Astros veteran, rookie have Houston on brink of World Series vs. Phillies
PHILADELPHIA – Justin Verlander, the 39-year-old future Hall of Fame pitcher, doesn’t know if he threw his final pitch Thursday night in a Houston Astros uniform.
Jeremy Peña, the Astros’ 25-year-old rookie star shortstop, is just getting started with his career.
Well, no matter what transpires, their legacies may be forever linked in Astros’ history, with the Astros moving within one game of the World Series championship with a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in front of a sellout crowd of 45,693 at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday.
Verlander finally won the first World Series game of his illustrious career with his high-wire act, permitting a leadoff homer by Kyle Schwarber and escaping further trouble in his five-inning performance, while Peña once again worked his magic at the plate and on the field.
“These guys made it very tough for me,’’ said Verlander, who entered the game with a 0-6 record and 6.07 ERA in nine World Series starts. “I was glad I was able to turn it over to the bullpen with a lead.’’
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It was Peña, the MVP of the American League Championship Series, who provided every bit of offense the Astros would need. Peña, who produced three hits, drove in the game’s first run with his first-inning single past a drawn-in infield. He delivered the Astros’ second run with a homer just barely over the left-field wall in the third inning while becoming the first rookie shortstop to homer in a World Series game. And he executed a beautiful hit-and-run in the eighth inning that led to a critical insurance run.
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Peña, the first rookie shortstop to win a Gold Glove award this season, showed the Phillies his defensive credentials by spearing Nick Castellanos’ 105-mph line drive in the third inning, and then nailing Jean Segura on a smooth pickup and quick throw leading off the fourth inning.
The Astros spent the rest of the game hanging on for dear life with their dizzying array of dazzling relievers, limiting the powerful Phillies’ lineup to just one run the rest of the way.
The World Series now moves to Houston for Game 6 on Saturday, and Game 7, if necessary on Sunday at Minute Maid Park.
“We’ve been in this situation before,’’ said Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins before the game. “We’ve been knocked down. We’ve had our backs against the walls, and we’ve responded each time. I don’t see why anything’s different.”
Yet, the way the Astros’ confidence is soaring, with their pitching staff yielding just one run in the last 21 innings, they believe Game 7 won’t be needed.
You see, they have All-Star lefty Framber Valdez, who was their co-ace this season, going 17-6 with a 2.82 ERA during the regular season. He set a major-league record with 25 consecutive quality starts this season – yielding three or fewer runs in at least six innings – while continuing his dominance in the postseason. He gave up just four hits and one run in 6 ⅓ innings in his Game 2 start, a 5-2 Astros’ victory.
The Astros are tentatively scheduled to face Phillies co-ace Zack Wheeler, but Wheeler has been bothered with right forearm tightness, and was given two extra days’ of rest. He gave up six hits and five runs (four earned) in five innings in the Phillies’ Game 2 loss.
If the Astros indeed close it out this weekend, it will be the Astros’ second World Series title, fourth pennant, and sixth deep postseason appearances in the last six years.
Yes, a dynasty, with the Astros already losing stars Carlos Correa, Gerrit Cole, George Springer, and now perhaps Verlander along the way.
Verlander signed a one-year, $25 million free-agent contract before the lockout that includes a $25 million player option that he’s expected to decline and hit the free-agent market again.
Who knows, in a few days, he could be getting quite the winter send-off with his World Series championship to cement his legacy in Houston.
“No matter what happens,’’ Verlander said, “I’ve loved my time in Houston. I really have. Whether I stay or not, another World Series would sure be sweet.’’
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