Mandatory Credit: Photo by David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock (13437499c) Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. throws against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning of a baseball game, in Houston Phillies Astros Baseball, Houston, United States – 03 Oct 2022
If you watch, listen and read members of the media covering the World Series, Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park is going to be transformed into some magical kingdom that will make the Phillies invincible Tuesday night when they host the Astros in Game 3.
Going into this pivotal game in which both teams are trying to gain the upper hand in a series that’s tied 1-1 after splitting at Minute Maid Park, the loud and proud Philadelphia fans believe they’ve become the “12th Man” that’s helped the Phillies go from the last team to make the playoffs into a serious contender to win the World Series.
The Phillies are 5-0 at home during the playoffs. They’re 21-9 in postseason since moving into Citizens Bank Park, where they haven’t hosted a World Series game since 2009. Frenzied fans are going to be jacked.
“They’re an important part of this team and this organization, as well,” pitcher Noah Syndergaard said, describing the atmosphere at The Bank – next door to Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles, the NFL’s only undefeated team.
If Philadelphia – or anyone nationally – believes the Astros can be intimidated by noise, including booing, trash-can banging and lots of four-letter words, they should think again. There’s nothing the Astros are going to see or hear from Philadelphia fans they haven’t been experiencing since the cheating scandal was exposed five years ago.
Go ahead, boo Jose Alvuve, who rebounded from an 0-for-25 start in the playoffs to lead all World Series hitters with a .444 batting average. He’s heard it all every time he steps to the plate.
Game 3 features a compelling pitching matchup — Ranger Suarez vs. Lance McCullers Jr.
Suarez, who helped the Phillies win Game 1 with his two-thirds of an inning of scoreless relief on his throw day, will now draw the start in place of Noah Syndergaard after Game 3 was pushed back to Tuesday after Monday’s rainout.
McCullers has 18 playoff appearances, including 11 starts, with a 2-2 record and a 2.77 ERA.
Because of injuries, McCullers is pitching in the World Series for the first time since 2017, when he helped the Astros defeat the Dodgers to win their tainted title. He won’t be affected by the fans. Media people who claim the Astros are going to get knock-kneed at The Bank seem to forget what the Astros, including McCullers, have done to get this far.
In the American League Division Series, the Mariners hosted a home playoff game for the first time in 21 years, and they were swept by the Astros in a hostile environment. Storied Yankee Stadium couldn’t have an impact on the American League Championship Series. The Astros swept the Yankees, too, and eliminated them from the playoffs for the fourth time.
Since the Astros started this incredible six-year run that includes four World Series appearances and one title, they’ve won 22 playoff games on the road, more than any other team by a long shot.
McCullers has made two playoff starts this season at Seattle and New York. He’s ready for whatever nasty reception Philadelphia fans give him. Other than Justin Verlander, who cratered in the first game by blowing a 5-0 lead in a 6-5 defeat, McCullers has more playoff starts than any pitcher on the team.
Manager Dusty Baker is confident McCullers will pitch well against the Phillies.
“Lance would have probably been our ace last year going into the playoffs and World Series,” Baker said about losing McCullers in the playoffs with Verlander missing the last two seasons because of Tommy John surgery. “That was a very devastating day when he came in and said, ‘I think something’s wrong, and I don’t think I can pitch.’
“We still had good pitching, but Lance has been our big-game guy, so I’m just glad to have him back and have him for this series.”
The Phillies’ power hitters – Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, and Nick Castellanos – are going to see a steady diet of breaking balls from McCullers. The Phillies struggled against Framber Valdez’s off-speed pitches in the Astros’ 5-2 victory on Saturday night.
Baker was asked what makes McCullers special.
“Probably just his competitiveness and the movement on his ball,” he said. “This guy is a competitor. He’s confident. He’s a great guy to have on the team.”
McCullers better be a great guy to have on a team in Game 3. Since Major League Baseball switched to the 2-3-2 format, there’s a distinct advantage for winning the third game. Teams that have taken a 2-1 lead in the World Series have gone on to win the title 69 percent of the time. That’s why having a starter like McCullers would seem vital over a younger, less-experienced pitcher like Cristian Javier, the Game 4 starter.
“Who has more experience on this team than him and JV?” Baker said. “This is a very big game. I figure he can keep the ball in the ballpark pretty good with his sinker and his slider. He holds runners on pretty good (and) they generally try to run a lot.”
This will be McCullers’ third start on the road in the playoffs.
“I haven’t been shy as far as being open to pitching on the road,” he said. “I think it’s really cool to pitch on the road in the postseason. I think it’s when you get to experience the most raw and real atmospheres in all the game. You get to really test yourself and kind of see what you’re made of when you have to go on the road, especially in a big Game 3 like we’re going to have.”
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Monday and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).