Here lie the phenomenal Astros trash can/buzzer memes that united the baseball community for 3 seasons. Let’s take a moment of silence to honor their legacy. Many will say the memes are gone too soon, yet as a community, we cannot forget their transcendent powers that joined us in arms in the internet wars we raged against the Astros and their fans—time to pour one out.
Onto the World Series. Game 1 at Minute Maid was supposed to be a pitcher's duel between Justin Verlander and Aaron Nola. Nola, who had plenty of rest coming into the start, struggled to get past the bat of Kyle Tucker, who started the Houston offensive with a solo shot in the bottom of the second. In the 3rd, King Tuck would strike again, this time with a 3-run homer to right field, which would put the Astros up 5-0. Justin Verlander started the game strongly, as the Astros were leading 5-0 going into the top of the 4th inning. The top of the Philly order was able to string together a series of hits and began their comeback, scoring 3 in the 4th. To the surprise of many, both Nola and Verlander retook the mound in the 5th. The Phils were able to build on their momentum from the inning prior and scratched across another two runs off the bat of J.T. Realmuto, who had a two-out double that scored Kyle Schwarber and Brandon Marsh. Nola escaped the 5th unscathed. Now, both managers went into their bullpens, and they each shut down the opposing explosive offense. Each team had opportunities to score, but neither could capitalize with runners on base. Game 1 would go to extras, where J.T. Realmuto would play the hero for Philly, as he hit a solo shot off Luis Garcia in the top of the 10th to put the Phils up 6-5 and make it 6 unanswered Phillies runs. Dave Robertson pitched the bottom of the 10th, sealing the 5-run comeback.
In Game 2, the Astros looked to avenge their hard-fought loss of the night before. Framber Valdez versus Zack Wheeler. Another great pitching matchup, or so we thought. Framber was able to establish control of the zone early and kept the top of the order quiet, while the Astros’ top of the order came out of the gates swinging. Three straight doubles and a throwing error helped them plate 3 runs in the first. It was not the start Wheeler wanted to have. He was struggling to establish his elite fastball, as his average velocity sat around 95-96 mph versus his usual 97-98 mph, which is a big difference when pitching against a team that hunts fastballs. Valdez would outduel Wheeler, who would eventually surrender another 2 runs on a homer to Alex Bregman in the 5th, putting the Astros up 5-0. The Phils were able to plate a run in the top of the 7th thanks to a Nick Castellanos leadoff double. Valdez would force a grounder on which Castellanos went to 3rd base. Then Rafael Montero was brought in to face Jean Segura. He flew out to left, enabling Castellanos to score. 5-1 Astros at this point. Once again, the pens were shut-down for the most part. In the top of the 9th, the Phillies tried to get a rally going, but their comeback fell short. Alec Bohm had a one-out double and would eventually score on a fielding error by Yuli Gurriel. Aside from that, the Astros had complete control of this game as the series moved to Philadelphia for a 3-game set.
To Citizens Bank Park we go. The hometown crowd showed out for the Game 3 matchup of Ranger Suarez and Lance McCullers Jr. The Phils were initially going to throw Noah Syndergaard but moved his start back because the game was postponed. The hope was for Ranger to get them through 4-5 innings before handing the ball off to the pen. He made quick work of the top of the order in the first, getting three outs while throwing less than 10 pitches. LMJ, on the other hand, was not as fortunate. Schwarber had a leadoff walk, and then Bryce Harper sent the Bank into a frenzy as he crushed a no-doubter on the first pitch he saw, a curveball. Why is the type of pitch significant? Well, Bryce Harper found a tell in LMJ’s delivery. On his offspeed, he was bringing his leg higher than on his fastball, which enabled Philly hitters to know whether or not to sit offspeed. In the 2nd, the tv videographer caught an interesting exchange between Harper and Alec Bohm, in which Harper informed Bohm of the tell. The Phils would go on to hit two solo homers that inning. Suarez pitched out of a two-runners-on situation in the 5th; whereas, McCullers ended up being chased in the 5th after Schwarber and Hoskins hit back-to-back nukes off him. Both pens shut the game down once they were brought in. Neither team plated any runs for the remaining 4 innings. The Phils would go on to win 7-0, and it seemed like they had the momentum and were going to win the series at home.
