PHILADELPHIA — After an impressive four-game sweep of the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, the Astros seemed to have the deck cleared for their second World Series title in six seasons.
Just the 87-win Phillies stood in their way.
Instead, it’s the citizenry of this baseball-mad city that stand just two victories away from celebrating their first title since 2008.
With October — and now November — star Bryce Harper setting the tone by hitting the first of five homers by his club off Lance McCullers Jr., the Phillies crushed the Astros, 7-0, in Game 3 of the World Series in front of a wild, red-towel-waving crowd of 45,712 that shook Citizens Bank Park from start to finish.
Game 4 is Wednesday night at Citizens Bank, with Game 5 scheduled in this hitter’s paradise, at least as far as the Phillies are concerned, for Thursday.
“It’s pretty evident what kind of threat they pose,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said of the Phillies, who upset the Cardinals, Padres and Atlanta en route to the World Series. “They can hit the ball out of the ballpark and they can hit. So we’ve just got to go back to the drawing board and figure was it them tonight or was it Lance tonight not having his stuff?”
McCullers, who wasn’t sharp in Game 4 of the ALCS when he allowed four runs and six hits over five innings against the Yankees in a 6-5 come-from-behind victory, became the first pitcher to surrender five home runs in a World Series game.
The first of those was Harper’s monstrous two-run homer in the first and the last was Rhys Hoskins’ line-drive shot in the fifth that made it 7-0. In between were blasts by Alex Bohm, Brandon Marsh and Kyle Schwarber.
McCullers allowed seven runs and seven hits over 4 1⁄3 innings.
Though there was much speculation about the righthander perhaps tipping his pitches, that was a narrative McCullers repeatedly pushed back on.
“I’m not going to sit here and say anything like that. I got whooped. End of story,” McCullers said. “This had nothing to do with tipping. I’m not going to stand in front of you guys and blame something [like that]. I was out there, and they beat me, and they beat us, and that’s it.”
Five of the Phillies’ seven total hits cleared the wall.
The primary beneficiary of the power display was Ranger Suarez. The lefthander, 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA in four games this postseason (two starts), allowed three hits and a walk over five scoreless innings in which he struck out four. Suarez and four relievers limited the Astros to five hits.
His night started about as easy as it could, recording two outs on two pitches.
Jose Altuve, coming off a three-hit performance in Game 2 but still just 7-for-45 (.171) in the postseason after an 0-for-4 game, lifted a sinking liner to right on the first pitch of the night and Nick Castellanos robbed the leadoff man of a hit with a sliding catch, as he did in the ninth inning of Philadelphia’s victory in Game 1.
Jeremy Pena grounded the night’s second pitch to short for the second out and Suarez struck out Yordan Alvarez to end the nine-pitch inning. Schwarber led off the bottom half with a walk, making it five straight postseason games in which the leadoff man drew at least one walk. McCullers struck out Hoskins swinging and J.T. Realmuto fouled out to the catcher.
But Harper caught a first-pitch curveball flush and hammered it to right to make it 2-0. Harper is 21-for-55 (.382) in this year’s playoffs.
Bohm’s blast to lead off the second made it 3-0 and Marsh’s with two outs in the inning made it 4-0.
With the blast, the Phillies became the first team to hit three homers in the first two innings of a World Series game.
Two more followed, with Schwarber — a two-run shot — and Hoskins going back-to-back in the fifth to make it 7-0, each homer shaking this ballpark on its foundation.
“The fan base, I mean, it’s just so much fun,” Harper said. “They showed up tonight knowing that we needed ’em, and they continue to do that. It’s a really good Houston team over there. They have been here, they have been in all situations before and to be able to come in here and win the first game here was huge for us.”