Column: Phillies’ comeback in World Series Game 1 shows Astros are far from invincible

Philadelphia's J.T. Realmuto, right, celebrates with teammate Bryce Harper after hitting a solo home run.
Philadelphia’s J.T. Realmuto, right, celebrates with teammate Bryce Harper after hitting a solo home run in the 10th inning of a 6-5 comeback win over the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Friday night.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

This week marked the 20th anniversary of the greatest game in Angels history, the Scott Spiezio game, the five-run comeback in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series.

The losing manager that night: Dusty Baker.

Never again had a team come back from so far down to win a World Series game until Friday, in Game 1 of the 2022 World Series, when the Philadelphia Phillies staged a five-run comeback against the Houston Astros. These Phillies, like those Angels, delighted in a 6-5 victory.


Twenty years and two days later, the losing manager: Dusty Baker.

The Astros will not go undefeated this postseason. They will not sweep this World Series. They might not even win it.

The Astros still are being rooted against because of the cheating scandal a few years back, but new manager Dusty Baker still has people who know him well on his side.

Oct. 28, 2022

Game 1 of the World Series blessed us thrice: one, with an unexpected and entertaining festival of second-guessing; two, with the tension of extra innings; and, three, with the destruction of the notion that the Astros are inevitable and invincible.

“How long did we have the lead in the game, 15 minutes?” Phillies outfielder Nick Castellanos told Fox. “Sometimes that’s all you need.”

That lead came in the fifth hour of the game, and the 10th inning. J.T. Realmuto watched his fly ball carry over the right-field fence, then punched his arm at the sky — er, the stadium roof — as he skipped around the bases.


Houston Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker can't get a glove on a home run by Philadelphia's J.T. Realmuto.
Houston Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker can’t get a glove on a home run by Philadelphia’s J.T. Realmuto during the 10th inning Friday.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

“Best catcher in baseball,” said Phillies star Bryce Harper, who wore a T-shirt commemorating Mike Schmidt, a Phillies World Series MVP in 1980.

Realmuto became the first catcher to hit a World Series home run in extra innings since Carlton Fisk willed and waved his walk-off homer inside the foul pole in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

The Phillies won 87 games, yes. They are a third-place team playing in the World Series, sure.

But Zack Wheeler, who started the National League Championship Series clincher, starts Game 2 here Saturday. The series then shifts to Philadelphia, where the Phillies are undefeated this postseason. A title is not just wishful thinking.

Phillies manager Rob Thomson managed the first nine innings with intention. That left perhaps his third-best reliever, David Robertson, to pitch the 10th for the save.

Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Nick Castellanos makes a diving catch in the ninth to force extra innings in Game 1.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

“Every game is a Game 7 for us,” said Robertson, who told The Times on Thursday he remains sore at the Astros for their 2017 cheating.

Thomson made abundantly clear he had no desire to see Yordan Alvarez, the Astros’ slugger, face a right-handed relief pitcher. It was as close as you could get to “don’t let Alvarez beat you” as you could get without intentionally walking him.

In the fifth, with no one on and the score tied, Thomson summoned one of his relief aces, left-hander José Alvarado, to face Alvarez. Alvarado induced a pop fly.

In the seventh, with no one on base and the score tied, Thomson summoned one of his starters, left-hander Ranger Suárez, to face Alvarez. Suárez struck him out.

The Houston Astros know there are many who won’t ever absolve them of their cheating scandal while winning the 2017 World Series. And they really aren’t concerned about it.

Oct. 27, 2022

Baker showed no such urgency, letting starter Justin Verlander face Bryce Harper with the go-ahead run in scoring position in the fifth inning — and all that after Verlander had given back all of a 5-0 lead within 11 batters. Harper grounded out.

“It’s hard to take Justin out because he can struggle for awhile, but he usually gets it back together,” Baker said. “You don’t want to just go through your whole bullpen that early in the game.”

Said Verlander: “I feel really confident that 99 percent of the time that I’m able to hold that lead, and unfortunately today I wasn’t.”

Verlander could win his third Cy Young Award next month. He has finished among the top five in voting nine times, in 16 full seasons. As of Friday, he has started World Series games in three decades.

He has yet to win one.

He has started Game 1 of the World Series three times. He has yet to record an out in the sixth.

Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander delivers in the first inning Oct. 28, 2022.
Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander was staked to a 5-0 lead but could not hold it. He has yet to win a World Series game.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

The first time, in 2006, probable Hall of Famers Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen each homered off him.

The second time, in 2012, the Kung Fu Panda (Pablo Sandoval) homered twice off him.

The third time was not the charm. For the Astros, it had to be alarming.

In the first three innings, the Astros amassed a 5-0 lead, punctuated by two home runs from outfielder Kyle Tucker. In the next two innings, the Phillies roared back to tie the score.

The Philadelphia Phillies won 24 fewer games during the regular season, but Tony Clark has no issue with how the World Series has panned out.

Oct. 28, 2022

That would be all for Verlander, one of the elite pitchers of his generation. His career World Series record: 0-6, with a 6.07 ERA. His career Game 1 record: 0-2, with a 10.29 ERA.

In his three starts this postseason, he has a 7.20 ERA. He has made two poor starts and one good start. Imagine saying this before Friday: Verlander could get another start, if the Astros can force a Game 5.