‘I was gonna run through a wall’: How two miraculous Astros catches finally gave Justin Verlander his first World Series win

PHILADELPHIA — Justin Verlander has a championship ring, two Cy Young awards, an MVP, a Rookie of the Year award, and whatever they give you for winning the pitching Triple Crown. And on Thursday night in Philadelphia, in the 517th game of his career and his ninth start in the Fall Classic, the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer got something new: Waiting for him at his locker was the officially authenticated lineup card from Game 5 of the World Series, the one that says Justin Verlander was the winning pitcher in the Houston Astros3-2 victory to give them a 3-2 series lead.

Finally — after going 0-6 in his first eight starts and accumulating a record-high 6.07 ERA — his first win in the World Series.

After his teammates had rolled him into the shower in a laundry cart like a rookie and doused him in whatever liquids they had on hand, Verlander marveled at the “countless individuals” that contributed to his wins over the years. But he should probably buy a bottle of wine or something for two guys in particular.

'I was kind of going up for a dunk'

As soon as the ball left the bat, it was going to be the story of the night. In the bottom of the ninth with the Phillies trailing by one run, catcher J.T. Realmuto barreled a slider from Astros closer Ryan Pressly.

As it soared through the south Philly air, Astros manager Dusty Baker thought, “Oh no, stay in the park.” Astros Gold Glove right fielder Kyle Tucker saw it start to carry a little bit and thought, “Oh, please don't.”

Meanwhile, some 45,000 other people in the stadium thought, please do.

The ball, traveling at an initial speed of 102.4 mph, flew 387 feet with an expected batting average of .690. If a million different universes exist, all identical to this one up to the moment Realmuto made contact, he’d have an extra-base hit in the vast majority of them, putting him in scoring position with Bryce Harper due up next. In the final game of this ridiculous, magical, must-be-fate season at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies would be well positioned for a ridiculous, magical, must-be-fate walk-off. They’d come this far, made history with their five home runs on one night and with their total lack of hits the next, and now this ninth-inning comeback would swing the pendulum back toward delirious destiny.

In this universe, though, Chas McCormick was not going to let that happen. Earlier in the game, he’d hesitated slightly on a fly ball and forced Tucker to make a last-minute lunge to secure the out. He decided he needed to be more aggressive going forward.

“I was gonna run through a wall and catch it no matter what,” he said.

McCormick likes to brag about his basketball skills, so instead of running through, he leapt up — “I was kind of going up for a dunk” — and caught it as he collided with the fence, ricocheting onto the warning track, where he sprawled for a few seconds, glove thrust triumphantly into the air, staring up at the sudden shift he’d caused.

Astros center fielder Chas McCormick makes the game-saving catch in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the World Series.
Astros center fielder Chas McCormick made the game-saving catch in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The ballpark, a state of unmitigated bedlam all night and amped even further by what the fans thought they were about to witness, had gone silent. McCormick, who grew up half an hour away as a die-hard Phillies fan, was suddenly 12 years old again, watching his team lose in the World Series to the Yankees.

“It was weird,” he said later. “It felt like a dream when I was laying there looking at those fans.”

Weird but good, the best, even.

“If it was the last out, I would have laid there all night,” he said.

It wasn’t, but it might as well have been. Harper was hit by a pitch before Nick Castellanos grounded out to end the game and send the series back to Houston with the Astros one win away from a championship.

They celebrated more than they had after the combined no-hitter.

“That was the closest game of the Series and a really exciting one to win,” said Trey Mancini.

One inning before McCormick’s instant web gem, Mancini had stifled the rally that brought the Phillies within one by smothering a ball smoked nearly 100 mph off the bat of Kyle Schwarber. Mancini, the midseason acquisition, has yet to record a hit this postseason, relegated to the bench where he tries to stay ready in case he’s called on to pinch hit or as an injury replacement — like when Yuli Gurriel left the game after a nasty collision on the basepaths.

“Before the game if you told me I had contributed in a big way tonight,” he said, “I would have thought it would have been with my bat and not my glove.”

Ultimately, he didn’t need to think or hit to make a difference. The ball met him at first milliseconds after contact and he managed to grab it and collapse on the bag.

“I had nothing going through my head,” he said. “I just tackled it.”

'Is it a nice catch?'

Almost an hour later, McCormick could barely stop smiling. He still hadn’t gotten a chance to watch the play — “Is it a nice catch?” he asked those who had — and didn’t know what happened to the ball after he tossed it back into the infield.

When he finally looked at his phone, the home screen was a seemingly endless scroll of notifications. His Phillies fan friends and family have found themselves torn so far this World Series, but he guessed the messages were mostly the congratulatory kind. He’d changed the course of the game, maybe even the series, and helped Verlander, pitching in what could be his last game as an Astro, finally outrun the mysterious ignominy of being his worst self on the biggest stage.

That’s gotta be worth at least a nice dinner, courtesy of his pitcher, right?

“No, no,” McCormick said laughing. “I just want to win, I don't care.”