Welcome to 2021. Yes, we’re still alive. Also, the Phillies are in the World Series against the 2017 and 2019 world champion Houston Astros. The ‘stros hope to parlay their Odd Year Magic into a third title, while the Phils are in the World Series for the first time since 2009. They made the playoffs in 2020, beating the wild-card-winning Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series before dropping the League Championship Series to the Damn St. Louis Cardinals.
But this year they came back with a vengeance, beating the Brewers in the LDS and Braves in the LCS.
Now it’s time for the World Series. Phillies vs. Astros.
(Also, we have Manny Machado, Mike Trout, Marcus Stroman and Carlos Carrasco now).
Enjoy this gaze into the hazy future! Game 5. Series tied 2-2.
HOUSTON – On the way back up to the press box, two hours after Mike Trout dove parallel to the grass to snare the final out of a wild 10-9 win in Game 5 of the World Series, the elevator stalled. For seven minutes of hell, five sportswriters from across the globe sighed in silence while the elevator’s connection was restored.
Just before the elevator started back up, one writer smirked and broke the silence: “If we’re the sacrifice necessary to restore order to the universe after tonight, I’m cool with it.”
It’s seriously possible the universe was thrown off its axis on this night at Minute Maid Park. The Phillies and Astros took turns pushing the needle – a pop-up home run here, a controversial call there; superb defensive plays, 15-pitch strikeouts, and a conflict that nearly broke into a brawl and sent two players to the showers, potentially for the rest of the series.
The Phillies emerged victorious, but their hands were scraped and bloodied, their hats were torn and frayed, and their minds were blurry from a night when anything happened, and almost everything did.
“I’ve never been part of a game like that,” said Adam Morgan, who pitched one-third of an inning before moving to left field to finish the game and scoring the game-winning run. And that wasn’t the craziest thing that happened.
That might be Andrelton Simmons’ home run that barely left the infield. But let’s work our way there, first.
The game was billed as a pitcher’s duel, a rematch of Game 1 between Marcus Stroman and Astros’ ace Dallas Keuchel. Both starters extinguished the opposition over the first three innings, but the game took a dramatic turn in the fourth. Scott Kingery worked an 11-pitch leadoff walk, then J.P. Crawford executed one of his trademark bunt base hits. That brought up Mike Trout, coming off the first World Series cycle and heating up for the first time in the 2021 postseason. He took Keuchel to 10 pitches, then didn’t miss a low fastball, depositing it into the Crawford Boxes for a 3-0 Phillies lead.
“Mike continues to raise the bar and create special moments for us,” said Phillies manager Gabe Kapler. “He energized me so much that I drank two smoothies in celebration, then did five consecutive cartwheels while going over pitching data with Rick (Kranitz). He’s infectious.”
The Astros responded immediately, as Kyle Tucker drove home Jose Altuve with a single before Derek Fisher continued his superb World Series with a two-run home run. After Justin Smoak walked, Justin Turner brought down the house with a towering two-run shot of his own. The Astros were up 5-3 after three, ending Stroman’s night.
The Phils starter wasn’t very happy with his performance, yelling into his glove while shuffling back to the dugout, before hurling his glove to the ground.
“I sucked,” said Stroman. “Ain’t no other way to put it. I sucked.”
Middle inning drama
The Phils came right back in the fourth, with Jorge Alfaro doubling home Adam Haseley. Then came Crawford, who submitted his entry for most controversial plays in World Series history. With two outs, Crawford drove a Keuchel pitch into left-center field, and as Alfaro approached home plate to score, Gilberto Celestino’s throw came to second. Crawford reached second base, but he came off the bag for a split second. The Astros contended Altuve’s tag happened within that split second, but replays were inconclusive. Compounding this, the supposed tag occurred one second before Alfaro crossed the plate, meaning if Crawford was ruled out, the run wouldn’t have counted. As it was, the run counted and the Phillies re-tied the game 5-5. Astros manager A.J. Hinch argued the call and said he would protest the game.
“There’s no way Crawford was safe there,” said Hinch in the post-game press conference. “I have two eyes, and they’re better than any other eyes I know. Those eyes saw a man who was out.”
Trout was walked intentionally for Manny Machado, which would’ve been crazy before the World Series, but Machado was revealed to still have hamstring pain, stemming from his Game 1 injury. Machado wasn’t 100 percent, and he grounded out weakly to end the threat.
“It was a gamble, but Manny wasn’t himself tonight” said Kapler, who brought in Derek Dietrich to play third for Machado after the groundout.
