HOUSTON -- A leadoff walk was promptly erased by a double play, which is about the most Framber Valdez way to start Game 6 of the World Series. Valdez’s struggles to find the strike zone tested him earlier in his career and helped make his maturation into one of the best left-handers in baseball an even better story.
Valdez, in the biggest start of his career, answered the call by holding the Phillies to one run on two hits and two walks while striking out nine batters in six innings. He led the Astros to a 4-1 win at Minute Maid Park on Saturday night, which clinched the World Series title and helped cement the lefty’s place in Houston lore. Valdez went 2-0 in the 2022 Fall Classic and joins José Urquidy (three) as the only Houston pitchers to win multiple World Series games.
“He was great,” Astros pitching coach Josh Miller said. “He’s been great all year and really special in the playoffs. He just had a hiccup of an inning against Seattle and that was it, and he threw the ball really well.”
Valdez went 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA in four postseason starts, including 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP in two World Series wins over the Phillies. In 12 1/3 total innings in the Fall Classic, he gave up two runs on six hits and five walks, striking out 18 batters. Valdez could easily have been the World Series Most Valuable Player if rookie Jeremy Peña hadn’t stolen the show.
“Just absolutely fabulous,” said Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who would have started Game 7 had the Astros lost Game 6. “The way he has been able to bounce back, especially from last year, and really as the starter who won us two games. I mean, I thought he could be the MVP. Peña had an amazing postseason and amazing World Series. Ryan Pressly could have been the MVP. A lot of guys stepped up for us.”
Valdez never let a Phillies runner advance to third base until Kyle Schwarber led off the sixth inning with a solo homer to right field. He came back to retire the next three hitters -- Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper -- and was pulled after 93 pitches. By the top of the seventh, the Astros had a 4-1 lead, and Houston’s airtight bullpen shut the door yet again.
“That’s a good team over there,” Schwarber said. “You tip your cap to ’em. They answered right back. And they didn’t slow down. You tip your cap to ’em. I felt like [Phillies starter Zack Wheeler] was really great tonight. Framber was doing his thing out there. Their bullpen, which has been great all year, came in and closed the door. You tip your cap to those guys. They beat us fair and square, right? There’s nothing you can say.”
Valdez, with his curveball and sinker combination working beautifully, struck out five batters in a row across the third and fourth innings, tying Sandy Koufax (Game 1 in 1963) as the only lefties to strike out at least five consecutive batters in a World Series game. Included in that sequence was a 97.4 mph sinker to Schwarber in the third that was the third-fastest pitch of his career.
“Framber’s been our best pitcher,” Astros catcher Martín Maldonado said. “He’s been throwing the ball really, really good. We made some in-game adjustments, especially with the pitch usage. They were looking curveball a little bit more, and we attacked them with the heater. He was throwing 97, 98 with that two-seamer.”
Valdez’s performance in this year’s World Series helped him erase the memories of last year’s disappointing Fall Classic, in which he gave up 10 runs and struck out only three over 4 2/3 total innings.
That served as motivation when he returned to the World Series this year as a man equipped and motivated to lead Houston to a championship.
“I’ve said it before, it’s my mentality,” Valdez said. “My mentality is different this year. I worked on my personality on the mound and in the game and my practice. It’s a different focus. This year is more focus and more intensity in every pitch and that’s it.”