Mandatory Credit: Photo by Eric Christian Smith/AP/Shutterstock (13057592g) Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker Jr. watches from the dugout during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, in Houston Mariners Astros Baseball, Houston, United States – 30 Jul 2022
It has been nine years since a team clinched the World Series on its home field, the longest stretch in baseball history. Nothing the Astros have accomplished these last six seasons would be sweeter than this one, and that’s what’s on the line this weekend at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros are on the cusp of doing just that, of winning a World Series for themselves, sure, but also winning one for their city and all the fans who’ll show up at Minute Maid Park ready to celebrate what could be one of the franchise’s signature moments. That’s where a 3-2 victory over the Phillies in Game 5 on Thursday has gotten them.
After a 7-0 beatdown in Game 3, the Astros won two in a row to take a 3-2 edge in the series. This was a spectacularly entertaining baseball game, tension cranked to the max, stakes off the charts, poise and pressure tested in every way a team can be tested.
This one had heroes in every corner of the clubhouse, beginning with Chas McCormick bouncing off the center-field fence in the bottom of the ninth inning to rob J.T. Realmuto of a hit that would have put the tying run in scoring position.
Ryan Pressly came up big, too, with his first five-out save of the season. He entered with the tying run on third base with one out in the eighth and left him right there with a strikeout of Brandon Marsh and a great defensive play by first baseman Trey Mancini on a Kyle Schwarber grounder.
Jeremy Peña’s fourth-inning home run put the Astros ahead for good. Relievers Hector Neris and Bryan Abreu got six big outs. Jose Altuve collected two hits and scored two of his team’s two runs on a ninth when offense was again scarce (seven left on base, 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position).
Finally, there was Justin Verlander overcoming a difficult first two innings to go five and secure the first World Series victory of his career. Afterwards, his teammates gave him the treatment usually reserved for rookies, putting him in a laundry cart and wheeling him into the shower amid screams of joy from everyone in the room.
“It’s so symbolic that so many people were a part of this win,” Verlander said. “They rallied around me, and they were almost just as happy that I got the win as I was.”
Now the Astros have a day off to collect themselves and prepare for the wild atmosphere that awaits them at Minute Maid Park. This is the moment every Astros fan has dreamed of since the first time they heard Milo Hamilton’s voice on the radio.
After winning more games than any other American League team the last six seasons, being unable to finish the deal in the 2019 and 2021, winning 106 in this regular season then sweeping the Mariners and Yankees, the Astros are right where they expected to be.
“We’re just trying to stay grounded,” Peña said. “We’re going to just lock back in and play our game. Show up ready to go, ready to compete and try to close it out.”
Verlander struggled mightily at the beginning, allowing seven of the Phillies first 16 hitters to reach base. Four of them drew walks, which matched Verlander’s total for the month of August.
He was pitching for just the fourth time in 30 days and said, “Some bad habits crept in.” He’d allowed a 5-0 lead to slip away in Game 1 and said he’d be unable to fix everything.
Baker had Ryan Stanek warming in the second inning, Bryan Abreu in the fourth and Héctor Neris in the fifth. But Verlander found his best slider in the third inning, and the Phillies could no longer zero in on his fastball. He sailed through the next three innings and handed a 2-1 lead to baseball’s best bullpen.
Phillies right fielder Nick Castellanos was Verlander’s final hitter. It was a 10-pitch at-bat in which the Astros ace tried everything in his repertoire. He finally got him on a fly ball to left.
“That’s why that guy is one of the best,” Maldonado said. “He’s never satisfied. He’s always going to get better. He was a little bit out of rhythm the first couple innings. Sat down for quite a while in the first inning, but he kept us in the ballgame. That’s all we could ask.”
Baker asked five outs from Pressly after Rafael Montero allowed three of four hitters to reach base. After walking Castellanos and Bryson Stott, Jean Segura singled in a run to make it 3-2. Baker summoned his closer.
“It’s the postseason,” Pressly said. “You’ve got to go out there and get outs whenever you’re called upon to go get them. Whenever that phone rings… You just have to go get outs and keep going until you can’t go anymore.”
Pressly struck out Rhys Hoskins to open the bottom of the ninth, then Realmuto sent a towering drive to right-center. McCormick grew up in the Philly suburbs dreaming of making just such a play. For the Phillies.
“Honestly, I thought he hit it out,” he said. “But at that point I was being really aggressive. I was gonna run through a wall and catch it, no matter what.”
He tracked back on the ball, put his free hand out to gauge how close to the fence he was and then leaped into it to make the catch. Pressly put his hands on his head in disbelief.
“Incredible,” Bryce Harper said.
Pressly got Castellanos on a grounder to Peña to end it. Now it’s back to Minute Maid Park.
“There’s going to be a lot of energy in our park,” Baker said. “And, you know, coming in here I know everybody wanted to us sweep, but realistically you win two out of three on the road, and this has been a very, very good team, road team, and a very good getaway day team. We probably led the league in getaway days, and we take pride in that. Today was the biggest getaway day of the year.”