Phillies vs. Astros score: Houston takes World Series lead with nail-biting Game 5 win on the road

The Houston Astros are one win away from the second World Series title in franchise history. The Astros hung on to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 5 at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday night (HOU 3, PHI 2), giving Houston a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 and, if necessary, Game 7 will be played at Minute Maid Park this weekend.

In the first inning it appeared Game 5 would be a chaos game with a lot of runs and lots of craziness, but that chaos game never materialized. Game 5 became a quasi-pitchers’ duel with plenty of traffic and squandered opportunities on both sides. The two teams went a combined 2 for 18 with runners in scoring position. 

Here are a few takeaways from Game 5 with a quick look ahead to Game 6.

1. There was a huge momentum swing in the first inning

If you’re a believer in momentum in sports, the first inning was a massive swing in Game 1. Jose Altuve opened Game 5 with a double and wound up at third base on Brandon Marsh’s error. The next batter, Jeremy Peña, drove him in with a single through the drawn-in infield to give the Astros a 1-0 lead. The Phillies had the infield in in the first inning! You don’t see that often. 

Two batters into the game, it was clear Noah Syndergaard would not be out there long. He ran the count full on Yordan Alvarez and the Astros had Peña running on the 3-2 pitch. Alvarez swung through a high fastball and J.T. Realmuto threw out Peña for the rally-killing strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play. This throw was picture perfect:

Had Alvarez taken the high fastball, the Astros have runners on first and second with no outs, and Syndergaard is on the ropes. Instead, the bases were empty with two outs, and Syndergaard had new life. He struck out Alex Bregman to end the inning and Kyle Schwarber picked up his pitcher with a second pitch leadoff homer in the bottom of the first.

Schwarber’s leadoff homer was the 26th in World Series history and the first ever by a Phillie. It was also Schwarber’s third career postseason leadoff homer, tying Jimmy Rollins and Hall of Famer Derek Jeter for the most in history. He is one of the best high fastball hitters in the game and he was ready for Justin Verlander’s elevated heater there.

Thanks to the double play and Schwarber’s homer, the Astros went from having a 1-0 lead and threatening to put a crooked number on the board to the game being tied 1-1 in the span of six pitches. Let’s look at some basic win probability:

  • Alvarez takes ball 4 (runners at first and second, no outs): Phillies have 34.6 percent chance to win Game 5
  • After strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play: Phillies have 47.3 percent chance to win Game 5
  • After Schwarber’s game-tying homer: Phillies have 59.4 percent chance to win Game 5

That’s an enormous win probability swing, especially in such a short period of time (three batters and six pitches). The Phillies went on to lose Game 5 anyway, but that first inning prevented Houston from running away with it early. The game remained close and competitive right down to the final pitch thanks in large part to the double play and Schwarber’s homer in the first inning.

2. Houston’s no-hit streak ended

The Phillies were no-hit by Cristian Javier and three Astros relievers in Game 4. Dating back to the sixth inning of Game 3, Philadelphia’s offense had gone 11 consecutive innings without a hit, which featured a World Series record 0-for-36 stretch. No team had ever gone more at-bats between hits in the Fall Classic.

It didn’t take the Phillies long to get into the hit column in Game 2. Schwarber sent Verlander’s second pitch into the right field seats for a leadoff homer and Philadelphia’s first hit since Rhys Hoskins took Lance McCullers Jr. deep in Game 5. The 0 for 36 streak was over. Houston’s 11-inning hitless streak tied the 1939 Yankees for the longest in World Series history.

3. Peña keeps hitting

The first inning RBI single gave Peña a hit in all five World Series games (and a six-game hitting streak dating back to the ALCS) and he added to his World Series hit total with a fourth inning go-ahead homer. He socked Syndergaard’s 44th and final pitch over the left field wall to give the Astros a 2-1 lead. This did not look gone off the bat, but it got out:

Peña is the first rookie shortstop ever — ever! — to homer in the World Series. The home run was Peña’s ninth extra-base hit this October (five doubles and four homers), the third most ever by a rookie in a single postseason. Only Randy Arozarena (14 in 20 games in 2020) and Yuli Gurriel (10 in 18 games in 2017) had more extra-base hits as a rookies in a postseason. 

In the eighth inning Peña helped give the Astros an insurance run with a single poked to right field on a textbook hit-and-run. He went 3 for 4 in Game 5 and is 8 for 21 (.381) in the World Series overall. There’s still at least one more game to play, but at this point Peña is as good a pick for World Series MVP as anyone. And this is after winning ALCS MVP, remember.

4. Verlander finally got a World Series win

No pitcher in history had started more World Series games without recording a win than Verlander. Entering Game 5, he was 0-6 with a 6.07 ERA in eight career World Series starts, including blowing a 5-0 lead in Game 1 of this series. It wasn’t easy, but Verlander finally got his first World Series win in Game 5. In fact, it wasn’t just Verlander’s first World Series win. It was the first time he exited a World Series game with a lead, if you can believe that.

