HOUSTON — The Houston Astros’ confidence never wavered, but when they sat around in their clubhouse late Saturday night, they couldn’t help but exhale.
They needed to show the Philadelphia Phillies who they are. They needed to intimidate. They needed to dominate.
“Really,’’ Astros center fielder Chas McCormick said, “we just needed to win.’’
The Astros knocked off the Phillies, 5-2, at Minute Maid Park, evening the World Series at 1-1 apiece and suffocating the Phillies’ momentum.
Four pitches. Three doubles. Two runs.
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It was the first time in World Series history that a team opened up a game with three consecutive extra-base hits.
Zack Wheeler didn’t know what hit him.
“It was amazing, it felt like put up 10 runs that inning,’’ McCormick said. “When we get going, it’s contagious.
“That’s this team. We are relentless. We’ve been in the postseason a lot. We’re used to this environment. We love it. We feed off it.’’
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Jose Altuve, who entered the game hitting .108 this postseason, hitless in 25 at-bats during one stretch, broke out deep in the heart of Texas.
He doubled on the first pitch of the game. He singled to center in the fifth inning. He singled to right in the seven inning.
“This guy right here,’’ said Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, pointing to Altuve in the postgame press conference, “set the tone. And it was awesome. I feel like that one swing of the bat to start off the game got the crowd into it, got our dugout into it, got our offense going.’’
Altuve was down about his struggles, but refused to let his confidence wane, poring over video, taking extra batting practice, with all his teammates predicting it would be only a matter of time.
“That’s the beauty of baseball,’’ Astros reliever Will Smith said. “You could be oh-for-a-million, show up the next day, get three hits and be a hero. He keeps plugging away and eventually it’s got to go his way. It can’t rain forever.’’
And now, there may be no holding him back.
“There’s a lot of guys in our clubhouse who lead us, and there are a lot of guys in our clubhouse who are vocal and things of that nature,’’ said Game 3 starter Lance McCullers, “but Altuve is the heart of this team. He’s been since I’ve been an Astro. So when he goes, our team feels very confident, and you saw it with the way he got us started.’’
The Astros led 3-0 after the first inning, 5-0 after the fifth with Bregman hitting his sixth career World Series homer, the most by any third baseman in history.
The rest of the game was spent with hitting coach Troy Snitker going up and down the bench, imploring his players to stay even-keeled.
A day earlier, these Astros became only the sixth team in World Series history to blow a five-run lead.
“This team has a short memory on bad occurrences and bad games,’’ Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “You can’t bring yesterday into today or else it will continue. You have to start all over again and just realize it’s a new day.’’
The pitching matchups are back in their favor the next two games, and the team is actually looking forward to playing in Philadelphia.
“It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be crazy’’ said McCormick, a Philadelphia-area native, “and it’s going to be intense.’’
The Astros have been booed wherever they’ve gone and now for the first time, they’ll have those rabid Phillies fans express their feelings.
“It’s going to be pretty wild, maybe real wild,’’ Smith said. “We’ll be ready. Just another day at the park.’’
Saturday, they were facing Wheeler, one of the hottest pitchers in baseball. He entered the game with a 1.78 ERA this postseason, and a 1.34 ERA dating back to his last seven starts since coming off the injured list – the lowest by a Phillies pitcher since Grover Cleveland Alexander.
He stepped on the mound, and was completely ambushed, with the Astros deciding to swing early and swing often
“It’s kind of everybody’s game plan against me,’’ Wheeler said, “either try to get that first pitch or hop on the fastball. I kind of expected that, but swinging at the first two pitches, it is what it is. …
“They were just aggressive. I tried to match their aggression and get off the corners a little more, and they came out swinging.’’
It was a thing of beauty and what makes them such a dangerous team. They can beat you with their lethal offense or their dominant pitching, with No. 2 starter Framber Valdez giving up just four hits and striking out nine in 6 ⅓ innings. And they play dazzling defense.
When they put it all together, well, they dare you to stop them.
“In all honesty,’’ Bregman says, “this is probably the most fun I ever had playing baseball.’’
Just wait for Game 3 – where the fun really begins.
“We’re ready for it,’’ McCormick said. “It’s going to be rowdy. We’re going to get booed.
“I can’t wait.’’
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