Game 4. Were the 106-win Astros going to choke again as they have in 2 of the last 3 years? Were the Phillies going to take complete control of the series and line up for a Game 5 victory at home in their powder blue uniforms? A fully rested Cristian Javier facing Aaron Nola on short rest. For those unfamiliar with Javier, he is sneakily one of the best pitchers in the MLB. Nola reversed the script on his first outing of the World Series. He pitched very well through 4 innings. Javier also dazzled, not allowing a hit. Nola allowed three straight hits to start the 5th before being pulled for Jose Alvarado. He inherited no-outs bases loaded. As imagined, Alvarado could not escape unscathed. He hit Yordan Alvarez on the first pitch. It got worse for Philly, as Alex Bregman hit a base-clearing double. One sac fly and a single later, the Astros were winning 5-0. For the first time in the postseason, Citizens Bank Park was silent. The Phillies could not buy a hit. They were shut out in front of their hometown crowd as it seemed the clock struck midnight on the Cinderella story. 4 Astro pitchers combined to no-hit the Philadelphia Phillies. How could the Phillies recover from this?
Game 5. Can the Phils get something going and bounce back from the tough loss? To start the game, Jose Altuve doubled to center and Marsh misplayed it, resulting in a no-out, runner on 3rd situation. Jeremy Pena would plate Altuve in the next at-bat. Not a great way to bounce back for Philadelphia. In the bottom of the inning, Kyle Schwarber hit a leadoff homer to start the offense for the Phillies. In the top of the 4th, Pena would counter with a solo shot of his own to put the Astros up 2-1 and chase Syndergaard from the game. The bullpens would keep both offenses at bay until the 8th, in which the Astros tacked on an insurance run to go up 3-1. Philadelphia tried to mount another late-game comeback but fell short, leaving the tying run on third. Marsh and Schwarber could not come through when it mattered most, and Trey Mancini and Chas McCormick made outstanding defensive plays to prevent a late-inning rally. Philly fans seemed defeated, with some leaving the game early.
Game 6. Back in Houston. Are the Astros going to win it in front of their hometown crowd? The Framber against Wheeler from Game 2 was used here as well. The Astros roughed up Wheeler in game 2--advantage Houston. Framber pitched well, as was expected. Wheeler’s velocity returned after getting some needed rest. The two were locked in a pitcher’s duel until the top of the 6th, where Schwarber hit a solo shot, trying to ignite the Phillies’ offense. In the bottom of the inning, Wheeler allowed two baserunners before being pulled. Jose Alvarado was brought in to face Yordan Alvarez for a lefty-on-lefty matchup. We had lefty-on-lefty violence, as Alvarez clubbed a moonshot to center to put the Astros up 3-1. It did not stop there, Houston continued to pour it on, scoring another run before the inning was over. 4-1 Astros. The Houston bullpen came in to close down the game. Once Valdez was pulled after the 6th, Philadelphia only had one hit in the remaining three innings. It was not the recipe for a massive comeback, as the Astros would go on to win the game and seal their fate as World Series winners.
Jeremy Pena deservingly won the World Series MVP, as he seemed to be the centerpiece of every rally the Astros had. Whether it was getting on base to be hit in or having a base hit to score Altuve, he was the guy. Defensively, he made both the routine and superhuman plays, aside from one miscommunication on a double play ball. The rookie had a great series. To complement Pena, Alex Bregman also had a very strong showing and continued his hot streak that started against New York. He seemed to see the ball well at the plate and worked some great at-bats. Defensively, he played Gold Glove-caliber defense. The Astros bullpen did not disappoint, as most of the Philadelphia runs for the series came off starting pitchers. Their pen was automatic and able to avoid big innings late in games.
At the plate, the Phillies struggled. A big difference in this series was how often each team struck out. The Phillies relied on the home run ball to plate most of their runs, which led to them regularly leaving men on the basepaths. Additionally, their defense hurt them in big moments. Errors and unearned runs deflated momentum, which was something the Phillies seemed incapable of controlling. Their starters did well, but the biggest letdown was Jose Alvarado. He was put into difficult situations and expected to shut the door in big moments. Rob Tompson used him in the highest-leverage situations, which Alvarado did not handle well.
In short, the better team won. The Astros outplayed the Phillies in most aspects of this series. The crazy part is that the Astros were not a fluke team that got hot, as some call the 87-win Phillies. This Houston team is built to compete for years to come. Their pitching depth is unlike any other team in the league, which is a huge advantage. Dusty Baker finally got his first ring, and it may not be his last.
"Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker -- All-Pro Reels | Ed Sheahin" via All-Pro Reels is licensed under CC BY-SA2.0