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Sports >  MLB

Astros on the verge of a dynasty after Game 5 win over Phillies

Nov. 3, 2022 Updated Thu., Nov. 3, 2022 at 9:55 p.m.

Houston starter Justin Verlander, who came into the game with a 0-6 lifetime record in the World Series, pitched five solid innings in a 3-2 win over Philadelphia.  (New York Times)
Houston starter Justin Verlander, who came into the game with a 0-6 lifetime record in the World Series, pitched five solid innings in a 3-2 win over Philadelphia. (New York Times)
By James Wagner New York Times

PHILADELPHIA – This is the golden era of the Houston Astros. Since the start of the 2017 season, they have won 541 regular-season games, appeared in six straight American League Championship Series and reached four World Series.

But calling them a dynasty, as some have, feels incomplete. Their lone title in that span was in 2017, a season during which they were later revealed to have employed an illicit sign-stealing operation that relayed the upcoming pitch to their hitters. The franchise was punished in various ways, but the Astros never faltered, coming close to untainted titles in 2019 and 2021.

By eking out a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday in Game 5 of the 2022 World Series, the Astros took a 3-2 advantage in the best-of-seven series and sit one win away from adding the championship that may rightfully earn them the dynasty distinction.

The Astros have two shots at home to claim one more victory and the ultimate prize.

Although unsteady at times, Astros ace right-hander Justin Verlander tossed five solid innings and finally earned the first World Series win of his decorated career.

Fresh off its dominant performance in Game 4’s combined no-hitter, Houston’s bullpen, led by the fireballing right-handed reliever Bryan Abreu, preserved the slim margin.

Most of the Astros’ offense came from their unflappable rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña, the most valuable player in the ALCS, who delivered with a run-scoring single and a solo home run.

Trey Mancini – a replacement at first base for Yuli Gurriel, who was injured in a rundown in the seventh inning – saved at least one run and the game with his glove with runners on the corners in the eighth.

And in the ninth inning of a one-run game, Astros center fielder Chas McCormick made a jumping catch at the wall to rob Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto of an extra-base hit.

The World Series shifts to Houston, where it will end for the third time in four years. In 2019, Washington toppled the Astros in Game 7 at Minute Maid Park. Two years later, Atlanta did the same in Game 6.

Game 6 this year will be on Saturday with a starting pitching matchup that is a rematch of Game 2: Houston’s left-hander Framber Valdez, who tossed a gem in the win, will go up against Philadelphia’s right-hander Zack Wheeler, who was given extra rest because his velocity dipped in the loss.

Entering Thursday, Verlander, who is likely to win his third A.L. Cy Young Award this season, had a few World Series demons to exorcise.

In eight career starts over five World Series, he was winless with a 0-6 record and 6.07 ERA.

Given how powerful Verlander was during the regular season, it is easy to forget that he is 39 and missed almost all of 2020 and 2021 because of Tommy John surgery.

Even for a younger player, playing deep into the year after spring training, a 162-game regular season and a month of the postseason is a lot.

Staked to a 1-0 lead in the first, Verlander was initially shaky. He is known for attacking batters with high fastballs and Kyle Schwarber, the Phillies’ slugging leadoff hitter, was ready. He slammed Verlander’s second pitch into the right-field seats for his fifth home run this postseason.

Then in the second, Verlander got himself into a jam. With two outs, he coughed up a single to second baseman Jean Segura and walked the light-hitting center fielder Brandon Marsh. Verlander walked Schwarber on five pitches, most of them not near the strike zone, to load the bases. After a mound visit from the Astros pitching coach Josh Miller, Verlander regrouped and flung sliders at first baseman Rhys Hoskins for the threat-ending strikeout.

When Verlander walked Phillies designated hitter Bryce Harper in the third, it was his fourth of the game. In his previous 31 regular-season and postseason starts in 2022, the most walks Verlander issued in a game was three.

“We got full confidence in Justin,” Astros Manager Dusty Baker said before the game. “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.”

With less pitching depth than the Astros, the Phillies turned to Noah Syndergaard as their starter for Game 5. Syndergaard, a former Mets standout who was also returning from Tommy John surgery this season, had pitched out of the bullpen a few times down the stretch. But starting Syndergaard allowed the Phillies to buy more time for Wheeler, who returned in late September from right elbow inflammation.

Expected to be the first of many pitchers in a bullpen game, Syndergaard coughed up a run in just four pitches after Astros second baseman Jose Altuve doubled and Peña singled him home. No longer possessing the high 90s fastball he had before his elbow injury, Syndergaard neutralized the Astros for two more innings before he gave them the lead.

When Syndergaard hung a curveball to Peña to start the fourth, Peña took advantage, hitting the ball 350 feet and just over the left-field wall for a go-ahead solo homer. It was his fourth homer this postseason.

With a 2-1 lead, Baker showed that there was indeed a limit for Verlander. After Verlander allowed Harper to reach base for a third time in the fifth, he escaped unscathed and the Phillies again failed to convert a scoring opportunity.

So with Verlander at 94 pitches, Baker turned the game over to the Astros’ stout bullpen. Abreu, who was part of the Astros’ combined no-hitter in Game 4, delivered 1⅓ powerhouse innings, carving through the heart of the Phillies’ order with 98-mph fastballs and wicked sliders.

The Phillies injected life into Citizens Bank Park and drama into the game when Astros reliever Rafael Montero walked two batters in the eighth and coughed up a run-scoring single to Segura. It was the Phillies’ first hit with a runner in scoring position since Game 1, snapping a 0-for-20 skid in those situations.

Baker called on his closer, Ryan Pressly, to clean up the mess and attempt a five-out save. He struck out Marsh and got Schwarber to slap a ball down the first-base line. That is when Mancini – usually known more for his hitting, which has been a struggle this postseason – made a lunging stab on the ball and reached back for the bag with his feet.

After Pressley fired a scoreless ninth, with help from McCormick, the Astros celebrated and packed up. On Friday, they planned to fly home, where a title that could redefine this era was within reach.

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