.
This is where Houston has an issue. It would be one thing if Bryce Harper or Kyle Schwarber were the lone boogeymen in this situation. The Astros could simply decapitate their offensive production by refusing to pitch to them.
But so many Philadelphia hitters had so many good at-bats last night, I don’t think there’s enough garlic in the state of Texas to kill them all.
• With two out in the 4th, Nick Castellanos, the Forrest Gump of baseball, singled to drive home Rhys Hoskins and put the Phillies on the board.
• The next batter, Alec Bohm, ripped a double down the line to plate Harper and Castellanos.
• Castellanos came up huge again in the bottom of the ninth by preserving the tie with a game-saving, diving catch to end the inning, preventing Jose Altuve from scoring to give the Astros the walk-off victory.
• Then there was Realmuto, who has had such a quiet postseason I forgot he was on the team, but who is still the best catcher in baseball. All he did was double to drive in two and tie the game in the 5th, then homer to give the Phillies the win in the 10th.
Who would the Astros choose to decapitate first?
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Some thoughts on the Astros:
a. I don’t know what’s going on with Jose Altuve, but he’s going to need to start hitting if the Astros are going to win this Series. Houston was able to win every game in the previous two rounds despite Altuve going 3-for-32 with 11 strikeouts, but this Phillies offense scores way too many runs for the Astros to keep pace without Altuve’s bat. He went 1-for-5 last night, but that hit only happened because Brandon Marsh ran the wrong way on a pop-up in the ninth, and the ball somehow dropped.
b. Justin Verlander’s World Series woes continued, and the Cy Young favorite is now 0-6 in eight career World Series starts with a 6.07 ERA. Clayton Kershaw is 3-2 in seven World Series appearances with a 4.46 ERA in case you are wondering how media narratives can paint a picture of a person not entirely based in reality. Yes, Kershaw’s postseason numbers are not as good as his regular-season statistics, obviously. But Verlander has been much worse in the Fall Classic, and burning him at the stake on Twitter each October has somehow not turned into our collective national pastime like it has with Kershaw. Maybe it was because after he blew a five-run lead, Verlander was sort of walking around the dugout like “eh, no big deal” while after lesser playoff collapses Kershaw is shown on national television sitting by himself in the dugout with his head down looking like he just made a mistake that got an entire village full of children killed.
c. The rest of the Astros’ pitching is so good they don’t need Verlander to carry them, and they will have a big advantage heading into Games 3 and 4 if they can solve Wheeler tonight and even the series up. Phillies manager Rob Thomson is getting his flowers today for aggressively managing to win last night, first by bringing in José Alvarado in the fifth inning, then bringing in Game 3 starter Ranger Suárez to face Yordan Alvarez with two out in the seventh. The gambit worked, but we will see how Suárez bounces back in his start on Monday. The Dodgers tried this very thing with Julïo Urïas in the NLCS last year, and it blew up in their faces.
d. I continue to marvel at Jeremy Peña, and just what an amazing lift he’s given the Astros. Imagine being able to let a superstar like Carlos Correa walk in free agency and not miss a beat. Peña is who the Dodgers hoped Gavin Lux would be, as they let Corey Seager leave the same year Houston lost Correa. But Lux doesn’t have the arm to play short, and now the Dodgers must go shopping for another shortstop this offseason (or re-sign Trea Turner).
e. I may have inadvertently jinxed Yordan Alvarez.
f. That Aledmys Diaz at-bat last night was one of the worst at-bats that you or I or anyone else will ever see in our lives. Even the umpire cursed at him for offending the entire world by sticking his elbow out over the plate in an attempt to get hit by a pitch with the winning runs on base.
Diaz had come into the game to pinch-hit with two out, down a run in the bottom of the 10th, and it was pretty clear that even though he was ahead in the count 2-0, (and reliever David Robertson had just thrown a wild pitch!) he did not want to be the person hitting with the game on the line. So he tried to lean into one and got caught. But he was still ahead in the count 3-0, with Robertson on the ropes, having walked Yuli Gurriel and thrown that wild pitch.
You would think that Diaz would have taken the next pitch, given that he wanted to pass the baton to the next hitter so badly. But for some reason he swung 3-0. He swung again with the count 3-1, at what looked like ball four. He rolled over the pitch, and grounded out weakly to third base to end the game.
Finally, here is Realmuto’s game-winning homer as it was called in different languages around the world, because I enjoyed it so much:
We will be back tonight with another one of our chats. You guys chimed in with 529 comments last night, and our conversations seem to get more fun each passing day as more readers join in. If you’d like to take part, you will need to upgrade your subscription to paid if you haven’t already. You can do that here:
See you all in a few hours!