If Jose Alvarado wants to find the nearest deep cave into which to make his residence until spring training, nobody should fault him. Not everyone can perform the impossible at will.
The Phillies’ redoubtable lefthanded reliever came into the bottom of the sixth of World Series Game Six with one key mission, take care of the Astros’ lefthanded munitions expert Yordan Alvarez with runners on the corners and one out. It might have been easier for Tom Thumb to scale the Empire State Building with a crosstown bus on his back.
This could have been construed as Phillies manager Rob Thomson believing he was still living a charmed life in his first two-thirds season on the bridge. Believing that a hard-won 1-0 Phillies lead could be kept in place or possibly enlarged the rest of the way.
Believing his righthanded starter Zack Wheeler wasn’t the right matchup for Alvarez looming with two occupied bases. Believing Alvarado would avoid the disaster into which he pitched when brought in for the same matchup in Game Five and hit Alvarez on the first pitch.
All Alvarez did now with a 2-1 pitch was send it over the farthest ledge behind center field, into some seats beneath a Blue Cross/Blue Shield advertising sign. All that did was sink the Phillies and yank the Astros to what they, and their fan base, needed in the worst way possible, a no-questions-asked, untainted World Series conquest.
Alvarado didn’t get beaten doing what he knew he wasn’t supposed to do. He didn’t get beaten serving a meatball without sauce. He got beaten throwing one of his best pitches, a nasty, shivering two-seam fastball, to a bomber who can and often does turn your best pitches into nuclear warheads no matter how they swivel up to the plate.
“Nothing moving. It didn’t move,” Alvarado said postgame. “If it moved, he had no chance. When he hit the ball, the sound says, ‘OK, that’s gone’. Because the guy is a power hitter. I watched it. But, again, sometimes you win, and sometimes you tip your cap.”
But Alvarado was wrong. The pitch moved enough. He got beaten by a hitter who moved his bat more than enough into it. Don’t condemn him. Don’t demand his post-haste measuring for a guillotine brace.
“[Y]ou’ve got Alvarado throwing 99 mph left-on-left sinkers,” Kyle Schwarber said. “And [Alvarez] ran into it and hit it out. Tip your cap. That’s a good hitter over there. I would take [Alvarado] on him any day of the week.”
Embrace Alvarado for having the guts to stare into the belly of the best a second straight World Series game and not run home to Mami at the very thought of it. A man with a regular-season 1.92 fielding-independent pitching rate earns more than a little respect.
Thomson may have some real explaining to do, though, as to why he kept Nick Castellanos—whose bat was as feeble as his glove had become a half-out-of-nowhere defensive weapon during the Series—batting behind Bryce Harper and, essentially, affording Harper as much protection as a tot with a pop gun offers a Brinks truck.
Just don’t be stupid enough to blame Alvarado for the Phillies’ inability to make Schwarber’s leadoff homer in the top of the sixth stick long enough to buy some insurance. Be better than that, this time, Phillie fan.
These upstart, self-resurrecting Phillies finally couldn’t hit what these Astro pitchers served them. They lunged at too many breakers instead of forcing them to come to their wheelhouses, they let too many fastballs elude them, and when they still had three innings left to overthrow the 4-1 Astro lead that stuck, they couldn’t and didn’t summon up enough.
Then give these Astros their due. Give them the credit they deserve for finally overcoming one World Series loss in which they won nothing at home, a second when they ran into a chain saw made in Atlanta, and the single worst cheating scandal in 21st century baseball, if not all baseball history.
Give these Astros the credit for playing untainted, un-sneaky, un-shifty (except on one or the other side of the infield here and there), unapologetically excellent baseball to beat these Phillies in six usually thrilling games.
Give them credit for making hash out of Commissioner Rube Goldberg’s more-cookies-for-everyone, three-wild-cards postseason array, not to mention defying the early-round upsets over the biggest-winning regular season teams, and living up to their 106 game-winning season where the 111 game-winning Dodgers couldn’t.
Give splended Astros rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña his props for earning both the Most Valuable Player Award of the American League Championship Series and the World Series (the first rook ever to win a Series MVP and a Gold Glove for his defense) and for damn near making Houston forget it ever had a fellow named Carlos Correa holding shortstop down.
Give center fielder Chas McCormick his props for running down what would have been J.T. Realmuto’s at-minimum eighth-inning double in Game Five and leaping to catch it before hitting the Citizens Bank Park scoreboard wall and landing in a heap on his back while leaving his imprint on the warning track and holding onto the ball like a life preserver.
Give Game Six starter Framber Valdez and the Astro bullpen their props for keeping the formerly vaunted Phillies offense—capable of turning games around in single swings until running into a no-hit wall in Game Four—from getting any ideas above and beyond The Schwarbinator’s liner into the right field seats.
