The 118th World Series is underway, the first contested by this season’s league champions. The 19 game difference in the regular season records of the the Astros and Phillies is the largest since the 22½ game spread between the Cubs and White Sox way back in the 3rd World Series in 1906. More after the jump.
While this the first World Series between the Astros and Phillies, it is not their first post-season encounter. These franchises played a memorable NLCS in 1980 when the Phillies won 3 games to 2, with the last four games all decided in extra innings (Houston fans will bitterly remember that the Astros, playing at home, held multi-run leads after 7 innings in games 4 and 5, but lost both contests). The Astros have a 1-3 record in previous World Series, while the Phillies are 2-5. I was thinking this might be an unusual World Series with both teams featuring rookie shortstops, but the last such occurrence was only nine years ago, with Pete Kozma for the Cardinals and Xander Bogaerts for the Red Sox in the 2013 Series.
Game 1 featured a matchup between staff aces Justin Verlander and Aaron Nola. The Astros got to Nola early, with two runs in the 2nd and three in the 3rd, four of those tallies scoring on a pair of home runs, both off the bat of right-fielder Kyle Tucker, who becomes the first Astro with a multi-HR game in the World Series. Verlander was perfect until a one out single by Rhys Hoskins in the 4th. J.T. Realmuto followed with a liner right into Verlander’s glove that likely would have ended the inning by doubling off Hoskins. But, Verlander couldn’t squeeze it and had to settle for only retiring Realmuto. That proved very costly as single, single, double followed to plate three and put the Phillies back in the game. Verlander landed in more trouble in the 5th, allowing a 2-RBI double by Realmuto that tied the game. The bullpens held court after that, with the score remaining tied through the end of regulation, though Houston came close to winning it in the 9th; with two out and a runner on second, Jeremy Pena‘s blooper to short right field looked like it might fall for the game winning hit, but a diving catch by Nick Castellanos saved the day for the Phillies and sent the game to extras. J.T. Realmuto led off the 10th with an opposite field liner that cleared the fence in right. In the bottom of that frame, Houston put the tying and winning runs in scoring position with two out, but pinch-hitter Aledmys Diaz bounced out to third to end the threat. Diaz’s AB featured a call that’s almost never seen, when he was denied first base after getting hit with a pitch. After almost getting hit by a 1-0 fastball, Diaz leaned into the next offering which struck him in the elbow. The home plate umpire ruled, correctly, that Diaz had intentionally allowed the ball to hit him (and had even leaned forward as the pitch approached to ensure that outcome). Given that Diaz’s run meant nothing, one wonders why he was trying to get plunked with first base open, instead of trying to drive in the runners on base to win the game. Philadelphia matched the feat of the 2014 Giants in winning their fourth game 1 on the road; before the wildcard game or series, the 2002 Giants are the only team with three such wins. Houston’s 7 game winning streak comes to an end, one shy of the post-season record. J.T. Realmuto’s home run is the first by a Phillie in extra innings in the World Series. Justin Verlander extended his own record, with his 8th World Series start without a win. Verlander is the 21st pitcher with eight World Series starts; his 6.07 ERA for those games is the worst of that group over 8 consecutive World Series starts. Shortstop Bryson Stott worked a 10 pitch walk. Quiz: which other rookie did the same in a World Series game? (Hint: he also did so as a Phillie shortstop)
If game 1 was a matchup of the #1 pitchers on each staff, game 2 pitted the #1A pitchers. Ergo, there was little or no drop-off from game 1 in either team’s starting pitcher, with Astro lefty Framber Valdez facing Phillie righty Zack Wheeler. Astro batters ambushed Wheeler in the home half of the 1st inning, going up two runs before Wheeler had thrown five pitches, after successive first pitch doubles by Jose Altuve and Jeremy Pena, and another on the second pitch by Yordan Alvarez (Alvarez also took a healthy cut at the first pitch, but fouled it off). A third run was gifted to the home side after a throwing error by shortstop Edmundo Sosa, making his first World Series start. Alex Bregman added a 2-run home run in the 5th in support of Valdez’s 6.1 IP allowing a lone run on just four hits. Philadelphia added one more tally in the 9th, but never got the tying run closer than the on deck circle. Wheeler’s five runs allowed matched his total for the first four starts of his post-season, while Valdez delivered his third straight post-season start of 5+ IP allowing no more than two runs on four hits. With a 3 for 4 game, Jose Altuve seems back in the groove after his 0 for 25 struggle to begin the post-season. Bryce Harper went 0 for 4 to end his 11 game hitting streak, the longest by a Phillie in a single post-season. After his 10 pitch walk in game 1, Bryson Stott worked a 12 pitch free pass in game 2, matching Scott Podsednik (2005) with 10+ pitch PAs in consecutive World Series games (in both instances it was game 1 and 2, and the first World Series games of each player’s career, though Podsednik made outs in each of his extended PAs). Twelve pitches establishes a post-season record for Stott for pitches seen in a pinch-hitting appearance.
