Fred Faour: No doubt, Astros are feeling just fine heading to Philadelphia for Game 3 of the World Series

Mandatory Credit: Photo by John Angelillo/UPI/Shutterstock (13554468b) Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez is congratulated by Jeremy Pena before being taken out of the game in the seventh inning against the Philadelphia Phillies in game two of the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Saturday, October 29, 2022. Valdez allowed no runs and four hits in six innings. 2022 World Series, Houston, Texas, United States – 29 Oct 2022

Fred Faour: No doubt, Astros are feeling just fine heading to Philadelphia for Game 3 of the World Series

Doubt was creeping in.

For the first time this postseason, the Astros were coming off a defeat. They had lost Game 1 to the Phillies 6-5 in 10 innings. They lost home field advantage. They lost a game that their ace, Justin Verlander started. 

Well, creep right back out of there, Mr. Doubt. 

The Astros responded like the champions they are and hope to be again, beating the Phillies 5-2 in Game 2 to even up the best-of-seven series and send it to Philadelphia tied at 1-1.

The Astros wasted no time erasing the doubt Friday’s loss left.

On Saturday, they greeted Phillies ace Zack Wheeler with three consecutive doubles to begin the game. It started with Jose Altuve, whose postseason struggles may be coming to an end. He hit a laser to left on the first pitch to lead off the bottom of the first. It was the first of three hits for him on the night. Jeremy Pena followed with a double of his own, scoring Altuve. Yordan Alvarez hit one off the short wall in left to score Pena. Alvarez then did one of those little things that makes all the difference. He tagged up and advanced to third on a fly ball to center. It was a gutsy hustle play. It paid off when the Phillies made an error on a routine throw with two outs, allowing Alvarez to score.

Just like that, it was 3-0 Astros.

But still there’s reason to doubt, right? They were up 5-0 Friday night.

Framber Valdez –  like Verlander before him – was cruising through the early part of the game. He zipped through the first three innings with no runs and five strikeouts.

Yeah, but…5-0.

Not this time. 

Alex Bregman added a two-out, two-run bomb in the fifth to make it – you guessed it – 5-0.

There’s that number again.

Lost in Bregman’s home run, however, was a move by Dusty Baker that worked as a timeout, like icing the kicker. He challenged a play at second base. The Astros lost the challenge, but Wheeler struggled after the long delay, and Bregman pounced. Also, another Alvarez hustle play made it happen. It might not seem like much, but he beat out a double play to get Bregman up to the plate. If he doesn’t rush down the line, the home run does not exist. It’s those little plays the Astros do all the time.

Take that, doubt.

Meanwhile, Valdez kept dominating. He would go 6.1 innings, allowing one run, four hits and striking out nine. Valdez, the quiet ace who is so often overshadowed by Verlander, did his part to make sure the Astros lead would hold up. He was tested in the sixth, walking the lead-off hitter and then giving up a single. But he struck out J.T. Realmuto, the Game 1 hero, then induced the red hot Bryce Harper to hit into an inning ending double play.

It kept the score at that familiar 5-0.

Still, doubt kept creeping around?

Valdez would finally allow a run in the seventh, giving up a lead-off double to Nick Castellanos. Castellanos moved to third on a groundout, and Valdez’s night was over. Rafael Montero allowed a sacrifice fly to make it 5-1. Valdez’s excellence kept the Phillies at bay all night and was the main reason the Astros were able even up the series.

But it would not be drama-free, of course.

Montero would stay on for the eighth. He walked the lead-off hitter, then appeared to give up a two-run homer to Kyle Schwarber, but it was overturned on review. Schwarber hit the next pitch to the deepest part of right field for the first, loud scary out. Montero struck out Rhys Hoskins, but an infield single from Realmuto put runners on first and third with two outs and Harper at the plate again. Montero induced a pop out to right that was not without adventure as three Astros closed in. Pena caught it to end the threat.

All of Minute Maid Park collectively exhaled.

Closer Ryan Pressly gave up a run in the ninth before finishing it off.

This Astros team has faced adversity in the playoffs – especially against the Mariners, where they had to rally from down 7-3 in Game 1, and then win in 18 innings in Game 3. This was a different story. For the first time this postseason they lost control of a series. But they bounced back. Quickly.

Now, they go to Philly with an advantage in starting pitching for the next two games. It does not mean they will win, but you should feel good about their chances.

There will be more adversity, rest assured. But like Saturday, the Astros will be ready for it.

Of that, there is no doubt.

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