Baker's pitching moves go awry in Astros' Game 1 loss

October 29th, 2022

HOUSTON -- The way Astros manager Dusty Baker sees it, ace pitcher has earned his trust on the mound, and rightfully so. Verlander will likely win his third American League Cy Young Award this year and should one day be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as one of the greatest pitchers of his generation.

Even so, Baker’s decision to let Verlander finish five innings Friday night when he wasn’t at his best proved to be costly for the Astros. The Phillies rallied from five runs down to tie the game against Verlander and eventually won it, 6-5, in 10 innings on a J.T. Realmuto home run off in Game 1 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park.

In World Series history, teams with a lead of five runs or more were 220-5 prior to Friday, when the Phillies scored three times in the fourth and twice in the fifth to erase a 5-0 deficit. The last team to rally from five runs down to win a World Series game was the 2002 Angels in Game 6 against ... Dusty Baker’s Giants.

“They're a good offensive club,” Baker said of the Phillies. “I mean, we know they could hit when we came in here, and they're known for that. They just took it from us tonight.”

Verlander, looking for his first World Series win in his eighth career start in the Fall Classic, needed 36 pitches to breeze through three innings. The fourth inning was a different story. The Phillies scored three times, including a two-run double by Alec Bohm, during an inning in which Verlander threw 31 pitches, putting him at 67 for the game.

Verlander would have escaped the fourth unscathed had he caught Realmuto’s liner back to the mound with one out. Verlander turned to throw to first to double up Rhys Hoskins, but dropped the ball and had to settle for one out.

"No doubt. I was out. I was out,” Hoskins said. “Sometimes, you've got to get some bounces to go your way."

In the fifth, Verlander got in immediate trouble, giving up a leadoff double to Brandon Marsh and walking Kyle Schwarber on a 3-2 pitch to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. Still, it wasn’t until Hoskins popped up that started getting loose in the bullpen. Realmuto followed with a two-run double to tie the game.

“I mean, we were in the same boat that they were in,” Baker said. “You could say how come they didn't take [starter Aaron] Nola out earlier. You know, it's hard to take Justin out because he can struggle for a while, but he usually gets it back together. You don't want to just go through your whole bullpen that early in the game. So like I said, there were two outs. Had there been no outs, it might have been a different story. But with two outs, you need one more out to get out of that inning.”

Realmuto’s double came with one out, and Verlander was able to regroup and retire Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos to end his night after 90 pitches.

“Disappointing, yeah, for sure,” Verlander said. “I need to do better. No excuses. Like I said, just need to execute pitches better. I felt like I had some guys in good situations and just wasn't able to quite make the pitches that I wanted to.”

The Astros’ bullpen, which had allowed three runs in 33 postseason innings entering the World Series, held the Phillies scoreless for four innings before Realmuto homered off Garcia, who was working for the first time since throwing five scoreless innings in Game 3 of the ALDS on Oct. 15.

Baker opted to use Garcia instead of , who was perhaps his best reliever in the regular season. Stanek has been buried in Baker’s bullpen, partly because of the emergence of Abreu. He’s thrown only three times in the postseason, retiring seven of the eight batters he’s faced, after posting a club-record 1.15 ERA as a reliever in the regular season.

“Well, I mean, our matchup sheet had Garcia over Stanek and also to give us some length,” Baker said. “I mean, [Realmuto] hit a good pitch, a fastball away in the short porch. That was the deciding run, but we had the winning runs on base to end the game. We had a pretty good lead early. I mean, it's easy to say, ‘Oh, if Stanek had given it up, then how come we used Stanek?’ So it didn't work.”