Pressure Shifts to Phillies as Astros Even World Series No-Hitter: What’s Next in ‘Race for 2’?

Pressure Shifts to Phillies as Astros Even World Series No-Hitter: What’s Next in ‘Race for 2’?

PHILADELPHIA — They were on the wrong side of baseball history, and as far as Rob Thomson was concerned, it ended at 11:27 p.m. ET when Astros celebrated a combined no-hitter by gathering on the mound at Citizens Bank Park. Thomson, as always, was waiting in the dugout for everyone Phillies the player passed – including those who crawled out of the fence. Then the Phillies manager followed them into the clubhouse on Wednesday night.

He had something to say after Game 4 of the World Series. Thomson stepped into the middle of the room.

“Last time this happened,” Thomson said, “we came out pretty good.”

There weren’t many words. Some players heard different versions of the speech.

Keep your heads up.

Turn the page.

Move over.

The last time that happened, it wasn’t the World Series. It was April. Thomson was the bench coach. When fri Mets pitchers orchestrated a no batsman against them, the Phillies were 21 games into a road streak that had now reached unimaginable limits. This, 5-0 loss to the Astros which tied the series at 2-2 and guaranteed a return to Houston, was the Phillies’ 177th game of the season. Everyone is tired. This moment was never too big for these Phillies; they made their way into this postseason and pushed everyone around them. They were delighted disturbed energy inside this stadium where they were undefeated in the postseason until Wednesday.

The Phillies are now facing real adversity, a rare occurrence during this surreal sprint to a championship. There were a few close calls on Wednesday Christian Xavier and three other Houston pitchers – Bryan Abreu, Raphael Montero and Ryan Pressly; Jean Segura in the line until the bottom of the eighth inning and Kyle Schwarber missed a double down the first-base line by inches in the third inning. The Astros fired 89 four-seam fastballs – nearly two-thirds of their pitches total – and the Phillies were helpless.

At least for one night.

“Confident as ever” Alec Bohm he said. “I don’t think anyone is worried. He’s staying here tonight. Tomorrow is a new day.”

Alec Bohm reacts after striking out Cristian Javier in the fifth inning. (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

Thomson doesn’t often address his players as a group. He avoids it because he is not a manager who believes in performative traditions. Team meetings are not Thomson’s style.

It’s been 66 years since the World Series had a no-hitter. The disappointment merited a quick visit to the clubhouse.

“He understands it’s a loss,” Schwarber said. “We all understand that. When he comes in and says that, it’s just a little bit. …”

Schwarber snapped his fingers.

“Everything is good. The season is not over.”

There are at most three games left in the season. The Phillies will start Noah Syndergaard in Game 5 — South Philly’s final baseball game of the year. The bullpen will record more outs than Syndergaard; best case scenario is something like four innings from the 30-year-old right-hander. Syndergaard has made a World Series appearance before, but that was seven years ago. He started that game with a 98 mph fastball which deliberately sailed over the head of Alcides Escobar. Syndergaard was a different pitcher back then.

“I’m trying to remember what I was thinking seven years ago,” Syndergaard said Wednesday afternoon.

Even seven months ago feels like an eternity. Syndergaard was with Angels, is trying to reinvent itself. That process began with his first start, against the Astros. Justin Verlander confronted him. Now the two will end their seasons facing each other. They had the same physical therapist who helped them navigate the grueling rehabilitation process after Tommy John surgery.

“The whole opportunity just gives me goosebumps,” Syndergaard said.

The Phillies had a chance to start Zack Wheeler on regular rest in Game 5, but they decided to keep him for Game 6 to give him more time. Wheeler is not the same pitcher he was at the start of the postseason, and it’s a big concern. The Phillies looked at the schedule and determined that a game in Game 5 made the most sense with an off day scheduled between Games 5 and 6, but not 6 and 7. Thomson will have a full stable behind Syndergaard for Game 5.

Everyone is tired right now. Joseph Alvarado looked vulnerable for the first time in weeks. He inherited a tough situation in the fifth inning Wednesday night – bases loaded, no outs – and hit Yordan Alvarez with the first punch he threw. It’s been four days since Alvarado pitched. He didn’t think it was rusty. He wasn’t trying to get in on Alvarez. He was just wrong.

“I was focused on the target,” Alvarado said. “The same Alvarado as always. The last thing I want to do is hit him.”

José Alvarado hit a home run off Yordan Alvarez in the Astros’ first run. (Eric Hartline / USA Today)

The Phillies will regret it; they used every advantage to stifle their opponents at Citizens Bank Park. That has allowed them to avoid the most high-pressure scenarios in these postseason series so far. Now, to win the World Series, they know they have to win at least one game in Houston.

They will have Ranger Suarez on regular rest for a potential Game 7. Aaron Nola, who was removed after 67 pitches in his 37th start of the season, could be an option for a few innings in Game 7 on three days’ rest. The Astros could face Javier on three days’ rest. But he threw 97 pitches. He would be limited in Game 7. “I don’t know, two or three innings, maybe,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. Maybe Houston believes Lance McCullers Jr. enough to bounce back from a horrible outing in Game 3 to be a factor in Game 7. Perhaps the best thing to happen to the Phillies is that Baker decided to start McCullers ahead of Javier in this series.

But Houston was left with the best starter in this series, Framber Valdez, for Game 6. That, plus home field advantage in two of a potential three games, gives the Astros an inherent advantage.

“It’s just a loss,” Schwarber said Wednesday night. “Now it’s a race for two. Look what’s going on.”

Astros closer Ryan Pressly and catcher Christian Vázquez celebrate a combined no-hitter. (Kyle Ross / USA Today)

What’s it like to be on the wrong side of history?

“I really don’t care,” Schwarber said. “We’ll move on to tomorrow. It’s fresh. We’ll be in the history books, I guess.”

“Not good,” Bryce Harper he said. “Not good.”

“No one cares,” Bohm said. “So what? What are you going to do? Cry about it? Let’s move on. I don’t think anyone here cares at all.”

The Phillies have preached the team’s resilient qualities all season. They’ve seen some things since April. They went on a ride that few teams have ever enjoyed. It was never simple. So, add to the book that you have no hits in the World Series.

“These guys have short memories,” Thomson said. “They’re going home tonight. They will go to bed and come back here tomorrow and prepare and compete like always.”

But the manager knew: this was not a loss. It’s been 66 years since a team was no-hit in the World Series. He had to say something – short and obvious – but something his players needed to hear.

“And,” Nick Castellanos said, “he was absolutely right.”

(Top photo by Kyle Schwarber: Bill Streicher / USA Today)

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