And then give Astros manager Dusty Baker the biggest hug you’ve got to give for a man who’s been in this game fifty-four years as a player and manager, won a World Series ring as a player, had several postseason heartbreaks including World Series losses as a manager, and finally reached the Promised Land.
Baker really had to do this one the hard way. He took on the uphill job of managing a team riddled by the disgrace of Astrogate and their inability to speak entirely forthrightly about their 2017-18 cheating including about it being part of their 2017 Series triumph. It was comparable to Gerald Ford trying to clean up after the Nixon Administration’s Watergate mess.
But Ford lost the only presidential election for which he stood after that. Baker withstood the Astrogate heat, kept his head as the self-battered organisation turned itself and its Show roster over and away from the Astrogate stench, and brought his Israelites across the Jordan at last.
“Game Six has been my nightmare,” Baker told his team in the clubhouse after this Game Six. “I ain’t lying. I was like, damn that, man. We’re going to win today. I got Game Six off our ass, off my ass. We’ve got (Justin Verlander’s first credited World Series) win off his ass. And I’m telling you, you guys played your asses off. I didn’t have to do [poop].”
Baker and Game Sixes formerly meant disaster. 2002 World Series: he lifted starter Russ Ortiz with his Giants up 5-0 and ostentatiously handed Ortiz the “game ball.” The Angels thrashed back with three runs each in the next two innings, then ran away with Game Seven.
2003 National League Championship Series: Baker’s Cubs were five outs from going to the World Series when a double-play grounder bounded off his shortstop instead of turning two, opening the dam for a five-run Marlins rally and a Game Seven loss.
Game Six, last year’s World Series: Baker’s Astros didn’t incur anything close to those two disasters. The Braves made sure of that by shutting them out 7-0 to win the Series.
Now he couldn’t forget what his father told him after the 2002 deflation: “Man, after the way you lost that one, I don’t know if you’ll ever win another one.” Now, the son could be sanguine about the father’s fatalism.
“I was, like, I didn’t really want to get to Game Six again, but I was like, well, maybe this is how it’s supposed to be,” the son said Saturday night. “My dad didn’t mean anything negative . . . back in the old school, there was such thing as negative motivation. In the new school, negative motivation doesn’t work.”
No team had quite the negative motivation these otherwise filthy-dominant Astros have had since their 2017-18 cheating, which went above and beyond anything else devised and executed by teams past, exposing and staining them in the wake of their 2019 World Series loss.
It’s the black mark on a franchise that’s gone to six straight American League Championship Series and won four of them. A franchise that’s won two World Series titles over six years with a .622 winning percentage over those six regular seasons, something almost never done, according to Hall of Fame writer Jayson Stark, by the greatest teams.
Not the Oakland Mustache Gang of the early 1970s. Not the Big Red Machine. Not the 1996-2002 Yankees. Not the Aughts’ Red Sox. Not the 2010s Giants. You’d have to go back to the 1953-58 Yankees—those of Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, and manager Casey Stengel—to find one from the post-World War II era.
But guess what, ladies and gentlemen? Only three position players remained from the Astrogate teams. And they had almost nothing to do with the biggest of the big Series moments for these Astros and this manager. Air Yordan? Flying Jeremy? Tucker the Man and His Dream? Framber Valdez (is Coming)? Cristian (Soldier) Javier and his no-hit-opening oratorio? Every member of the bullpen that just rolled a Series ERA of 0.83? They didn’t show up until the Astrogate aftermath.
What the Astros needed most, said broadcast legend Bob Costas, himself a Frick Award winner thus enshrined in the Hall of Fame, was “to win outside the shadow of 2017 . . . ”
There will always be skeptics because of ’17. But they have now been a truly excellent team for a sustained period of time. I think fair-minded people already have put this in its proper context and proper proportion. So by winning again, especially with Dusty Baker as one of the faces of it, and five years removed from 2017, I think most people will have a fair sense of it.
Guess what else we can do now? We can put to bed forever all the talk over all the years about the long-suffering Baker’s “entitlement” to win a World Series at last.
It was both annoying as the day was long and absolutely unworthy of the man himself, the man who loved and encouraged all his players, from the last man on the roster to the cock of the walk, to exercise their abilities as they are, rather than as anyone else demanded, and was loved back by anyone who dealt with him over all those seasons.
Baker felt less “entitled” to anything than those who admire him and even criticise him when need be felt for him. Now he can put all that in a trunk, flashing one of his signature toothpick-punctuated grins, and lock it tight.
“After a while,” he said thoughtfully after Game Six, “I quit listening to folks telling me what I can’t do. All that does is motivate me more to do it because I know there’s a bunch of people in this country that are told the same thing, and it’s broken a lot of people. But my faith in God and my mom and dad always talking to me made me persevere even more.”
The 73-year-old man who once took too much blame for a few extraterrestrial calamities now didn’t give himself quite enough credit. There’s only so much Mom, Dad, and even God can do for a man, with a World Series or anything else.