After a one day postponement due to heavy rain, Lance McCullers Jr. and Ranger Suarez were the starting pitchers for game 3 in front of a raucous crowd at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. The atmosphere grew even more frenzied as the home side jumped out to a 4-0 lead after only two innings, on the strength of three home runs, the first by Bryce Harper on the first pitch he saw (making it home runs on consecutive pitches at home, after his NLCS-clinching blast the previous week). Houston threatened with two out rallies in the 2nd and 5th, but Suarez was able to escape unscathed. The Phillie lead was extended to 7-0 in the 5th, after back-to-back jacks, the first a monumental blast by Kyle Schwarber well beyond the center-field wall. Four Phillie relievers closed out the game, with only Nick Nelson taxed, in a 30 pitch 8th inning. Five home runs allowed by McCullers sets a new post-season record, and five home runs by Philadelphia, and five Phillies with home runs, tie World Series records. This was only the second Phillie shutout in the World Series, the first coming on a Curt Schilling CG in game 5 of the 1993 Series. The Phillie home winning streak to start the post-season extends to 6 games, one shy of the record held by three teams, including the 2008 Phillies and 2017 Astros.
Looking to take a stranglehold on the series, Philadelphia went to game 1 starter Aaron Nola to face Houston’s Cristian Javier in game 4. Nola had been knocked around his last two starts, but started this game more promisingly, as both starters logged four shutout frames to begin the game. The Astros got to Nola for three successive singles in the 5th to load the bases with none out. Not wanting Nola to face Astro slugger Yordan Alvarez, the Phillies went to lefty Jose Alvarado, but Alvarado’s first pitch plunked Alvarez squarely in the back to score the first run of the game. Alex Bregman followed with an opposite field 2-RBI double on an 0-2 pitch, and a sac fly and RBI single rounded out the scoring for the visitors. Neither team scored after that, and the Phillies even failed to record a knock as four Astro pitchers registered the first combined no-hitter in World Series history (and also the first Astro shutout in World Series play). Javier’s non-CG hitless start of 5+ IP is the second in World Series play, after Ian Anderson in game 3 of last year’s WS. Javier becomes the first pitcher with consecutive 5+ IP post-season starts allowing zero runs and no more than one hit. Quiz: before Javier, which pitcher allowed the fewest total hits in consecutive post-season 5+ IP shutout starts? Yuli Gurriel (who has yet to strikeout in this post-season) stole second base in the 5th inning, becoming the seventh player with a World Series stolen base aged 38 or older. Quiz: which one of those players stole two bases in the World Series after his 38th birthday?
With the series tied, it was Houston’s turn to go back to their game 1 starter, as Justin Verlander took the mound in game 5 for his ninth World Series start. The Phillies could have gone with Zack Wheeler on normal rest, but instead chose to have their bullpen cover the game, with Noah Syndergaard the first man up. As in game 2, Astro batters started the game aggressively, with a double by Jose Altuve and a single from Jeremy Pena, both on the second pitch, giving Houston an immediate 1-0 lead. In the bottom of that first frame, leadoff hitter Kyle Schwarber also jumped on the second pitch, depositing it in the right-field seats for his second leadoff home run of this post-season, and third of his post-season career, both record-tying feats. The Phillies left the bases loaded in the 2nd, and left a pair on in the 3rd, before Jeremy Pena matched Schwarber with a solo shot leading off the 4th to put the Astros ahead and end Syndergaard’s night. The Astros put a runner on 3rd with nobody out in the 7th but couldn’t score, then pushed across an insurance run in the 8th on a walk, hit-and-run single and groundout, though they left a pair of runners in scoring position to end that frame. In the bottom of the 8th, Rafael Montero allowed a pair of walks and a following single to get the home side back to within one. But, that was a close as the Phillies would get, as Ryan Pressly came on to complete a five out save for the AL champs, aided by a fine fielding play by Trey Mancini on a hot shot to end the 8th with the tying and go-ahead runs aboard, and by a spectacular leaping catch at the wall in the 9th by Chas McCormick. Yuli Gurriel had his whiffless streak end at 47 AB, extending his own record set in 2019 for the most such AB to begin a post-season; it wasn’t Gurriel’s night as he later took a knee to the back of his head after being tagged out in a rundown play, and had to exit the game the next inning. With a 3 for 4 night, Jeremy Pena now has 18 hits including 9 extra-base hits, both one shy of shortstop records for the first 12 games of a post-season. At age 39, Justin Verlander gets the win, his first in a World Series game. Quiz: who is the oldest starting pitcher to record his first win in a World Series game?
Game 6 featured a re-match of the game 2 starters, with Framber Valdez facing Zack Wheeler. Both starters were highly effective in a game that remained scoreless through five innings. Kyle Schwarber broke the tie with a solo homer leading off the 6th. In the bottom of that frame, Wheeler plunked Martin Maldonado to put the leadoff man aboard, then allowed a one out single by Jeremy Pena to put runners at the corners. Phillie manager Rob Thomson did not want Wheeler, despite having thrown only 70 pitches, to face Yordan Alvarez a third time so, as he had done in game 4, Thomson brought in Jose Alvarado to face the Astro slugger. Unhappily for Thomson and the Phillies, that move did not work out any better than it had in game 4, as Alvarado promptly surrendered a monster 452 foot blast by Alvarez to put the home side ahead. The Astros added a fourth tally later in the inning, before three relievers closed out the game and the series, allowing just one baserunner over the final three frames. ALCS and World Series MVP Jeremy Pena scored the winning run in the clinching games of all three of the Astros’ post-season series. This game marked the 30th time a left-handed starter won the World Series clinching game, but the fourth time the Phillies were the victims, tied with the Yankees for the most such occurrences. Framber Valdez becomes the 13th left-handed starter to win two or more games in a World Series, including the clinching game (Quiz: which one of those pitchers accomplished that feat in consecutive seasons?).