McCormick, Mancini save Astros with amazing plays

November 4th, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- was lying on his back on the right-center warning track in a suddenly hushed Citizens Bank Park in the ninth inning Thursday night and soaked in the magnitude of the moment. All he could see was the night sky and the faces of stunned Phillies fans, who had a front-row seat to the catch of McCormick’s life.

“Best feeling ever, just laying there and looking at the Philly fans and being home,” said McCormick, who grew up a Phillies fan in nearby West Chester, Pa. “Speechless.”

An inning earlier, first baseman stumbled across the first-base line after spearing a screaming one-hopper and calmly reached out and touched first base to retire Kyle Schwarber, who spiked his helmet in disbelief. In Mancini’s first defensive action of the World Series, his quick reaction turned what could have been a Schwarber game-tying hit -- or worse -- into an inning-ending out.

“I just tackled it basically,” Mancini said. “I thought that it hit the ground before so I made sure to touch the bag.”

Incredible defensive plays by McCormick and Mancini late in the Astros’ tension-filled 3-2 win over the Phillies in Game 5 of the World Series were as instrumental to their win as Justin Verlander’s gritty five innings, Jeremy Peña's homer and closer Ryan Pressly’s five-out save. There was no shortage of heroes for the Astros, and McCormick and Mancini were at the top of the list.

“We needed both of [the plays] badly,” third baseman Alex Bregman said.

And with that, the Astros are one win away from their second World Series championship since 2017. Houston leads the best-of-seven series 3-2 and will send All-Star left-hander Framber Valdez to the mound in Game 6 on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.

“It was a great win,” Mancini said. “We’ll celebrate it and appreciate it tonight, but back to work tomorrow. ... All eyes are on Game 6 after this.”

Mancini, who was acquired from the Orioles at the Trade Deadline, has struggled mightily with his bat in Houston but found a way to contribute with this glove. In the seventh inning, with the Astros leading, 2-1, Mancini pinch-hit for the injured Yuli Gurriel and struck out swinging, dropping him to 0-for-18 in the postseason. His big moment would come soon enough.

With the Astros holding a tenuous 3-2 lead in the eighth and runners at first and third base and two outs, Schwarber scorched a liner down the first-base line. Mancini, who was signaled by bench coach Joe Espada to guard the line moments earlier, found the ball in his glove on a short hop as his momentum carried him into foul territory. He stepped on the bag and the threat was over.

“It feels great,” he said. “Before the game, if you told me I contributed in a big way tonight, I would have thought it came with my bat and not my glove. I'm much more known for my bat than the glove, I’d say. I’m really happy to contribute.”

As big as Mancini’s defensive play loomed, it took a back seat to McCormick’s amazing catch in the ninth. With one out, Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto hit a fly ball to right field that McCormick corralled with a leaping catch at the wall. He reached up with his right hand and squeezed it, falling to the ground and stunning the sellout crowd.

“Honestly, I thought he hit it out,” McCormick said. “At that point, I was going to be really aggressive. I was going to run through a wall and catch it no matter what. Earlier in the game, I wasn’t as aggressive, so I made sure to get the ball as much as possible.”

Realmuto’s ball was hit at 102.4 mph off the bat and traveled 387 feet, but McCormick covered 92 feet to track it down.

“I didn’t see a lot, honestly,” Realmuto said. “I just saw him make the catch. I hit it and thought I got enough of it for it to at least be a double. He made a pretty incredible play on it.”

McCormick vividly remembers Aaron Rowand’s catch in center field -- only a few feet from where McCormick made his catch -- against the Mets in 2006 in which Rowand broke his nose when he ran into the wall. McCormick said he used to be able to dunk a basketball in high school, so he wasn’t surprised he could get up so high.

“That catch he made will never leave my head,” McCormick said. “I remember watching that live on TV and it was amazing. I was trying to be like Aaron Rowand out there.”

Pressly, looking on from the middle of the mound, said he owes McCormick more than dinner. Bregman, watching from third base, could only appreciate the type of competitor McCormick has been since taking over as Houston’s starter in center.

“He’s a stud,” Bregman said. “The compete is unbelievable. I love how confident he is in himself and he’s able to compartmentalize, too. He just struck out the inning before, too, and saved the game with a big catch.”