More Like Launch McCullers
9:29 AM EDT on November 2, 2022
The first one was a curve.
It's sort of funny, if understandable, how quickly the discussion both in Fox's broadcast booth and online turned to whether Astros pitcher Lance McCullers might be tipping his pitches.
Maybe he was! I'm not sure how Bryce Harper could have cracked the code, though: This was the first pitch he'd seen all night. Then again, exactly how tipped-off does a hanging 85-mph curve lobbed directly to the center of the strike zone need to be? The tip in that case is more general: Bryce Harper had been sitting on that pitch since he first learned how to swing a bat.
McCullers did a funny little dance at the cannon-blast sound of Harper's contact, the nervy little hop-and-spin you do when you realize you just sliced through your fingertip while cutting a lime.
The second one was a sinker that hung up and over the middle half of the plate for righty Alec Bohm, Kelsey's terrible son, the first pitch of the bottom of the second inning. Back in the first, McCullers had gone after the first righty he faced on the night, Rhys Hoskins, with sinkers low and inside, to set up breaking balls away; the second righty he faced, J.T. Realmuto, he fell behind 1-0, then threw a sinker down in the strike zone to even the count; the third righty, Nick Castellanos, saw sinker-sinker-sinker, the first two nowhere close to the strike zone, the third more-or-less right down the middle; he clobbered it, but into the dirt, and grounded out.
During that Castellanos at-bat, Harper had called Bohm over to the dugout from the on-deck circle, to whisper something in his ear, and the home run came on McCullers's very next pitch (in the next inning). Maybe McCullers was tipping! But also, maybe he obviously couldn't throw strikes anywhere but right down the middle, and Harper was telling Alec Bohm he had some toilet paper sticking out of the back of his pants.
The third came two batters later, on a 2-0 count to lefty Brandon Marsh; McCullers floated some 84-mph piece of shit up and in but over the plate, and Marsh got just enough to doink it off the top of the wall in right. It was probably a slider; McCullers had been throwing those high and likes to do that. By this point my attention to pitch sequencing had lapsed a little bit; I was high on dingers. A dinger by the home ball club in a World Series game just hits very different. The crowd friggin' explodes.
There was a fourth! In the bottom of the fifth, with one on and one out, McCullers threw, honestly, a pretty decent-looking changeup down and away to Kyle Schwarber on a 1-2 count. McCullers's changeup looks just like his sinker and moves like crazy. Between the decent-looking pitch and Schwarber on first glance appearing to have hit it off the end of his bat, the broadcasters didn't initially recognize what they were looking at, and thought it was just a fly ball to center field. McCullers seemed to know: He settled into a deep crouch as Schwarber made contact, and paused there for a second, before whirling around to watch it go. Anyway it sounded, off the bat, like somebody had nuked an oak forest.
Great googly-moogly! 443 feet! I was laughing uncontrollably by now. Schwarber is just a guy who will do that. By now color commentator John Smoltz was sure the Phillies had to "have something on McCullers, one way or another," and had to specify that he was not talking about cheating. The thing they had on him, in my opinion, was ownership.
And then, would you believe it, there was a fifth. The very next hitter, Rhys Hoskins. I don't know what the pitch was; according to the broadcast it came in at 85 mph, which is the speed McCullers had been throwing his curve all night, but it was flat and squarely down the middle and hopeless and Hoskins coiled in anticipation and then socked that sucker into hell. I yelped. Specifically what I yelped was, "Oh please let him pitch to Harper again!" but Astros manager Dusty Baker did not, prudently yanking his starter, who is now the first pitcher in history to give up five home runs in a World Series game.
Was McCullers tipping his pitches? I expect we will never know for sure. I have a tip. Pitch better, ya dingus!