World Series: Harper, Phillies go deep, face Astros

Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber breaking the bank in Philadelphia. Yordan Alvarez throws moonshots in H-Town.

Dusty Baker tries to a most elusive victory. Justin Verlander too. An excited Harper and All-Stars JT Realmuto and Zack Wheeler stepping onto baseball’s biggest platform for the first time.

Yo! The Philadelphia Phillies, of all teams are heading to the World Series. Against those returning Houston Astros for more, y’all.

A pretty tasty game from Friday night at Minute Maid Park, a fall classic full of vibrant sights, smells and sounds.

Think cheesesteaks, hoagies and popsicles versus BBQ beef brisket, Tex-Mex and Blue Bell ice cream.

Phanatic and Phils fans need a late rally at Citizens Bank Park? Dial something “Rocky”. Want to party in Houston? Sing and clap along with the Orbit mascot to Moe Bandy’s bouncing “Deep in the Heart of Texas” during round seven.

Harper has already hit five homers in the playoffs. In the signature swing of his career, his eighth-inning drive against San Diego on Sunday in Game 5 sent the Phillies to the World Series for the first time since 2009 and earned him the NL Championship Series MVP.

The Astros are 7-0 in the playoffs after finishing a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series. Alex Bregman’s single secured a 6-5 win Sunday night.

After losing the World Series last year, Houston has opened up as a solid favorite to win the title this year, according to FanDuel.

Chances are the crowd will witness a Schwar Bomb or Chas Chomp along the way.

But no possibility of seeing sibling rivalry. Astros reliever Phil Maton broke a finger on his pitching hand when he hit his locker after a shaky performance in the regular season finale, an outing that included giving up a hit at his younger brother, Phils utility Nick Maton.

City of brotherly love, not so much. But a treat for fans in both cities: The Philadelphia Eagles, the NFL’s only undefeated team, visit the Houston Texans on travel day between Games 5 and 6, if needed.

The weather won’t be a problem with the retractable roof in Houston. Impossible to say what the elements will be with the outdoors in Philadelphia.

With players like Jose Altuve, ALCS MVP Jeremy Peña, Rhys Hoskins and Alec Bohm, this World Series is a best-of-seven game representing some of the best present and future in the game. Plus a good piece of the past – remember, these teams have faced each other nearly 600 times.

There was the thrilling NL Championship Series of 1980, when Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton and the Fightin’ Phils outlasted Nolan Ryan at the Astrodome on their way to their first World Series title.

Years later, farmers Brad Lidge, Billy Wagner, Mitch Williams and Ken Giles spent time with both clubs. So did future Hall of Famers Joe Morgan and Robin Roberts.

And that neat piece of history – the Phillies were the first team to beat Houston, in 1962, when the Colt .45 expansion lost at Connie Mack Stadium.

Funny, the Phillies are also the last team to beat the Astros. On October 3, Philadelphia opened the final series of the regular season with a 3-0 win at Houston, featuring Schwarber twice as Aaron Nola edged Lance McCullers Jr.

The Astros then capped an AL-best 106-56 record by winning the next two behind Verlander and Framber Valdez – Philadelphia still leads 297-283 in their head-to-head matchups, mostly before Houston moved up from the National League to the American League in 2013.

Houston then swept Seattle in the AL Division Series and the Yankees in the ALCS with its winning formula of big starting pitches, a dominating bullpen and a full lineup of home hitters like Alvarez and Kyle Tucker.

This is the Astros’ fourth trip to the World Series in six years and their only title of 2017 was marred by an illegal sign-stealing scandal. Last season they lost to Freddie Freeman and underdog Atlanta Braves in six games.

At 73 and in his 25th season as manager, Baker is looking for a crown to top off his ample resume.

“I mean, wins motivate me. And I’m going to get it,” he said during the ALCS. “You can’t rush him before he gets here because he’s not here yet. So you just have to put yourself in a position to do it.

Verlander, the likely winner of the AL Cy Young Award after recovering from Tommy John surgery, hopes to better his mark to 0-6 in seven career World Series starts.

The Phillies, meanwhile, looked like a big zero this year before they got there in October.

Stuck at 21-29 in June, they fired manager Joe Girardi days later and handed interim bench coach Rob Thomson. Then suddenly, the Phillies took off.

They overcame Harper’s broken thumb, sidelining the two-month NL MVP, beat Milwaukee for the final playoff spot by going 87-75 and quickly passed NL champion Central St. Louis in the round of jokers. Philadelphia knocked out defending World Series champion Atlanta in the NLDS and edged San Diego in the NLCS.

Now that Thomson has been rewarded with a two-year contract, the Phillies are the first third-place team in baseball history to reach the World Series.

Philadelphia lost to the Yankees on their last trip so far. A year earlier in 2008, Lidge capped his remarkable 48-of-48 year in odds to save the Phillies’ second title as a team led by Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard beat Tampa Bay in five games.

Encouraged by their enthusiastic audience, Harper and this group of Phils hope to add another banner.

Thomson is trying to join Jack McKeon (Marlins, 2003) and Bob Lemon (Yankees, 1978) as the only managers hired mid-season to win the title. For the 59-year-old Thomson, it’s no surprise that his team is in this position.

“Coming out of spring training…we knew we had a good ball club. We knew our bullpen was good, the rotation was good, we had a great offense,” he said earlier in the playoffs. “We just got off to a bit of a slow start and sort of a spiral.”

“And we had ups and downs during the season, like any other club. But they knew they were going to pull through at some point and start winning again. And we did it,” he said.


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