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World Series: Framber Valdez and Astros Even Series With Game 2 Win


HOUSTON — The Philadelphia Phillies served sharp notice in the World Series opener Friday that they are here for far more than purely ornamental reasons.

Houston, which entered as heavy favorites and previously had faced nothing it couldn’t handle this postseason, took note. Then the Astros came out in Game 2 looking like a team that had spent a long night contemplating how they let things get away in Game 1, and decided they were not going to let it happen again.

Working quickly, aggressively and decisively, the Astros plated three first-inning runs on Saturday night, seemingly before the last notes of the national anthem had been sung. Phillies starter Zack Wheeler had barely finished tying the laces in his cleats before Jose Altuve, Jeremy Peña and Yordan Alvarez knocked him off balance and the Astros were well on their way toward pocketing a 5-2, series-evening win.

Now, thanks to that and Framber Valdez’s dazzling six and a third innings, the venue shifts back to Philadelphia for Game 3 on Monday evening with a very different tone.

“This team has a short memory on bad occurrences and bad games,” Houston Manager Dusty Baker said. “You can’t bring yesterday into today or else it will continue.”

They didn’t, and it didn’t.

The Astros became the first team in World Series history to start a game with three consecutive extra base hits. In doing so, it appeared as if they simply couldn’t wait to erase the memory of the five-run lead they blew in their 6-5, 10-inning Game 1 loss.

Altuve, the team’s slumping leadoff man, ripped the first pitch of the game, a 96-mile-per-hour sinker, into the left-field corner for a double.

Up stepped Peña, the team’s rookie shortstop, who laced the second pitch of the game, an 82-m.p.h. curveball, into left for another double.

Then came Alvarez, the team’s mighty designated hitter, whose plate appearance seemed to take forever by comparison. He fouled off Wheeler’s first pitch, a 96-m.p.h. fastball, and then ripped into the second pitch, a 92-m.p.h. slider, drilling it the same way Altuve and Peña did, into left for a third consecutive double.

“And I was pulling for a fourth, actually,” Baker said of the three doubles. “Try to score as many runs as you can. Because you know Wheeler is one of the tougher guys in baseball.”

So for those scoring at home, two pitches into the bottom of the first inning, the Astros led, 1-0. Four pitches in, they led, 2-0.

The Astros knew that Wheeler features a hard cutter and a hard fastball, “so we really hit hard,” outfielder Chas McCormick said of his team’s approach. “We were not going to sit on soft stuff.”

Though Wheeler missed a month late in the season with tendinitis in his forearm, he had been superb this postseason. He reeled off 11⅓ consecutive scoreless innings to begin his playoff run, which, combined with a scoreless streak to finish the regular season, extended to 19⅓ scoreless innings.

His 1.78 E.R.A. this postseason entering Saturday’s start ranked as the third-best ever by a Phillies pitcher with a minimum of 20 innings pitched in a single postseason, trailing Steve Carlton’s 1.33 (1983) and Cliff Lee’s 1.56 (2009). And his 0.51 WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched; essentially, how many baserunners a pitcher allows per inning) was easily the lowest ever by a pitcher through his first four starts of a single postseason.

Yet the Astros threatened whiplash, they started so quickly.

Their third run of the first inning was produced by sheer aggressiveness. Alvarez tagged and advanced to third base on Kyle Tucker’s fly ball to center. The ball was shallow enough to make it a risky decision, but Phillies center fielder Matt Vierling’s throw was strong and wide and Alvarez was safe. It paid off enormously when the next batter, Yuli Gurriel, hit what should have been an inning-ending ground ball to shortstop. But Edmundo Sosa, Philadelphia’s normally sure-handed infielder, bounced the throw past Rhys Hoskins at first base and Alvarez crossed the plate, making it 3-0.

Within all of that, the headline news of the night for the Astros was their second baseman’s breakout. Altuve, playing in his 88th postseason game, had been uncharacteristically quiet this month. He was 4 for 37 (.108) with no homers and just one extra-base hit (a double).

That Houston won each of its first seven postseason games despite silence from its leadoff hitter is a tribute to the powerful Astros. But they all know based on his past that it is only a matter of time until Altuve starts hitting, and when that happens, it makes life easier for all of them.

With a double and two singles in Game 2, Altuve only heightened his teammates’ anticipation.

“When you see Altuve with three hits tonight, he might go completely off now,” McCormick said. “Not to put pressure on him or anything, but it would be something else if he could go off.”

Third baseman Alex Bregman, who belted a two-run homer in the fifth inning, tossed a vote of confidence in Altuve’s direction as well.

Altuve rarely shows frustration, but he did then, which Baker addressed before Game 2.

“I mean, he can’t be happy, but he’s happy we’re winning,” Baker said. “He might be the strongest dude in this building mentally. He’s probably had to be most of his life. So I just know that any minute now he’s one hit away from a hot streak.”

That hit came on the first pitch of Game 2, then came two more — including one base hit on a swing at a pitch at his eye level. That lightened the mood and Altuve was visibly laughing.

“His track record speaks for itself,” Baker said afterward. “I mean, he swung the bat great today. It was a good feeling to get him to lead off like he’s been doing all year in the first inning. Boy, it was great to see.”

Altuve said that he has gone through phases during this extended October slump. Early, he hit more and studied more video. When that didn’t work, he said, he started hitting “less and less.”

“So I think that lately, the less I get on my mind, it’s going to be better,” Altuve said. ‘So just try to simplify everything.”

Adding to their delight in Game 2 was another of what has become a typically vintage performance from Valdez. The left-hander who fired 25 consecutive quality starts from April 25 through Sept. 18 this year to set an M.L.B. record for a single season mostly was untouchable in Game 2.

In fact, Valdez was so strong early that of his first six strikeouts, four came on 0 and 2 curveballs. And in the fourth inning, Bryce Harper twice stepped out of the box with two strikes in a clear attempt to disrupt Valdez’s rhythm.

It didn’t work. Valdez didn’t even bother stepping off the rubber. He simply waited patiently as the sellout crowd of 42,926 loudly booed, and then he punched out Harper on a cool, 80-m.p.h. curve.

He had turned the boos to cheers, and overnight, the Astros scowls to smiles.

Now, the Phillies will return home in the exact same spot they used as a springboard for success in both the division series and N.L.C.S., even at one game apiece.

“It feels familiar, right?” first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “Yeah, we’re disappointed with the loss tonight, but we’ve been here before.”

David Waldstein contributed reporting.



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