PHILADELPHIA -- As Ryan Pressly walked off the field following the eighth inning of World Series Game 5 on Thursday, he did not emote. Pressly did not seek or accept congratulations from his teammates. He simply marched to the dugout, head unmoving, and took a seat.
There was additional work for him to do.
Only later did emotion become unavoidable. In the bottom of the ninth, when center fielder Chas McCormick made a game-saving catch against the out-of-town scoreboard, Pressly placed his hands behind his head and stared in disbelief. Moments later, when Pressly completed a five-out save in a 3-2 win over the Phillies to send his team back to Houston with a 3-2 Series lead, he pointed to the sky and hugged his catcher. Pressly had survived, putting the Astros in position to thrive.
“Obviously, Ryan Pressly, what he did tonight was just incredible,” starting pitcher Justin Verlander said.
From a close-up view, Pressly’s performance marked only the third time this year -- including the playoffs -- that Astros manager Dusty Baker had asked his closer for more than three outs in a game. From a wider angle, it demonstrated an uncharacteristic level of aggressiveness in Baker’s bullpen management, which had become a flashpoint for discussion when he allowed Verlander to squander a five-run lead in Game 1 and left Lance McCullers Jr. in long enough to allow five home runs in Game 3.
Statistically speaking, the Astros entered this postseason with baseball’s best bullpen. In Game 5, Baker showed the world what can happen when he deploys it to the fullest extent.
“I mean, it’s the postseason,” Pressly said. “You’ve got to go out there and get outs whenever you’re called upon to go do it. … You’ve got to keep going until you can’t go anymore.”
Baker’s process on Thursday may have ended with Pressly, but it began with the manager’s decision to remove an effective Verlander after five innings of one-run ball. Rather than guess how his ace might fare as he approached the 100-pitch mark, Baker turned to Héctor Neris for the sixth. When Neris allowed a leadoff single, Baker quickly began warming Bryan Abreu, who entered with two outs, escaped a jam, then buzzed through the heart of Philadelphia’s order in the seventh.
Then, when Rafael Montero lost command of the strike zone in the eighth inning, Baker asked Pressly to try something he’s done far less frequently than many closers: record a multi-inning save.
That button worked, too. Entering with the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base and one out, Pressly struck out Brandon Marsh to drop Philadelphia’s burgeoning win expectancy from 46 percent back down to 30.
“That was big,” Baker said, “because with a sacrifice fly, the game's tied. We're in their ballpark. They get the last at-bat. So that was a huge strikeout.”
The next batter, Kyle Schwarber, hit a grounder directly to the first-base bag, where Trey Mancini -- who had entered an inning earlier after Yuli Gurriel injured himself in a rundown -- managed to knock it down for the third out. Mancini joked that he did not catch so much as “tackle” the baseball.
In the box score, Pressly’s five outs were a strikeout, a groundout, a strikeout, a flyout and a groundout. In reality, each was an adventure, a story unto itself. Put together, those five outs marked the second-most Pressly had ever recorded in a save situation. Pressly also became the second pitcher to enter a postseason game with a one-run lead and multiple runners on base, needing at least five outs to win and facing that task on zero days’ rest. The other was Hall of Famer Pete Alexander, who recorded the final seven outs of 1926 World Series Game 7.
“We’ve been kind of preserving him for this moment,” Baker said. “We could tell the way things were going that we might need to call him into action.”
For Pressly, a 10-year Major League veteran who has been a key piece of Houston’s bullpen since 2018, such pressure situations are not necessarily new. But the way he responded to this particular task, in this particular ballpark, with assists from Mancini and McCormick, was something altogether different. When Jose Altuve bounced into a double play to preserve a one-run game heading into the bottom of the ninth, Citizens Bank Park came alive, creating the type of hostile atmosphere for which Philadelphia is known.
Three outs later, the stadium went quiet, save for the noise of Pressly smacking his right fist into his glove in celebration. Asked later what he was thinking in that moment of pin-drop silence, Pressly grinned.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” he said.