Realmuto real clutch! Late HR caps Phils' historic G1 feat

Philly becomes 1st team since '02 Angels to win WS game after 5-run deficit

October 29th, 2022

HOUSTON -- Game 1’s would-be hero drifted back and leapt in pursuit of the fly ball hurtling over the right-field wall. But there was no catching this blast off the bat of J.T. Realmuto. And on this night, there was no stopping the Fightin’ Phils.

Realmuto’s go-ahead leadoff homer in the top of the 10th, just over the outstretched glove of Kyle Tucker, gave a Phillies team that squeaked into the playoffs with the National League’s sixth seed their wildest, most resilient win yet. In a 6-5 triumph Friday night at Minute Maid Park, the Phils not only became the first team to beat the Astros in this postseason, but also became the first World Series team in 20 years to win a game it had trailed by five runs.

“That,” Realmuto said, “is a Phillies win right there.”

World Series ticket information: Phillies | Astros

It was a game the Astros had led, 5-0, after three innings. A game that had seemed like it would be best remembered for Tucker’s two early home runs off Aaron Nola.

But as we’ve seen all postseason -- and during a regular season in which they started 21-29 and sacked their skipper -- the Phillies don’t go gently into that good night. They staged a rally off future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, aggressively deployed their best bullpen weapons and rode two huge hits from Realmuto to an early edge in this Fall Classic.

In all best-of-seven postseason series, teams winning Game 1 have gone on to win 121 of 187 times (65 percent). In series with the current 2-3-2 format, teams grabbing a 1-0 lead on the road have then won 39 of 69 times (57 percent), including the Phillies’ Game 1 victory over the Padres in the NL Championship Series.

The last team to win a World Series game it had trailed by five runs? The 2002 Angels in Game 6 … against Dusty Baker’s Giants.

So Baker knows too well the pain of this type of defeat, and the Astros know too well how it feels to let home-field advantage slip away in Game 1 of the World Series. It happened to them in 2019 against the Nationals and in '21 against the Braves.

We shall see if this loss looms as large in this year’s Series as those did. But whether or not it lingers, the bitterness of this defeat was palpable, given the way this game began.

“They just took it from us tonight,” Baker said.

Minute Maid Park had been loud and proud when Tucker’s Ted Williams swing had produced a solo shot in the second on a Nola changeup and a three-run shot in the third on a sinker. This was a coming-out party for one of the more underrated Astros, a 25-year-old right fielder who can influence the outcome with his bat, glove and legs.

“Kyle, he's been fantastic for us all year,” Verlander said. “Should probably win a Silver Slugger. One of the best hitters in baseball. So I don't think anybody's surprised in our locker room.”

Tucker’s taters had put a 5-0 lead in Verlander’s hands. And in a bid to squash past World Series struggles, the 2022 AL Cy Young front-runner had been perfect through three efficient innings. He had gone undefeated in his past 67 decisions in which his team gave him five or more runs of support.

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 of winning Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series against the Cardinals with one out in the ninth, but they stormed back with a six-run inning. In their lowest moments, they had a 17.3 percent chance of winning Game 4 of the NLCS and a 21.4 percent chance of winning Game 5 of the NLCS -- both of which turned out to be victories.

So when it was 5-0 Astros after three, the Phillies’ 6 percent chance of winning read as merely a minor inconvenience.

Verlander couldn’t hold the lead, in part because he couldn’t hold 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 popped right out to prevent what would have been an easy inning-ending double play with Hoskins far off the first-base bag.

Instead, Verlander was only able to retire Realmuto at first, and the inning went haywire from there. That was followed by a Bryce Harper laser liner to right that fell in, a perfectly placed Nick Castellanos single to left that scored one run and an Alec Bohm double that plated two.

“Once we scored the three, you were kind of feeling it,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “Like, 'OK, we got back in this thing, now the momentum's changed.'”

Verlander further unraveled in the fifth, surrendering a leadoff double to No. 9 hitter Brandon Marsh, walking Kyle Schwarber and then giving up a Realmuto double off the left-field wall to even the score and inflate his career World Series ERA to 6.07 -- the worst such ERA by 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 wasn't able to hold it,” Verlander said. “I feel really 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 did make some pitches, they fouled 'em off or put 'em in play. And when I didn't, they hit 'em hard.”

Both clubs dipped into their bullpen earlier than they hoped, but the early moves got results.

Thomson, who replaced Joe Girardi in June, deployed high-leverage lefty José Alvarado in the fifth, presumed Game 3 starter Ranger Suárez in the seventh and top option Seranthony Domínguez in the eighth. Domínguez got into a two-out jam in the bottom of the ninth when Jose Altuve singled and swiped second, but Castellanos made a terrific diving catch of a Jeremy Peña fly ball to shallow right to end the inning.

The Astros got a particularly huge out in the seventh, when former Phillie Héctor Neris was summoned with two down by Baker to get Castellanos chasing strike three with the bases loaded.

And so the game remained knotted at 5-5 and drifted into extras, but it didn’t remain tied for long there. Realmuto worked the count full against Luis Garcia leading off the 10th, then hammered a four-seamer on the outside edge of the zone for the opposite-field blast.

“Honestly, I thought I got enough of it,” Realmuto said, “but I kind of had flashbacks of the play that Tucker made on [Aaron] Judge's ball that last series. Once I saw him running back to the wall, I was thinking in my head, ‘Oh, please just don't catch it, just don't catch it.’”

Tucker didn’t catch it.

In the bottom of the 10th, Alex Bregman’s one-out 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 Díaz then embarked on an entertaining at-bat vs. Robertson. On a 2-0 count, Díaz was hit by a pitch, but he was called back to the batter's box by home-plate umpire James Hoye, who ruled Díaz did not try to get out of the way of the pitch. Two pitches later, Díaz’s bouncing grounder to third was scooped up by Edmundo Sosa and thrown to first in time to cap an instant classic defined by the Phillies’ ferocity.

“We know there's no quit, really,” Castellanos said. “We really respect all 27 outs. We take that seriously, and we take it personal.”

And they took Game 1.