Houston Astros' Yordan Alvarez celebrates his three-run home run during...

Houston Astros' Yordan Alvarez celebrates his three-run home run during the sixth inning in Game 6 of the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in Houston.  Credit: AP/David J. Phillip

HOUSTON — Call the Astros what you will — and in opposing ballparks, they’ve been called pretty much every expletive in recent years — but this must be included at some point:

World Series champions.

Again.

Riding six brilliant innings from stud lefthander Framber Valdez and a titanic 450-foot three-run home run by Yordan Alvarez in the sixth inning, the Astros won their second World Series title in six seasons, downing the Phillies, 4-1, in Game 6 on Saturday night in front of a delirious, orange towel-twirling crowd of 42,958 at Minute Maid Park.

The title won in 2017, in the eyes of many, was tainted because of the sign-stealing scandal that came to light in subsequent years, though how much impact that had on the 2017 postseason will remain subject to debate for years to come.

There is no debate regarding the 2022 Astros. Behind a deep lineup that combines power with frequent contact and a stem-to-stern collection of seed-throwing arms, they went an American League-best 106-66, led by the popular Dusty Baker, a World Series-winning manager at last. The Astros swept the Mariners in the Division Series and the Yankees in the ALCS before dispatching the Phillies in six games.  

In  25 years with the Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nationals and Astros, Baker has gone 2,093-1,790, but he had never won a championship before. "It's just sheer joy and thankfulness,'' he said. "It's not relief at all. I mean, because everybody was talking about it more than I was even thinking about it. So I always said before that if I win one, you know, I'll win two, but you got to win one first — [and] the one was hell to get to this point. But it was well worth it. I'm in a great city, with great people, great fans, and I got a great ballclub."

The Astros have reached the ALCS six straight years, but after winning the World Series in 2017, they lost to the Nationals in the 2019 Series and Atlanta in the 2021 Series. Plenty of observers enjoyed seeing them beaten, too.

 "I think that's what drove this team,'' Baker said of the hatred toward the Astros. "That's what motivated them. The boos and the jeers that we got all over the country, it bothered these guys, but it also motivated them at the same time. And it wasn't an us-against-the-world thing. It was more of a come together, even closer-type thing. And what happened before, it doesn't ever pass over completely, but we have turned the page and hopefully we'll continue this run." 

Astros righthander Lance McCullers Jr. said of using the hate as fuel: "I don't think so. I really feel like we've been focused on the group within. We've been focused on our fans and the love we have back here in Houston. We knew it was going to be tough. Last year was extremely tough and difficult [and] it didn't get any easier this year. We're the team America loves to hate, but we're Houston's most loved." 

Asked if there was a feeling of needing to "prove" anything to people, McCullers said: "I don't think we're out to prove anything to anyone. I think we wanted to prove we're the best team in baseball, and I think we did that." 

After hitting five home runs in Game 3 to take a 2-1 Series lead, the Phillies scored only three runs and went 9-for-89 with 38 strikeouts in the final three games.

"I've always said there's three things in baseball — pitching, pitching, pitching,'' Astros owner Jim Crane said. "We pitched really well all year long." 

Saturday night in many ways was a summation of how the Astros accomplished the above.

Valdez, who went 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA in three postseason appearances after a regular season in which he was 17-6 with a 2.82 ERA, allowed one run and two hits in six innings in which he walked two and struck out nine. The one hit was a leadoff home run by Kyle Schwarber in the sixth that gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead.

But the Astros rallied in the bottom half against Zack Wheeler, who was terrific in putting a poor Game 2 start behind him but was pulled by Rob Thomson after 70 pitches, which likely will lead to a winter of second-guessing of the Phillies' manager.

"He still had his good stuff,'' Thomson said of Wheeler, whom he replaced with lefthander Jose Alvarado to pitch to the lefthanded-hitting Alvarez. "I just thought that that was a key moment in the game and that was a momentum swing that I thought Alvarado had a chance to strike him out . . . It was a tough decision. But I went with Alvarado, you know? He got behind Álvarez and [on a] 99-mile an hour fastball, he just beat him to the spot. That's what good hitters do sometimes."

Wheeler took that 1-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth and promptly hit Martin Maldonado with a pitch. Jose Altuve hit into a 5-4 force play to take Maldonado’s spot at first and Jeremy Pena banged a single back up the middle to put runners at the corners.  Alvarez — 2-for-21 in the World Series to that point — laid into a 99-mph sinker and blasted it 450 feet over the batter's eye in center for a 3-1 lead.

"Man, that ball was hit hard,'' said Pena, who added World Series MVP honors to his ALCS MVP status. "I've never seen anything like it. And if I have seen it, it probably came from him as well. So shout-out to him. He's a strong boy. But he's a great hitter. We're glad he had the special season he had this year."

Before that home run, which sent the crowd and the Astros' dugout into near hysterics, lefty batters were a combined 62-for-318 (.195) with three homers against Alvarado in his career, according to MLB.com. Christian Vazquez’s RBI single later in the inning made it 4-1.

A Houston bullpen that had an MLB-low 2.80 ERA in the regular season and an MLB-low 0.88 ERA in the postseason shut down the Phillies the rest of the way as Hector Neris, Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly finished off the Astros’ second World Series championship and first captured in front of their home fans.

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