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Liftoff! Yordan Alvarez’s moonshot home run carries Astros to World Series title

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HOUSTON — It wasn’t the longest home run hit at Minute Maid Park – Albert Pujols’ may still be going 17 years later – but it definitely went the furthest into history for the home team and given time it will lengthen as it becomes legend.

Yordan Alvarez flipped a game and a city with a three-run homer over the highest of walls in center field to send the Houston Astros to a World Series championship. A slim lead camp apart spectacularly on the Philadelphia Phillies when Alvarez greeted reliever Jose Alvarado with a lead-vaporizing homer that launched a 4-1 victory Saturday night at Minute Maid Park in Game 6 of the 118th Fall Classic. The Astros won their second World Series as a franchise, their second in the past five years, and it was a mammoth, 450-foot homer that lifted them there.

For one night, nothing else was bigger in Texas.

Houston won the best-of-seven series, four games to three, and raised the commissioner’s trophy for the first time at home. Their only previous championship was won at Dodger Stadium, and soon tainted for the sign-stealing scandal that engulfed the organization. A manager was fired, a general manager dismissed, and one of the best teams in the game faced questions on the integrity of its success. And yet they kept winning. The Astros have been to four of the previous six World Series, but two of them ended with their opponent celebrating on their field.

Now, it’s their turn.

Though, one notable member of the team, did not make it to the field before the celebration started all around him. In a corner of the Astros’ dugout, manager Dusty Baker was surrounded by staff as he was feted for his first World Series victory as a manager. Baker has more than 2,000 wins and more wins than any manager in the playoffs who had not won a World Series. That tag now falls to someone else. Baker has his championship as a manager.

The Phillies held a 1-0 lead going into the bottom of the sixth inning after a pitching duel between lefty Framber Valdez and Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler. When Wheeler hit the first batter of the sixth inning and a single followed soon after, the decision was quick for Phillies’ manager Rob Thomson. He went to his lefty Alvarado to face the left-handed hitting Alvarez. Wheeler had yet to allow a run, had struck out five, and had thrown only 70 pitches. The two runners he left behind scored four pitches after he left.

Rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena chased Wheeler from the game with a single up the middle. Pena, the World Series MVP after claiming the ALCS MVP, had two hits in Game 6 at least a hit in 12 of his 13 playoff games. His single pushed Jose Altuve to third base.

They both got to trot home on Alvarez’s moonshot.

Batting .105 in the first five games of the World Series and still searching for his first home run since Houston’s first round of the playoffs, Alvarez left his imprint on the series and delivered a mural-ready swing for Houston history.

Ryan Pressly closed out the game with a scoreless ninth and the final out, provided by Nick Castellanos, was caught in foul territory by Gold Glove-winning right fielder Kyle Tucker. 

Pitchers’ duel, strikeout spree

From the first at-bat of the game, Philadelphia got the return it wanted from the time invested on starter Wheeler. The right-hander, who started the Phillies’ first game of the playoffs way back at Busch Stadium, was targeted for Game 6, if the series got there, to give him more rest and see if that revived some of the sluggish results he experienced in Game 2.

He opened the game with a series of 98-mph fastballs that signaled the return of zip to his fastball. And he struck out Altuve, Wheeler established a theme too.

Forget runs, both teams struggled to get contact.

Through the first five innings of the game, the pitchers’ duel between Wheeler and Valdez had limited the game to seven baserunners.

The two starters had combined for 13 strikeouts.

The Phillies brought the top of their order up to begin the third inning, and Valdez breezed right through it. He struck out the side in the third inning, and by the time he was done, the lefty had struck out the top five hitters in the Phillies’ lineup, consecutively. Nick Castellanos worked his at-bat in the fourth inning to 10 pitches. That 10th pitch was a called strike three on a sinker that had such sinister movement it’s entirely understandable why Castellanos argued that it was outside the strike zone.

By the end of the seventh inning, the Phillies had struck out 11 times. They struck out at least 10 times in every game of the World Series and with two innings to go had tied a World Series record with 70 strikeouts as a team.

Schwarber delivers, but it doesn’t last (again)

For the second time in as many games, leadoff slugger Kyle Schwarber muscled the Phillies back or ahead in a game on his own. His solo homer in the first inning Thursday tied the game, 1-1, before the Phillies let it leak into a loss.

A scoreless tie and his hitless Game 6 on Saturday night found Schwarber to lead off the sixth inning. Valdez’s sinker, which bedeviled the Phillies in two games during this series, stayed up just enough for Schwarber to drill it. He connected on a 95.7-mph sinker to put Valdez’s 2-2 pitch in the right field seats and give the game its first run.

The lead did not last.

Schwarber hit three home runs in the World Series. Two of them could have provided dramatic shifts in the game, but there was no followup.

After Schwarber’s homer Saturday momentarily quieted the sellout crowd of 42,958, Valdez went back to work with the sinker the Phillies learn to loathe. The next two batters grounded out, and the Valdez ended the inning and his start with a strikeout of Bryce Harper. The lead was gone by the bottom of the inning.

The Phillies’ quest for offense hit peak 2022 in the eighth inning when the lineup spun back around to Schwarber. In what turned out to be his final at-bat before Major League Baseball outlaws the shift, left-handed hitter Schwarber, who has been hitting into a shift for the entirety of his career, struck out on a two-strike bunt attempt.

It was symbolic.

It was also the third out of the inning.

Astros lose Gurriel for Series

The rundown that helped the Phillies unplug a Houston rally in Game 5 also weakened the Astros’ lineup for the remainder of the World Series.

Caught between third and home, Yuli Gurriel forced the Phillies to make at least one extra throw before he slipped and collided with catcher J. T. Realmuto. At some point in that jumble of bodies tumbling along the third-base line, Gurriel injured his knee. He had nearly 48 hours to find a way to recover, but could not get his knee to cooperate before the Astros had to make a roster move.

“He wasn’t crying, but he had tears in his eyes,” Baker said before Game 6. “You could tell how badly that he wanted to play. We just couldn’t do it.”

The absence of Gurriel at first base meant more than a roster shuffle – it also meant reducing a lineup that had already been wheezing to find production from the designated hitter spot and elsewhere. For Gurriel at first, Trey Mancini took over. Backup catcher Christian Vazquez served as designated hitter, getting the following advice from Baker: “David slew Goliath.”

The Astros freed up Vazquez to be DH by adding a third catcher to their 26-man active roster: Korey Lee. Major League Baseball approved the injury-related swap and Houston did so knowing Gurriel would not be eligible to return to series.

Sports columnists Ben Frederickson and Jeff Gordon discuss what Arenado walking away from a shot at free agency should mean for the team moving forward.

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