As it turns out, five-run leads aren’t that easy to blow after all, and the World Series, as well as Philadelphia, lurched back toward normalcy, which are typically two mutually exclusive concepts.
Normalcy, as it is defined here, is the Houston Astros taking and maintaining control of whatever sorceries the Philadelphia Phillies can master in response. For the second night running, the Astros broke quickly and expected to hide behind their superior pitching, only this time they actually got that superior pitching. Framber Valdez, who you hadn’t paid much attention to, curved and sinkered his way in and out of potential scares for six innings, and the double-digit strikeouts the Phillies managed to disguise Friday night stood out more so Saturday because Philadelphia never managed a credible threat. Zack Wheeler gave up five runs in five frames, three of them in the first inning, and the Phillies’ bats never amounted to much.
In short, Game 1 had all the fun, and Game 2 almost none of it. Not because the Astros won, but because they won the way you expected them to—clinically, coldly, and wire to wire. Not even Dusty Baker’s orange-and-aqua Hoka shoes could jazz up the evening, and let’s be honest, if you need a septuagenarian manager’s feet to jazz up your evening, you’re in for an early bedtime.
Which brings us to Monday night and the weirdest card in the deck—the former Met curio Noah Syndergaard. He will start Game 3 for the Phils against Lance McCullers, and his story is that of the man who overcame the cruel exile of the Los Angeles Angels of God Only Knows Why to be resuscitated to relevance—if you call taking Bailey Falter’s spot in the Phillies’ rotation relevance. Syndergaard was once the center of the Mets’ championship fantasies, the yin to Jacob deGrom’s yang, or given their backgrounds, the Sven to deGrom’s Lars.
But surgery took miles off his fastball and reputation, the Angels blighted him by being the Angels, and he ended up back east in one of two deadline trades that also netted Philadelphia the more iconic model for vagrants everywhere, outfielder Brandon Walsh. Now he gets to be the centerpiece in a game that will either allow us to fantasize about a long and weird series that will hold our attention for a second weekend, or the turning point in Houston’s purportedly redemptive second championship. That’s a lot of pressure per square inch to place upon someone with only five and a third innings of postseason experience this year, after the team’s two best starters, Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, got cuffed around in quick time in the first two games. The likely plan is for Syndergaard to be used maybe one time through the Houston order and then to turn the remainder off the game to a rested bullpen, and then hope for more from Ranger Suarez in Game 4. That’s a lot of cleavers for one juggler to handle.
Then again, Syndergaard is probably the quintessential Phillies player that way. After all, if you’re going to go for it all, go big. The Phillies have lived on the weird side all year, so there’s no valid reason not to close that way.