HOUSTON — For pretty much any other player, hitting for the first cycle in playoff history and making the throw that would cause the game-winning out at home plate would be cause for momentous celebration. Mike Trout, however, is simply not most players.
The Phillies’ superstar center fielder is keeping everything in perspective as his historic game tied the World Series at two games apiece against the Houston Astros. The team may have guaranteed a return visit to Philadelphia and recaptured the momentum, but Trout knows that this series is far from over.
“At the end of the day, we’ve still got two more games to win,” Trout said after the game. “I’m definitely excited right now, don’t get me wrong, but the important thing is that we stay focused on making sure we win our last game.”
The perennial all-star and former MVP certainly knew how to kick things off going into Game 4, with his team down 2-1. After Astros starter Lance McCullers set down the first two batters of the inning, Trout set the stage for his big night with a solo shot that promptly quieted the Houston fans.
Before even stepping onto the mound, starting pitcher Sixto Sanchez found himself with a 1-0 lead, which certainly helped him in setting down the Astros in order to end the first. It wouldn’t be long, however, before the home crowd got back into the game. Kyle Tucker and Alex Bregman led off the second with back-to-back singles, which set up Justin Turner knocking in Tucker for the Astros’ first run of the game, three batters later.
Though it was certainly a rough inning, Sanchez held strong afterwards, going on to deliver a fantastic performance for the rest of the night. Sanchez would hold the Astros to just the one run and five hits over seven innings of work, with eight strikeouts to boot.
At just 23 years old, Sanchez commanded the ball like a 10-year veteran, as fans and players alike were reminded of those constant comparisons to Pedro Martinez. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler seemingly couldn’t stop praising his young right-hander after the game.
“Sixto was an absolute beast for us tonight,” Kapler said between sips of a smoothie made of avocado, hazelnuts, almond milk, and coconut shavings. “When the pressure was on, he stepped up for us like he has so many times before, but seeing it on the biggest stage in baseball was just awe-inspiring.”
While Sanchez kept the Astros’ offense down for most of the night, the Phillies still had to work out how to get to McCullers, who was lights out after the Trout homer through five innings. The Phils managed to get a few hits off him, including a Trout single in the third, but they just couldn’t manage to get any sort of rally going. That is, at least, until the sixth.
The inning began with a triple from (who else?) Trout that finally got a runner into scoring position. With third baseman Manny Machado up to bat next, the crowd’s attention shifted to the outfield, as a frog managed to get onto the field, hopping all around the grass. The frog managed to evade security for a bit before ultimately being caught.
This certainly isn’t the first time that Phillies fans have had to deal with a random animal interrupting a playoff game and seemingly causing good luck for the other team, as memories of the Rally Squirrel in St. Louis during the 2011 NLDS loss still haunts fans to this day. At first, it seemed like the Rally Frog would become the symbol of the Astros’ good fortune, but fate seemed to have different plans when it came to this amphibian.
After the frog was subdued, Machado doubled in Trout to put the Phillies up 2-1. Three batters later, with Machado on third, right fielder Adam Haseley drove him in with an RBI single. After getting the last out of the inning, the night was over for McCullers, who finished with three earned runs, seven hits and six strikeouts over six innings.
Having fallen victim to a random rally mascot in the past, Phils fans were eager to finally have a small mascot of their own, with #RallyFrog trending on Twitter in Philly during and after the game. Even the players seemed to be having some fun with the newest unofficial member of the team.
“The Phanatic might be a little jealous of the mascot competition, but if it takes embracing a frog to win this thing, I’m all for it,” said first baseman Rhys Hoskins, semi-joking after going 1-for-4 on the night.
The Astros bullpen managed to hold down the fort for the next two innings, with Cionel Perez and Corey Knebel each pitching a scoreless seventh and eighth inning, respectively. The Phillies’ bullpen wasn’t quite as successful out of the gate, with Vince Velasquez giving up a solo home run to Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. Despite that blemish, Velasquez limited the damage to the one run, leaving the Phils on top 3-2 going into the ninth.
Facing former Phillie Ken Giles, Trout entered the final frame needing only a double to complete the cycle, which had never been done in a postseason game, let alone in the World Series. Looking to add to his already Hall of Fame-caliber resume, Trout led off the inning with a bullet that split the gap in left center field, thus etching his name in the history books (again).
That thankfully wasn’t the only good thing to come out of the inning, as pinch hitter Andrew Pullin drove Trout home for the insurance, making it 4-2. After nearly retiring from baseball in 2016, knocking in a World Series run was just about a dream come true for Pullin.
“Five years ago I was ‘retired’ at 22, so I really didn’t know how far I was gonna make it after that,” Pullin recalled. “Just to be here with this amazing group of guys and playing for a world championship is so much more than I ever could’ve asked for.”
Pullin was pinch hitting for Odubel Herrera, who was coming off of a crazy defensive night in left field. In the third inning, with a Houston runner on first, Herrera made a ridiculous diving catch in the left field corner that would’ve resulted in extra bases and an Astros lead had it not been caught. He followed that up, however, by dropping a fly ball in foul territory in the eighth inning. Though he did have to cover plenty of ground and the bases were empty, it was enough for him to sit out just the last inning.
With the team up by two going into the bottom of the ninth, Kapler handed the ball over to Roberto Osuna to lock down another save. It wasn’t easy for the All-Star at first, as Houston left fielder Derek Fisher hit a one-out double to bring the tying run to the plate. After a Justin Smoak flyout, Osuna had to face Turner, a perennial playoff hero, for the final out.
With two strikes on him, Turner hit a long fly to center that nearly tied the game, but fell just short of clearing the fence and bounced off the wall. With Fisher racing toward home plate, the ball bounced right to Trout, who threw a missile to Jorge Alfaro, who just barely tagged the runner out to end the game on a thrilling note.
“Everything is dialed up to 11 in the World Series, and a game-ending play at the plate is no exception,” Kapler said in his post-game press conference. “That’s gonna be exciting no matter when or where you’re playing, but something like that is on a whole new level here.”
As exciting as the finish of the game was, the Phillies won’t have much time to savor it, as they’ll look to take a series lead in Game 5 tonight. Marcus Stroman will look to match Sanchez’s stellar performance as he goes up against Astros ace Dallas Keuchel in a Game 1 rematch.