PHILADELPHIA -- The Philly faithful had waited 4,746 days to host a World Series game, and then -- cruelly -- one more because of rain. Come Tuesday night, however, the skies above Citizens Bank Park were finally free of precipitation and full, instead, of fly balls clearing the outfield wall and leading the Phillies to a Game 3 victory as substantial as the jubilant sounds coming from the stands.
Bryce Harper, Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh, Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins sent an already hyped audience into hysterics with their record-setting quintet of homers off Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr., and Ranger Suárez offset all that noise by keeping the dangerous Houston lineup quiet in a 7-0 victory that gave the Fightin’ Phils a 2-1 edge in the best-of-seven World Series.
“Hitting itself is a contagious thing without the crowd,” Hoskins said afterward in the Phillies’ clubhouse, where the fog from the club’s celebratory smoke machine still hung in the air. “You throw in the crowd and the noise and the cheers, and I think it just makes it even more contagious.”
McCullers, unfortunately, caught the bug. Ordinarily stingy with the dingers (his rate of 0.73 homers per nine innings was tied for 10th best among pitchers with at least 150 innings in 2021-22), the right-hander became the first pitcher not just in World Series history but in postseason history to allow five home runs in a game.
The Phillies were on him like Cheez Whiz on a steak sandwich, and the crowd absolutely ate it up.
“I got beat, man,” McCullers said. “They hit a lot of solid pitches, I thought. At the end of the day, we got beat pretty bad, and I got beat up pretty bad.”
We don’t yet know what Tuesday’s result means for the outcome of this Series. But in previous best-of-seven postseason sets that were tied at 1-1, the winner of Game 3 went on to take the series 69 percent (68 of 98) of the time.
So that’s one more thing for Phillies fans to cheer.
They were certainly cheering in the first inning, when Harper -- nine days after he sent the Phillies to the Fall Classic with a homer on the last pitch he saw in the National League Championship Series -- came up with a runner aboard and connected on the very first pitch he saw in his first home World Series game. It was a poorly placed knuckle curve that Harper belted out to right-center field.
The crowd -- already on its feet, attentive and audible -- reached new strength in its sonority, and Harper circled the bases, gestured proudly to the team name across his chest and crossed home plate with a 2-0 lead.
“Just walking into the ballpark, just being back home, I think is such a momentum swing for us,” Harper said. “We all come in here and we're ready to go and we're excited to get on the field, because we know they're going to show up and there's going to be 46,000 people here screaming and yelling and going crazy.”
Amid all that yelling, Harper called to Bohm, who was now on deck, to quietly dispense some advice before his next at-bat. Bohm, leading off the second inning, did just as Harper had, smacking a first-pitch offering (this time a sinker) out to left to make it 3-0 on what was actually the 1,000th home run in World Series history.
Whatever was said was kept confidential. But it evidently worked.
“Anytime you have information,” Harper said, “you want to be able to give that to your teammates.”
The Phillies’ bats weren’t done making themselves heard.
Two outs later, Marsh lifted a high fly to right that came into contact with the glove of a fan in the stands and then bounced atop the wall before falling into the glove of right fielder Kyle Tucker. There was momentary confusion for Marsh on the bases before it was ruled a dinger, and a replay review was required to uphold the homer. But irrefutably, it was 4-0.
Astros manager Dusty Baker wasn’t done riding McCullers, though, and neither were the Phillies. With one out and one on in the fifth, Schwarber golfed a low changeup high and deep to dead center, pelting the batter’s eye greenery. Hoskins followed with a back-to-back shot to left that finally, mercifully convinced Baker to give McCullers the hook.
Why did McCullers get that chance to face the top of the order a third time?
“The thought process was the fact that he had had two good innings, two real good innings [in the third and fourth],” Baker said. “And then they hit a blooper, a homer, and then I couldn't get anybody loose. I mean, it was my decision.”
The damage was done, and the celebration was on.
The home runs came in support of Suárez, who was only able to start this game on regular rest because of the rainout (the Game 3 assignment was initially scheduled to go to Noah Syndergaard) and did his part to ensure that lead stuck. Only in two of his five innings did the Astros mount a baserunner against him. Both times they put two aboard with two outs, and Suárez calmly got the third out each time -- getting Chas McCormick looking at strike three to end the second and getting Jose Altuve to pop out in foul territory to escape the fifth.
By the eighth inning, the Philadelphia fans were so elated that they even cheered past nemesis Santa Claus (or at least, a guy dressed up as him) when he was shown on the scoreboard.
“This whole city is so excited to be in this moment,” Harper said, “and we're just thrilled to be able to play in front of them and have this opportunity and just be here with them.”