The bullpens pieced together scoreless frames for the next two innings. Kelvin Herrera and Edubray Ramos battled through their work, with Ramos striking out Fisher in a 15-pitch marathon at-bat.
In the seventh the Phils struck, with Rhys Hoskins tattooing a Chris Devenski pitch onto the ornamental train way out in left field. They turned to Victor Arano to hold the lead, but with a man on and two outs in the seventh, Hinch opted for Simmons to pinch hit for a struggling Celestino. It proved out to be a genius move in the weirdest way.
Simmons swung at a high fastball and popped the ball way up toward the roof of Minute Maid Park. It’s uncertain whether the ball hit the roof, but left fielder Odubel Herrera yelled “I got it!” to call off shortstop Crawford. One second later, the ball dropped 80 feet in front of Herrera, closer to third base. Since Dietrich had retreated to the home plate area, Herrera was the closest fielder to the ball. He hustled toward it as Simmons, who never stopped running, rounded third and headed for the plate. Herrera had a chance to throw out Simmons, but he inexplicably threw the ball wildly toward first base. It was an infield inside-the-park home run that scored two and handed the Astros an unbelievable 7-6 lead.
Arano and Crawford yelled at Herrera after the miscue, but the left fielder assured them he’d redeem himself. Meanwhile Kapler removed Dietrich for Jesmuel Valentin, while expressing disappointment in how the play unfolded.
“He misplayed it,” said Kapler. “Look, Torito’s been outstanding over these past few years, and we keep track of those miscues, but that was just an odd duck. Just an odd duck, bro.”
In the eighth, the Phils came right back. Alfaro slammed a two-out solo shot off Corey Knebel to tie the game again at 7-7, sending the baseball world into hysterics. Scott Kingery followed with a single, and after a steal of second, came home on a Crawford single. While Crawford was called out trying to stretch the hit into a double, the Phils had retaken the lead and turned to Vince Velasquez for the hold.
He didn’t hold it for long. A Carlos Correa triple scored Altuve to start the eighth, and a Kyle Tucker groundout gave Houston the lead, despite a pulled-in infield. One batter later, with two outs, Kapler gave Morgan the ball, and he finished the inning by striking out Fisher.
Then came the ninth. Ken Giles came to the hill to hand the Astros a 3-2 World Series lead, inching them closer to their third championship in four years. Giles and Trout waged a heavyweight battle over 10 pitches but ending in a strikeout. Pinch hitter Andrew Pullin came next and struck out on six pitches. Finally was Hoskins, who extended the game with a seeing-eye single.
That brought up Herrera, who claimed he’d redeem himself. The longest-tenured Phillie at age 29, who played in pinstripes with Giles, connected with a 2-1 pitch and drove it deep to right field. As the ball sailed over the fence and Phillies fans rejoiced, Herrera defiantly threw his bat across the home plate area.
As Herrera reached home plate with a 10-9 lead, Bregman caught his attention and shoved him. Herrera returned a shove, sending the benches and bullpens out to the field. Cooler heads quickly prevailed, but Bregman and Herrera were removed from the game. The Commissioner’s office is investigating whether the actions merit further suspension, and as immediately as within the series.
“We can’t comment on what’s happening with the Commissioner’s office there,” said Kapler. “But tensions run high. I don’t agree with what Bregman did at all, but you have to be able to see the whole picture. This is the World Series. A monumental moment. I’m angry, but I’m trying to keep my guys composed.”
With Herrera out, Kapler needed someone to play left field. His only bench option was backup catcher Tyler Flowers, so he opted instead to put the previous pitcher, Adam Morgan, in left and position Trout closer to left field.
“Whatever he wanted to do,” said Trout of Kapler’s alignment. “Hit it wherever; I can get it.”
It proved prophetic. Roberto Osuna got one out before giving up a single to Turner, who later stole second. Then, with two outs, Hinch turned to Chris Dominguez. And what do you know: Dominguez struck a liner into left field.
Morgan watched as Trout zoomed across the outfield, then leaped and – while parallel to the grass – snared the final out before it touched the ground. As the Phillies celebrated a magnificent, heart-stopping win, Trout lay still for about 10 seconds, though it felt like 10 minutes.
“I’m out of words,” said Trout.
“It took a week, maybe two off my life,” said Kapler.
“It’ll be hard to top that,” said Morgan.
Now the Phillies head back home to try and clinch their third world championship. Aaron Nola will take the hill. The fans will be drunk with excitement. Hopefully the universe doesn’t decide to correct itself just yet.