As Phillies bash past Astros, pitch-tipping questions emerge

Philadelphia Phillies' Rhys Hoskins rounds the bases after a home run off Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. during the fifth inning in Game 3 of baseball's World Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022, in Philadelphia. (David J. Phillip/AP)

TORONTO — All it took was one pitch for Bryce Harper to set the tone in Game 3.

Appearing at Citizens Bank Park for the first time since sending the Phillies to the World Series nine days ago, Harper stepped in as the home crowd gave him a loud ovation. When Lance McCullers Jr. hung a curveball over the middle of the plate a few moments later, Harper crushed it, giving Phillies fans another reason to celebrate.

It was Harper’s first home run of the World Series and his sixth of the post-season, but what happened after he returned to the first base dugout may have been even more interesting. With the Phillies now leading 2-0, Harper found teammate Alec Bohm and appeared to pass along an observation about McCullers.

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The next inning, Bohm followed with a home run of his own — and again, all it took was one pitch. So, did the Phillies have something on McCullers, who posted a 2.27 ERA in eight regular season starts? Was he tipping his pitches?

“That’s between us,” Bohm said when asked by Ken Rosenthal on the FOX Sports broadcast.

Fair enough, but that didn’t stop the speculation — especially when Brandon Marsh, Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins added home runs of their own on the way to a 7-0 Phillies win that gives Philadelphia a 2-1 series lead. They’re now just two wins away from winning it all. But first, a look back at the biggest moments from Game 3…

HOME RUN AFTER HOME RUN

Generally speaking, it’s incredibly hard to string hits together in the playoffs, when you’re facing elite pitching. The Phillies’ solution? Make your hits count.

They connected for just seven hits Tuesday, but since five of them were home runs they earned a lopsided win. And while it’s hardly surprising to see the likes of Harper and Schwarber go deep, the contributions extended up and down the batting order with Marsh going deep from the No. 9 spot and later adding a single. That’s quite a game from a 24-year-old acquired in an unheralded deal with the Angels at this summer’s deadline.

All told, the Phillies have now hit 18 home runs in just six home games this post-season.

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WAS HE TIPPING?

OK, five home runs against one pitcher is a lot and it had never before been done in a World Series game. In fact it’s more home runs than McCullers Jr. allowed during 47.2 regular season innings — his entire 2022 season. So, was he tipping?

Well, it’s possible McCullers Jr. was simply getting too predictable. Four of the five home runs the Phillies hit were against off-speed pitches (Bohm’s was the exception).

But watch the interaction between Harper and Bohm and you certainly get the sense that Harper had seen something he wanted to share.

Video footage later showed McCullers’ glove positioned higher when delivering some breaking balls. Could Harper have noticed in real time then circulated word throughout the Phillies’ dugout as the game progressed? If so, give them credit. That’s impressive awareness from Harper and a lot of trust from Bohm to believe in his teammate’s observation.

And this much should also be noted: if the Phillies did pick up on a tell, that’s allowed. Within the unwritten rules of the game, any observations players make with the naked eye are fair game.

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RANGER DEFEATS TEXAS

Opposite McCullers Jr., Ranger Suarez provided the Phillies with five quietly effective innings. Making the first World Series start of his career, he struck out four while allowing just three hits and keeping Houston’s potent lineup off the board.

On a team driven by free-agent acquisitions, Suarez stands out. An international signee in 2012, he spent years developing in the Phillies’ minor-league system before getting his first extended chance in the starting rotation last year. Then on Tuesday, he delivered his biggest performance yet.

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RESTED AND READY

At this point in the season, the results are far more important than how you get there. There are no ugly wins in November. But for manager Rob Thomson, this wasn’t just any win. Because the Phillies built such a big lead, they were able to use Connor Brogdon, Kyle Gibson, Nick Nelson and Andrew Bellatti to close out Game 3.

Or, put another way, Jose Alvarado, Seranthony Dominguez and David Robertson all got another day off. That means the Phillies’ top relievers will all be available for both Games 4 and 5 if needed before Friday’s scheduled travel day.

Of course, if things keep going this well for the Phillies, they might be able to avoid a return trip to Houston altogether.

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