HOUSTON — Maybe the Philadelphia Phillies are a team of destiny.
Entering Game 1 of this best-of-seven World Series, the Houston Astros were undefeated this postseason, chewing through opponents much like they had during the regular season. And this matchup between the Astros, the top seed in the American League, and the Phillies, who secured the sixth and final playoff spot in the National League, seemed like a mismatch.
After falling behind, 5-0, on Friday, it certainly seemed that way. But the Phillies, like they have all postseason, came charging back. They tied the game in the fifth inning on a two-run double by their star catcher J.T. Realmuto. And in the top of the 10th, Realmuto slammed a 98-mile-per-hour fastball from Astros pitcher Luis Garcia 346 feet to right field for a home run that was the difference in a 6-5 victory.
“Honestly, just ecstatic to put a good swing on that pitch, to be able to give our team the lead,” Realmuto said. “We did such a good job fighting back there.”
Realmuto went 2 for 4 and drove in three runs while playing solid defense at catcher.
“I don’t think any of us are shocked,” Bryce Harper, who was playing in his first World Series game, said of Realmuto, who has caught more innings than any catcher in baseball this season. “He’s not just a catcher, he’s an athlete.”
The Astros, though, are a juggernaut playing in their fourth World Series in six years, while the Phillies are making their first playoff appearance in 11 years. But in the first game of this final round, perhaps the adage remains true: it’s the hottest team, not necessarily the best, that wins the championship.
Sure, the Astros swept the Seattle Mariners and the Yankees in the division series and the A.L. Championship Series. But to get here, the Phillies went 9-2 in the playoffs, toppling teams with better records and seeds — the St. Louis Cardinals, the Atlanta Braves and the San Diego Padres.
“We’ve felt like the underdog a little bit, at least been told we’re the underdog,” first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “That doesn’t necessarily sit well with us. We feel like we’re as good a team as anybody. I’m not saying anybody is taking us lightly but I think we have the ability to beat anybody on any given day, and we’ve been able to do that at the start of each series.”
If there is a way to beat the Astros, the Phillies followed a blueprint provided by the Washington Nationals, underdogs who defeated the Astros in the 2019 World Series by relying heavily on their handful of standout pitchers. Because their pitching staff isn’t as deep as the Astros’, the Phillies need to win the games started by their two aces, Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler.
Although Nola surrendered five runs over four and one-third innings, Philadelphia’s offense wore down the Astros ace Justin Verlander, who coughed up five runs over five innings. By the time Nola and Verlander were out of the game, the score was tied. That would then set the stage for a battle of the teams’ bullpens and resolve.
The 19-win difference between the 106-win Astros and the 87-win Phillies is the second greatest disparity among World Series opponents, topped only by the 23-win difference between the Chicago Cubs and White Sox in 1906. The White Sox, the underdog that year, went on to win that championship in six games.
In the first act of this World Series, the Phillies played a similar role. Entering Friday, the Astros had won 65 straight games, including the postseason, when they led by five runs or more. The Phillies were able to change that.
But long before Realmuto’s home run put the Phillies on top, the Astros had appeared to be picking up where they had left off against the Yankees in the A.L.C.S. Houston’s right fielder, Kyle Tucker, who led the team with 107 runs batted in during the season, slammed an inside 89-mile per hour changeup from Nola into the right field seats for a solo blast.
Three of the next four hitters — first baseman Yuli Gurriel, center fielder Chas McCormick and catcher Martín Maldonado — singled and produced a run. Nola escaped further trouble when he got second baseman Jose Altuve to ground into an inning-ending double play, but the Astros were already leading, 2-0.
An inning later, Tucker and the Astros did more damage. With two men on, Nola tried again to throw a pitch inside to Tucker — this time a 95-mile-per-hour sinker — the ball drifted over the plate and Tucker sent it into the Astros bullpen in right field. The three-run blast gave the Astros a 5-0 lead and many of the 42,903 in attendance erupted.
It would be enough to sink many teams, but the Phillies, who have rallied repeatedly throughout the postseason, thought little of the deficit.
“Everybody just kind of looks at each other,” third baseman Alec Bohm said, sarcastically, “and is just like, ‘Should we just go up to the clubhouse and just quit and just start tomorrow’s game? Is that what we should do or should we just play?’”
In the fourth inning, Hoskins, Harper and right fielder Nick Castellanos each singled, with Castellanos’s producing a run. Then Bohm ripped a hanging curveball from Verlander into the left-field corner for a two-run double. In the span of five batters, the Phillies had slashed their deficit to 5-3.
Verlander eventually got out of the inning and returned for the fifth, when things deteriorated. He coughed up a double to center fielder Brandon Marsh and then walked left fielder Kyle Schwarber. But Manager Dusty Baker stuck with Verlander and it backfired.
After Verlander got Hoskins to pop out, he twirled another floating curveball over the plate, this time to Realmuto, who waited and slammed it against the left-center field wall for a game-tying two-run double. At second base, Realmuto waved his hands up toward the Phillies dugout as if to signal for more noise.
Once the score was tied, Phillies Manager Rob Thomson felt the urgency and began deploying some of his best relievers. He removed Nola with one out in the fifth inning to bring in late-inning reliever José Alvarado to face the heart of the Astros lineup. It worked.
When Tucker singled with one out in the eighth, Thomson did the same with Seranthony Domínguez, who is usually the Phillies closer. Domínguez wriggled out of that inherited jam with a groundout and strikeout.
The Astros threatened in the bottom of the ninth inning but Castellanos saved the day. After Altuve singled and stole second base with two outs, Peña lifted a fly ball to right field. Castellanos charged, slid and caught the ball to send the game into the extra innings. This allowed Realmuto to face Astros pitcher Luis Garcia in the top of the 10th and send the Phillies to another improbable victory.
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