HOUSTON – And so the Phillies’ Game 1 magic continues.
They are 4-0 in Game 1s this postseason.
They won Game 1 of the World Series in dramatic fashion Friday night, coming back from an early five-run deficit and ultimately beating the Houston Astros, 6-5, on the strength of J.T. Realmuto’s tie-breaking solo homer with no outs in the top of the 10th.
Realmuto, who preceded Bryce Harper’s go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth inning of the Game 5 clincher in the National League Championship Series on Sunday, had a huge game Friday night. His two-run double in top of the fifth inning against Justin Verlander tied the game at 5-5 after the Astros had jumped out to a 5-0 lead against Aaron Nola.
How rare is it for a team to blow a five-run lead in a World Series game?
It has happened only six times. Before Friday night, the last team to do it was the 2002 San Francisco Giants in Game 6 against the Los Angeles Angels. Those Giants were managed by Dusty Baker, the Astros’ current skipper.
Throughout the history of the postseason, teams were 589-18 when holding a five-run lead.
You don’t think there’s something special about these Phillies?
Hmmm. There sure has been so far this postseason. They’ve played 12 games and won 10.
Realmuto’s homer came against reliever Luis Garcia on a 3-2 fastball. The pitch was on the outer half of the plate and sailed into the second row of seats beyond the right field wall.
A half-inning earlier, Phillies right fielder Nick Castellanos made a huge sliding catch to end the ninth and prevent the Astros from scoring the winning run. Jose Altuve had reached base on a two-out bloop single against Seranthony Dominguez in the bottom of the ninth and stole second base.
After taking the 6-5 lead, David Robertson survived a one-out double and two-out walk to end the game with the tying and winning runs in scoring position.
The Phillies’ bullpen worked 5 2/3 scoreless innings. Huge effort.
Nola and Verlander both gave up five runs and neither lasted past the fifth inning.
Verlander could not hold an early 5-0 lead as the Phillies rallied for three runs in the fourth and two in the fifth to tie.
Phillies manager Rob Thomson was aggressive with his bullpen and that unit was brilliant in keeping the game close.
With the score tied, 5-5, Thomson went to one of his end-of-game studs, lefty Jose Alvarado, with power-hitting Yordan Alvarez up in the fifth. Alvarado retired the lefty-hitting Alvarez, who had 37 homers and 97 RBIs during the regular season. Alvarado ended up recording two outs in the fifth and one in the sixth before Zach Eflin came on and got five outs.
With Alvarez due up again in a tie game again in the seventh, Thomson went to lefty Ranger Suarez, the presumed Game 3 starter. Thomson’s use of Suarez showed that he was focused solely on this game, no other, and Suarez struck out Alvarez to keep the game tied.
Twenty-five days after pitching a gem in this same ballpark to help the Phillies clinch their first playoff spot in 11 years, Nola was back on the mound at Minute Maid Park for the latest most important start of his life.
Overall, it was not a good one for the right-hander as he gave up five runs in just 4 1/3 innings of work. Four of the runs came from the bat of Kyle Tucker, who swatted a solo homer in the second inning and a three-run homer in the third as the Astros went up, 5-0.
The Phillies began chipping away at Verlander in the fourth inning after the pitcher failed to handle what could have been an inning-ending double play ball. The Phillies forced Verlander to throw 31 pitches in the inning and scored three two-out runs on an RBI single by Castellanos and a two-run double by Alec Bohm to make it a 5-3 game. The inning might have been different had Verlander been able to snare a line drive back to the box by Realmuto. Had Verlander caught the ball, he could have doubled up Rhys Hoskins at first. Instead, Verlander got just the second out at first and Bryce Harper extended the inning with a single to put two men on base for Castellanos.
Back in the game with those three runs in the fourth, the Phillies really needed a zero from Nola in the bottom of the fourth and they got to keep the game close.
The offense continued to wear down the 39-year-old Verlander in the top of the fifth, making him throw 23 more pitches. Brandon Marsh led off with a double inside the third-base bag and Kyle Schwarber walked. After Hoskins popped out, Realmuto fouled off a 95.5-mph fastball to fall behind 0-1 against Verlander. The next pitch was a hanging breaking ball and Realmuto got a good look at it. He swung big and clubbed a double off the wall in left-center to tie the game at 5-5.
The Phillies had come all the way back against the pitcher who will likely win the American League Cy Young Award. Verlander led the AL in wins (18), ERA (1.75) and WHIP (0.83) and he struck out 11 New York Yankees while pitching six innings of one-run ball in Game 1 of the ALCS. Despite all this, he could not hold a 5-0 lead in Game 1 of the World Series. It was not the first time that Verlander has struggled in a World Series game. His ERA in eight career World Series starts is 6.07.