“Oh, yeah, I got a lot of confidence. I mean, this guy’s had a great career and it’s not over yet,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said about Verlander prior to Game 5. “… We got full confidence in Justin. Everybody’s wondering, is he on a short leash? I mean, no, he doesn’t have a leash at all. I mean, he’s Justin Verlander. Nobody can get out of trouble better than him. I’ve seen it over and over and over, and I hope he doesn’t get in trouble and just hope that he’s Verlander.” 

The Phillies had their chances against Verlander early in Game 5. After Schwarber swatted his leadoff homer the Phillies stranded a runner at first base in the first inning, left the bases loaded in the second, then stranded runners on first and second in the third. Six runners stranded in the first three innings. You can’t keep letting Verlander off the hook like that and expect to win. Hoskins, Bryson Stott, and Nick Castellanos all ended innings with ducks on the pond.

Five of the first 10 batters Verlander faced reached base, then he settled down and retired 10 of the final 13 batters he faced to get through five innings. Verlander walked four, his most in a game since June 2019, and the Schwarber home run was the 10th he’s allowed in the World Series. That’s the most ever. But, a win is a win, and Verlander now has one in the World Series.

Also, Verlander’s career 6.07 ERA entering Game 5 was the highest in World Series history (min. 30 innings). He brought that down to a 5.63 ERA with one run in five innings Thursday night and no longer sits atop the leaderboard. Carl Erskine’s 5.83 ERA is again the highest in World Series history. That is not a stat you want to lead. Verlander got out of the top spot and got a win in Game 5. 

5. Phillies couldn’t get The Big Hit; Astros got The Big Play(s)

The Phillies had opportunities to score in Game 5 and not just against Verlander. They put 10 runners on base in the first seven innings but scored just the one run on Schwarber’s homer. Philadelphia’s best chance to break through came in the eighth, when they put two on against Rafael Montero, and Jean Segura plated a run with a single to right to get the Phillies to within 3-2.

Segura’s single snapped his team’s 0-for-20 rut with runners in scoring position dating back to Game 1. That is the third-longest hitless streak with runners in scoring position in World Series history. Only the 1966 Dodgers and 1980 Royals (both 0 for 22) had longer streaks. Given that, and the fact the Astros led 5-0 in three of the first four games, it’s a miracle the series is this competitive.

Segura’s single set the Phillies up with runners on the corners and one out, prompting Baker to go to closer Ryan Pressly. Pressly quickly struck out Marsh on three pitches, then Trey Mancini saved the game with a great stab on Schwarber’s hard-hit grounder to first base. If this gets by Mancini, it likely scores two runs and gives the Phillies a 4-3 lead.

Schwarber and Bryce Harper are a combined 8 for 23 (.348) with three homers and nine walks in the World Series. On the other end of the spectrum Hoskins, Realmuto, and Castellanos are a combined 9 for 62 (.145) with 28 strikeouts. You’re not going to win many games, let alone beat a team as good as the Astros, with three of your biggest bats doing that. To be fair to Realmuto, he was robbed of extra bases by Chas McCormick in the ninth inning of Game 5. This was a tremendous catch:

The fact of the matter is the the Phillies bludgeoned McCullers for five homers in less than five innings in Game 3, and they’ve scored only two runs in 21 offensive innings since. It’s very simple, either the Phillies’ bats wake up in Game 6, or they’ll lose the series. Their pitching has been plenty good this series, but the guys on the mound need more support.

6. Gurriel finally struck out

It took 49 plate appearances, but Gurriel finally struck out this postseason. Connor Brogdon fanned him with an elevated fastball to end the top of the fourth inning. The 49 plate appearances without a strikeout are the third most ever to begin a postseason. Here’s the leaderboard:

  1. Joey Cora, 1995 Mariners: 51 (all his postseason plate appearances)
  2. David Eckstein, 2006 Cardinals: 50
  3. Yuli Gurriel, 2022 Astros: 49
  4. Yuli Gurriel, 2019 Astros: 48
  5. Tim Foli, 1979 Pirates: 48 (all his postseason plate appearances)

Gurriel entered Game 5 with a career .266/.321/.387 batting line in 352 postseason plate appearances, and he went 16 for 47 (.340) with two homers and a walk before striking out this postseason. Getting the bat on the ball against high-end pitching is a very valuable skill in October and Gurriel certainly has it, even at age 38.

It should be noted Gurriel exited Game 5 in the eighth inning, one inning after he was inadvertently kneed in the head during a rundown. Gurriel slipped and went down, and Hoskins stumbled over him while applying the tag. He was replaced by Mancini, who then made the game-saving play on Schwarber’s grounder in the eighth inning.

7. The Astros are on the cusp of a title

Historically, teams that take a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven have gone on to win the series 70 percent of the time, including 68 percent of the time in the World Series. The Astros are sitting pretty, and now have two chances to win one game to clinch the second championship in franchise history (also 2017). That said, Houston was in the same position in 2019, then lost Games 6 and 7 at home to the Washington Nationals. The last win is always the hardest.

8. Up next

Friday is a travel day and the World Series will resume Saturday night in Houston. One way or the other the World Series will be decided at Minute Maid Park for the third time in the last four years, and in Texas for the fourth straight year. Game 2 starters Zack Wheeler (12-7, 2.28 ERA) and Framber Valdez (17-6, 2.82 ERA) will be on the mound in Game 6.

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