Astros make 5-run lead hold up to even Series

October 30th, 2022

HOUSTON -- Zack Wheeler’s very first pitch of Game 2 of the World Series on Saturday night was lined to left for a hustle double from Jose Altuve. His second was punched past third baseman Alec Bohm for a double from Jeremy Peña. His fourth was sent soaring off the high left-field wall for -- yes, you guessed it -- a double from Yordan Alvarez.

A triple-double and an early edge -- one that would only grow with another run later in the first inning and an Alex Bregman two-run tater in the fifth.

One night after their own wheels came off in a gut-wrenching Game 1 loss to the Phillies, the Astros teed off on Wheeler to take yet another five-run lead. But this time, in the capable left hand of Framber Valdez, that lead held up in the form of a 5-2 victory at Minute Maid Park to even up a best-of-seven that is Philly-bound.

“This is the World Series, this is what we try to do, is go out and put up as many runs as we can,” Alvarez said through an interpreter. “Thankfully, tonight, we were able to hold on for the win.”

Justin Verlander’s inability to hold on to a 5-0 lead in Game 1 cast a cloud over Minute Maid Park’s closed roof. But Houston’s contact- and power-potent bats didn’t let that cloud linger. To put up 10 runs over two nights against Philadelphia’s finest starting arms -- Wheeler and Game 1 starter Aaron Nola -- is quite a feat, and the Astros are proof positive that if you torch enough opposing pitchers, you’re bound to come away with a "W" eventually.

“It was almost a mathematical must, actually,” said manager Dusty Baker, “because it's tough when you lose the first two games at home.”

World Series ticket information: Phillies | Astros

As much credit as the Astros’ offense deserves for duplicating its 5-0 start from a night earlier, this persistent Phillies bunch deserves credit for creating a vibe in which 5-0 does not feel like finality. And even though Valdez was brilliant for 6 1/3 innings in which he was charged with a lone run, Game 2 would have some nail-biting moments in the late innings, most especially when Kyle Schwarber just barely missed a two-run home run off reliever Rafael Montero not once but twice in the eighth.

The Phillies didn’t sweep two games on the road, but this 87-win team continued to outplay its October seeding.

“It’s good that we got a split here,” Wheeler said, “but obviously we’d rather win two. But it’s good we got a split and now we get to go back home.”

In postseason series with the current 2-3-2 format, teams splitting the first two games at home have still gone on to win 47 of 86 times (55%). The split obviously means there is a great deal at stake in Game 3. In all best-of-seven series tied 1-1, the winner of the third game has triumphed 68 of 98 times (69%).

Ultimately, though, Game 2 was a testament to the Astros not letting their awful opening outcome -- in which they had become the first World Series team in 20 years to lose a game it had led by five runs -- get the best of them.

The doubles by Altuve, Peña and Alvarez quickly made it 2-0 off Wheeler, who had posted a 1.78 ERA in his first four starts of this postseason. Soon after, it was 3-0 when a throwing error by Phillies shortstop Edmundo Sosa allowed Yuli Gurriel to reach and Alvarez to score from third.

Later, in the fifth, Bregman punched a two-run homer off the left-center-field facade to make it 5-0. That was Wheeler’s last inning of work.

“They were just aggressive on those balls right over the heart of the plate,” Wheeler said. “That’s what a good team does with it. I tried to obviously match their aggression and get off the corners a little bit more, and they just came out swinging, and the balls were right down the middle.”

Then there was Valdez, who allowed just the one run on four hits with three walks and nine strikeouts. He was, simply, too darn good to let another Houston horror show happen, spotting his sinker wherever he wanted and breaking up the Phils with his breaking ball. In the rare instances in which the Phillies had a baserunner against him, Valdez limited them to just one base hit in 11 at-bats.

This was continued validation of Valdez’s effort this postseason to not let innings or outings unravel, as they did when he allowed 10 runs in only 4 2/3 innings over two starts in last year’s World Series.

“Definitely last year my emotions got the best of me,” he said through an interpreter. “I wasn't able to throw even more than two innings without giving up a run. But those were things that I was able to learn, separate my emotions from my job on the field.”

The lone run charged to Valdez came on a sac fly in the seventh off Montero, scoring the baserunner Valdez had left behind. With Montero still on the mound in the eighth, pinch-hitter Bryson Stott worked a leadoff walk, then Schwarber unloaded on a high heater with a high fly down the right-field line that created confusion.

Schwarber circled the bases on what was initially ruled a homer, but a crew-chief replay review confirmed the Statcast-projected 403-footer had hooked foul. Then, on the very next pitch, Schwarber lifted a 353-footer to right that Kyle Tucker’s outstretched glove caught directly in front of the wall. Montero avoided disaster for the remainder of the inning.

“You don't see it too often where a guy hits a foul home run and then hits a fair home run, but he almost pulled it off,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “That would have been nice.”

And though the Phillies did manage one run off Ryan Pressly in the ninth, it didn’t matter.

Now the Series will shift to Game 3 on Halloween night at Citizens Bank Park, where the Astros will try to go up 5-0 yet again -- this time against Noah Syndergaard -- and where the Phillies are, yes, 5-0 this October.