Astros squeak by Phillies in Game 5 to take lead in heavyweight World Series

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve celebrates after scoring on a ball hit by Yordan Alvarez during the eighth inning in Game 5 of baseball's World Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies. (David J. Phillip/AP)

So far this World Series has looked like the baseball version of a heavyweight fight. The Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros traded blows by alternating wins in each of the first four games, however, now it looks like the Astros could be pulling away.

Houston’s nail-biting 3-2 victory in Thursday night’s Game 5 put the club within one win of capturing the championship and leaves the Phillies leaning on the ropes, gasping for air as the Series moves to Texas. 

The Astros got on the board right away when Jose Altuve led off the game by slashing a double to right-centre field off Noah Syndergaard. He advanced to third on an error by centre-fielder Brandon Marsh and was driven home by Jeremy Pena’s RBI single up the middle, past a drawn-in infield.

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The Phillies tied the game quickly as Kyle Schwarber greeted Justin Verlander with a missile of a home run in the bottom of the first. Verlander weaved in and out of trouble for five innings, but was good enough to finally capture a World Series “W” that had eluded him for his entire career.

Pena provided more offence when he took Syndergaard deep in the fourth inning for a solo shot. It was one of his three hits on the night and made him the first rookie shortstop with a home run in the World Series.

One game after being no-hit, the Phillies offence couldn’t muster much else at the dish until the eighth inning, when Jean Segura’s single off Rafael Montero cashed in a run and brought the tying run to third base. Astros closer Ryan Pressly quickly extinguished that fire, striking out Marsh and inducing a hard grounder to first base by Schwarber that was snagged by Trey Mancini, whose defensive gem likely saved the game.

That was followed in the ninth inning when Astros centre-fielder Chas McCormick robbed J.T. Realmuto with a jumping catch against the outfield fence that was, quite frankly, one of the best defensive plays you’ll ever see. 

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The Phillies, who lost consecutive games for the first time this post-season, were just 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position on Thursday, stranding a total of 12 on base. And with that, the club looks to be running out of the magic that has seemingly propelled them this far.

Here are some takeaways from the thriller at Citizens Bank Park.


Just one batter into his night, it looked like the narrative surrounding Verlander’s World Series struggles would continue. Schwarber got a high-fastball from the right-hander and sent it screaming over the right-field wall with a whopping exit velocity of 110.6 mph.

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That long shot was the 10th career home run Verlander had surrendered in the World Series, surpassing Catfish Hunter for the most all time. The Astros ace entered the day 0-6 with a 6.07 ERA in eight Fall Classic starts and on Thursday, it looked like it was going to be more of the same.

It certainly wasn’t easy the rest of the way, but Verlander battled. Relying on a fastball that topped out at 97.8 mph and a slider that produced seven whiffs, the 39-year-old Verlander gutted out five frames to capture the first World Series victory of his career.

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He allowed just the one run on four hits, walking four and striking out six over 94 pitches. Verlander escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second inning by striking out Rhys Hoskins and faced another test of his mettle in the fifth inning. With Bryce Harper on second base after a two-out double, Verlander engaged in an epic 10-pitch battle with Nick Castellanos, who eventually flied out to left field.

That allowed Verlander to leave the game in line for the win, which was preserved by the Astros bullpen. Sure, it might not be considered a legacy-defining performance by the future Hall-of-Famer, but it was an important win that he’ll take.

“I just want to win,” Verlander told Tom Verducci on the FOX Sports broadcast when asked what this start meant to him. “Not myself, personally, I want the team to win. If I can get it, so be it.”

“It wasn’t easy,” he added. “It was a lot of work. But especially the last couple innings, besides the Bryce [Harper] hit, I felt like I started to find my rhythm a little bit. These guys made it very difficult on me, though. They’re a tough lineup.”


Not only was he responsible for much of the offence, but Pena also made two sparkling defensive plays. In the third inning he stole a hit from Castellanos — the slugger lined a ball to shortstop at 105 mph only to watch Pena jump in the air and fully extend to make a highlight-reel catch.

In the next inning, Pena pulled off this beauty to send Jean Segura back to the dugout disappointed:

Earlier this week, the 25-year-old Pena became the first rookie shortstop to ever win a Gold Glove.


Ace Zack Wheeler will take the mound for the Phillies on Saturday in an elimination game at Minute Maid Park. He’ll be pitching on six days’ rest, which is notable, since his velocity was down a few ticks during his start in Game 2 of the World Series, when he allowed five runs (four earned) in five innings. Wheeler has been dealing with arm fatigue and the hope is that pushing him to Saturday will give the right-hander ample time to recover for what will be the biggest start of his career.

“Zack’s a competitor,” Phillies catcher Realmuto told reporters on Thursday. “Even in his starts this season, when his velo hasn’t necessarily been as high as it always is, he always competes for us. He’s got the stuff to get the job done. Whether his velo is at 98 [mph] or not, as long as he’s got his command and then he’s able to attack the strike zone and work ahead of hitters, I’m not too worried about the velo.”

Meanwhile, with the remainder of the World Series moving to Houston, the Astros are hoping to capitalize on the home-field advantage. Manager Dusty Baker was asked how playing at home can help a team during the post-season and offered this excellent response:

“I think it matters because you got the home crowd, you’re familiar with your surroundings, you’re familiar with the caroms, you’re familiar with the playing surface, and you get to sleep in your own bed,” Baker said. “How come most teams don’t play as well on the road as they do at home? There’s got to be a reason. You don’t have to eat in restaurants. You can eat at home or your favourite restaurant. There’s a lot of positives.

“Most of the time you have your kids telling you after you struck out three or four times that, ‘Dad, it’s going to be okay,’” he continued. “I mean, all that matters. If you got a dog, he don’t care if you struck out three or four times. But you’re on the road and, you know, things bother you a whole lot more on the road than they do at home.”

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