Mandatory Credit: Photo by Seth Wenig/AP/Shutterstock (13486527bk) Houston Astros starting pitcher Cristian Javier (53) gets a tap on his shoulder from Alex Bregman (2) as he leaves the game during the sixth inning of Game 3 of an American League Championship baseball series against the New York Yankees, in New York ALCS Astros Yankees Baseball, New York, United States – 22 Oct 2022
Twice in three days, Houston fans witnessed two of the worst performances in the city’s professional sports history.
On Sunday, the Texans were embarrassed by the Titans at NRG Stadium.
On Tuesday, the Astros were humiliated by the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
After suffering a 7-0 shutout in Game 3, putting them in a 2-1 hole against the sweet-swinging, power-hitting Phillies, the Astros are desperate for starting pitcher Cristian Javier to not duplicate the putrid performances of Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr. in the World Series.
How important is Wednesday night’s game? Under the current playoff format, teams that earned a 2-1 advantage have won the World Series 69 percent of the time. Teams that go up 3-1 win the title 82 percent of the time.
The Astros have to win three of the next four games to keep the Phillies from winning their first World Series since 2008.
Javier and the team’s biggest hitters have to bail them out of the predicament they’ve created against a team they were favored to beat. This is the third time the Astros entered a World Series favored to defeat a National League East team. If Javier pitches like Verlander and McCullers and the hitters collapse like they did Tuesday night, this series won’t return to Minute Maid Park.
McCullers surrendered five home runs — more than any pitcher in World Series history – including four to the first nine hitters he faced. The Astros managed to get five hits, none for extra bases.
Jose Altuve, Jeremy Pena, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker, and Yuli Gurriel combined to go 2-for-22. Alvarez is in a 4-for-32 slump since hitting his second home run against Seattle in the American League Division Series.
Making a bad situation even worse for the Astros and McCullers, who allowed four homers in the regular season and the playoffs, he appeared to be tipping his pitches. He made his third start of the playoffs on the road, and he was roughed up from the beginning. Bryce Harper greeted him in the first inning with a two-run homer, igniting a barrage that tied a World Series record.
After staking the Phillies to a 2-0 lead, Harper called over Alec Bohm from the on-deck circle and appeared to give him some information on McCullers. Bohm responded by hitting another home run. Before McCullers was done in the fifth, he also allowed home runs to Brandon Marsh, Kyle Schwarber, and Rhys Hoskins.
McCullers denied he was tipping pitches. If that was his primary problem, manager Dusty Baker and his pitching coaches and teammates were unable to help him take care of the issue.
“I got beat,” McCullers told reporters after the game. “They hit a lot of solid pitches, I thought. We got beat pretty bad, and I got beat up pretty bad. I don’t really get hit around like that, so I was a little bit in disbelief. There’s no excuses. I did not pitch well.”
“My stuff was good. I know that because I felt like it, and I could check on the iPads. The stuff was there; the movement was there; the location, for the most part, was there. I made a couple of mistakes, and unfortunately, they hit them out of the ballpark. I wanted to pitch much better than I did, but all I can do at this point is get ready to go for a potential Game 7.”
There won’t be a Game 6, much less a Game 7 unless Javier can pitch more like Framber Valdez in Game 2 rather than Verlander and McCullers.
Javier, who made three relief appearances in last year’s World Series loss to Atlanta, has pitched two times in the playoffs – once in relief against the Mariners and one start against the Yankees. He’s 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA.
At Yankee Stadium, Javier pitched 5 1/3 innings shutout inning. This is his first start in the World Series.
As he did with Verlander in Game 1, Baker left in McCullers too long. After he went to his bullpen, Ryne Stanek and Jose Urquidy, who made his first appearance of the playoffs, shut down the Phillies the rest of the way.
Baker was asked why he waited until one out in the fifth inning to remove McCullers for Stanek.
“The thought process was he had had two real good innings, and they hit a blooper (and) a homer, and then I couldn’t get anybody loose,” he said. “It was my decision. Four out of the five homers they hit were off-speed pitches.”
As for McCullers tipping pitches, Baker said, “Now that’s not anything I noticed. Guys are always looking for something, always looking to see if they’re tipping their pitches. We didn’t see anything. Sometimes they just hit you. Who knows, they might have been sitting on off-speed pitches because that’s what they hit out of the ballpark.”
“It’s kind of mind-boggling because he doesn’t give up homers. He usually keeps the ball in the ballpark. He wasn’t satisfied with it. We were very surprised by it.”
Baker gave Harper credit for whatever he told Bohn and the other Philadelphia hitters.
“He’s a very astute player,” Baker said. “That’s what teammates do. That’s what good hitters do. They pass on whatever information they can find. Whether he passed on information to actually help them, that’s between him and his teammates.”
With Javier on the mound for Game 4, the Astros must get better starting pitching and hitting if they’re going to avoid a 3-1 deficit that might be insurmountable against the Phillies, a team that’s playing like it’s on a rendezvous with destiny.
(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).