The World Series is not designed to highlight star hitters. Baseball is an equitable game that prevents managers from simply sending up their best batters in the highest-leverage moments, for one thing. More than that, though, the microscopically small sample size that the Fall Classic affords and the cruel illogic of slumps tends, over the course of a series, towards the type of randomness that lets scrubs hit .600 for a week while superhumans somehow languish below the Mendoza Line.
Technically, that is where the record books will have Houston’s Yordan Álvarez now that this World Series is over. After an MVP-caliber campaign at the plate highlighted by a 1.019 OPS, and a heroic ALDS that saw him smash multiple dingers that will haunt the Seattle Mariners for a very long time, Álvarez’s bat mostly went silent through the next few hurdles of the playoffs. He got a critical base hit in Game 4 against the Yankees but otherwise put up an unremarkable .214/.389/.286 even as the Astros kept winning. And heading into Game 6 on Saturday night, though he had found a few ways to make an impact on the series, Houston’s best hitter was managing a dismal .105/.227/.158 against Philadelphia pitching.
Álvarez’s 1-for-4 performance in the clincher didn’t change that line too much, but some hits matter much more than others. After Phillies manager Rob Thomson removed starter Zack Wheeler with a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning, one swing by Álvarez on some 99 mph meat from José Alvarado transformed him from a great player into a legend. The result of that swing was a breathtakingly powerful three-run blast to a part of the ballpark where fans don’t even bother bringing a glove, and the Phillies never overcame it. The Astros took Game 6, 4-1, and became World Series champs. It was not entirely because of this home run, but it’s hard to imagine a more consequential, or more decisive, swing.
For the longest tenured Astros, this championship feels extra meaningful; if the first is, fairly or unfairly, going to be remembered as the result of systematic cheating, this one was in every way the result of a memorably and undeniably dominant postseason. For younger players like Álvarez, heisted from the Dodgers before he debuted in MLB in 2019, it should be pure joy without any baggage. For Houston manager Dusty Baker, who was already a towering figure in the game, it marks a crowning achievement in one of the coolest baseball careers ever. And for those who wrung their hands all month about what it meant for baseball that 100-win teams like the Dodgers and Mets and Braves were booted from the playoffs through variously fluke-y best-of-three or -five series, it’s a little bit funny that the clearcut best team in the AL over the whole year is the one celebrating at the end.
For the Phillies, this final result is something much stranger and harder to parse. Over the course of this season, despite a pricey roster, they were definitively overshadowed by their division rivals in Atlanta and Queens. But an expanded playoffs granted them entry, and with a bit of luck, the requisite October chaos, and some peak Bryce Harper, they somehow stayed on the horse until they were 13 innings away from ultimate glory. I believed, for a moment, that they would live to rub Houston’s faces in it. When Kyle Schwarber lined a ball over the right field fence, just a little before Yordan topped his accomplishment, I let myself enjoy the broadcast’s shots of hyped-up Philly fans annoying their frustrated neighbors from Texas. This defined the Phillies’ run so perfectly that I thought it had to signal the end of their long offensive drought.
Instead, the Astros picked themselves back up and proved why they won 19 more games than the Phillies did during the season. (Schwarber was left helplessly attempting a two-strike bunt in his next and last at-bat). In the cold light of the offseason, the Philly front office won’t be able to coast on their pennant win. The Mets and Braves still project to field better lineups next year, the pitching will have some real question marks, and it will be just as easy, if not easier, to backslide into 80 wins and a lost season as it will be to build on this autumn’s work. The Phillies end this season as the undisputed people’s champ and World Series runners-up, but they are far from the consensus pick as the best team in the National League.
Phillies fans, however, can free themselves from all that, at least for the next few months. Álvarez’s dong might have crushed their wildest ambitions for the end of this season, but for almost a whole month they spiced up the postseason with their clutch hitting, their endearing chemistry, and their determination to screw up the natural order of the standings. It was a lot of fun seeing this team’s spirit and conviction grow and grow as all but one other squad dropped out, playing the role of the uninvited guest who refuses to leave the party because he’s having too much of a blast. The ending probably wasn’t quite as fun, but that’s how endings are. I’m still glad they came.