Well, we do know one thing for sure now: This World Series is heading back to Houston.
Phillies fans might have dreamed of clinching this thing in Philadelphia just like they did in 2008, but the Astros, well, they’re pretty stubborn, and after combining for the second no-hitter in World Series history in a 5-0 win in Game 4 on Wednesday night in Philadelphia, we’re tied 2-2 heading into what is the most important game of the entire season.
Here's a look at the five biggest storylines heading into Game 5:
1. When are the Phillies going to get their next hit?
We were going to talk about Noah Syndergaard here, about how the Phillies are essentially putting together a bullpen game against the guy who’s the favorite to win the American League Cy Young Award this year (his third), and how a Fall Classic they once felt in control of now feels like it might be slipping through their fingers. Those are important points! We’re glad we mentioned them! But let’s not bury the lead here: With a chance to take command of this series, the Phils just got no-hit.
Cristian Javier, Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly just no-hit the Phillies … in the World Series. The National League champs amazingly have not had a hit since Nick Castellanos' single in the sixth inning of Game 3 on Tuesday night. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Astros have now thrown 11 consecutive no-hit innings, tied with the 1939 Yankees for the longest such streak in a World Series. Game 5, one that’s almost overwhelmingly important, should be tight, tense and scary. But it won’t be any of those things if, uh, Philadelphia doesn't get a hit.
2. Which Justin Verlander are we going to get?
Speaking of no-hitters, Houston’s Game 5 starter is one of just three pitchers (along with Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax) since baseball integrated in 1947 to throw three or more no-hitters. Verlander -- who threw the most recent of his three no-hitters in 2019 -- was truly brilliant against the Yankees in Game 1 of this year's AL Championship Series: six innings, one run, 11 strikeouts. It was Justin Verlander in every way you have always known Justin Verlander to be. This is what we want out of Verlander: To be the veteran ace that he is on the grandest stage. But other than that ALCS game, he has been something other than that in this postseason, and that has also been true over the course of his World Series career.
Verlander gave up five runs in five innings in Game 1 of this World Series while blowing a 5-0 lead, raising his Fall Classic ERA to 6.07 over eight starts. Clayton Kershaw got grief for years for postseason numbers that were a lot better than that. The nice thing about this opportunity for Verlander is that he can be incredible in a game as huge as this one -- if he can have a game like the ALCS opener, he will erase all the rough starts before this one. It will feel as if he won this Series by himself. (Kershaw, for example, was able to rewrite some of his postseason legacy by winning Games 1 and 5 in the 2020 World Series while allowing a total of three runs.) This can be an all-timer of a moment for Verlander in an all-timer of a season. It’s right there in front of him.
3. Did that fifth inning change everything?
The crowd in Philadelphia was roaring. Aaron Nola looked sharp. The game was a scoreless tie. The Phillies had a chance to take a 3-1 World Series lead. And then it all went off the rails. Three straight singles chased Nola with no outs in the fifth inning. Then a hit-by-pitch from José Alvarado, an Alex Bregman double, a sac fly by Kyle Tucker and a Yuli Gurriel single past a drawn-in infield, and the next thing you knew, the Astros had another 5-0 lead. They didn’t give this one up. The Phils were trying to ride the momentum of a roaring crowd, the Game 3 homer barrage and a sense that they were on such a roll that nothing was going to stop them. Then, in the fifth inning on Wednesday night, something stopped them. Can they get it back again?
4. Did Citizens Bank Park lose a little mystique in Game 4?
If Game 3 was the first baseball game you watched in your life, you would have thought not only that the Phillies were absolutely unbeatable, but that their home games were held in a terror dome with the sonic intensity of a bowling alley on top of an aircraft carrier. They entered Game 4 without a loss at home in these playoffs and looked to all the world like a team whose fans would carry them as far as they could go. Well, the thing about baseball is that your fans, no matter how excited they might be, tend to get real quiet when your team doesn’t get a hit for … well, the whole game.
The Phillies didn’t give their fans anything to cheer about in Game 4, destroying that aura of indestructibility in Philly. With the way this postseason has gone, Phils fans might have felt that they were uniquely blessed, that they’d suffered enough and nothing else was going to go wrong for them. They’ll be excited Thursday, but they won’t believe that anymore.
5. Is Game 5 going to decide the World Series?
Some stats! This will be the 65th time that a best-of-seven series has been tied 2-2 after four games. Guess how many times the team that won Game 5 won the series? How about 45 times! That’s 70 percent. Those are some pretty imposing odds. Now, the circumstances of that series matter of course: In the current 2-3-2 format, teams with a 3-2 lead heading back home for two (as the Astros would be doing if they win) have won 37 of 49 series (76%); teams holding a 3-2 lead and going on the road (as the Phillies would be doing if they win Game 5) have won 31 of 51 times (61%). It might seem obvious that the team that wins Game 5 has a big advantage, and that’s because it is. But seriously, the team that wins Game 5 has a massive advantage. You know how stressful these first four games have been? It’s about to be 10 times that on Thursday.