The World Series Review, Game 5

After chasing the elusive and bewildering goal since 2006, Justin Verlander finally has put his frustration to rest by winning a World Series game for the first time.

Houston’s 3-2 victory in Game 5 didn’t come easy for the starting pitcher or his team – but why would it? Verlander entered his assignment with a career 0-6 record and 6.07 ERA in eight previous World Series starts.

And after losing Game 3 at Philadelphia to fall behind 2-1 in this best-of-seven fray, the Astros had to entrench at Citizen Bank Ballpark and dig against the rowdy Phillies and the town’s famously vociferous fans to win two straight games on enemy ground to take control. Houston returned home with a 3-2 series lead, and can clinch the World Series with a triumph in Game 6 Saturday.

For Verlander, the timing was perfect on a Thursday night when his pitching was imperfect. One of the most accomplished and esteemed pitchers of his generation labored through five innings, casting 94 pitches and dodging imminent danger while trying to recalibrate his wonky mechanics.

Pitching into trouble. Pitching out of trouble. Relying on the natural resource of enormous experience that develops over 17 MLB seasons and nearly 3,500 innings of pitching.

Verlander fending off the Phillies, restraining the home team to only one run, a leadoff homer by the hazardous Kyle Schwarber.

After that, Verlander’s start turned into a test of survivability. He took on six batters in the second inning, and combated his way out of a bases-loaded scrape. He faced five batters in the third inning, refusing to weaken and stranding two runners.

Verlander slowed his delivery and turned to his slider when Philadelphia was clearly hunting for fastballs. The critical adjustments led to a calm, one-two-three inning in the fourth. But there was one more minor emergency to handle; before he could leave with a 2-1 lead, Verlander was hit for a fifth-inning double by Bryce Harper and had to get one more out to leave Harper parked at second base.

In his five resolute innings Verlander was distressed by the Schwarber home run, three other hits, and four walks. The Phillies put seven runners on base, circling and threatening to swoop in. But Verlander earned his longed-for World Series victory by putting up a roadblock.

Verlander’s first World Series start came against the Cardinals a long time ago, in Game 1 of the 2006 Fall Classic. He was only 23 years old and got out-pitched by Anthony Reyes in the 7-2 St. Louis victory in Detroit. The Verlander who won Game 5 at Philly was 39 years old and the winner of 244 games and many individual honors – and still going strong on his journey to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Astros manager Dusty Baker – mindful of Verlander’s collapse and loss in Game 1 – twice had relievers warming up as a precaution. But Baker stayed with his ace. And part of this thought process was an imaginary dugout conversation with his friend and former teammate Tommy John, the lefty who won 288 games in the big leagues.

“It was a battle,” Baker said. “(Verlander) emptied the tank early and his pitch count got high … he was in trouble there a couple times, and I remember my teammate Tommy John always told me that a good pitcher can get out of trouble twice and a great pitcher three times and a so-so pitcher maybe one time. … I could hear Tommy John talking to me during the game. Sometimes you call upon people that you’ve played with or talked to in the past to deal with the present.”

Talk about determination and endurance … it took 17 seasons for Verlander to harvest his first World Series win. This was a big deal, and a credit to his talent and persistence. Teammates understood the magnitude of the moment and celebrated by giving Verlander the traditional “rookie” shower that’s part of commemorating a milestone.

Said Astros third baseman Alex Bregman: “They put him in the cart like he was a rookie. I don’t think he’s been in there in two decades.”

Verlander was doused in beer, wine, soda, water and ketchup and laughed his way through the washing. Or maybe it was a cleansing. “One of the best feelings of my career,” he told reporters. “Just (bleeping) amazing.”


1) Helluva catch by Houston center fielder Chas McCormick, who deprived Philly’s J.T. Realmuto of a double, or even an inside-the-park homer, by making a leaping catch high along the grating of the scoreboard in right-center with one out in the ninth and the Astros clinging to a one-run lead. Realmuto was racing, McCormick was racing, and the hearts of 45,000 fans were racing – as well as the rapidly accelerating pulses in both dugouts – when the 27-year-old outfielder came down with the ball. If the Astros win this thing, McCormick will have a permanent place in the World Series highlights when MLB Network or ESPN or FOX air “greatest catches in World Series history” segments. McCormick had so much to process – the flight of the ball, his tracking of the angles, the scale of the wall, the approach, his footwork, the timing of his airborne vault. And he had 45,000 jacked-up Philly fans shrieking at him. But the local boy – who grew up about 35 miles from the ballpark, and went to many Phils games there as a kid – broke the Phillies and the spirit of his hometown sports fans. Incredible. Couldn’t script this. And then it happened.

2) The Phillies couldn’t help but admire McCormick’s exceptional deed. “It’s an incredible catch,” Philadelphia right fielder Nick Castellanos said. “Also, his willingness to sacrifice his body, because that’s not exactly a soft wall.” Added Phils third baseman Alec Bohm: “That’s what this type of baseball is about, right? Leaving it all out there.”

3) Truth is, McCormick wasn’t a top candidate to make this spectacular catch. He was a corner outfielder in the Houston system. He became the Astros’ center fielder by default this year, after others failed to claim or keep the job. His fielding ratings were average at best; 47 MLB center fielders were credited with more defensive runs saved than McCormick this season. And McCormick had logged only 700 innings in center during his time in the majors.

4) But … let’s take a closer look. At Fielding Bible, the numbers show that McCormick was a +7 in tracking deep fly balls this season. That’s excellent. And the data also shows that he was above average when chasing down balls hit to his left. Therefore: Realmuto’s rocket was hit to McCormick’s strongest defensive area … that small plot of land to his left, and very deep. Imagine that. I think we can say – for sure – that this was the only spot in the outfield where such a miraculous grab was possible for McCormick. And the dude’s listed height is 6’0 … which seems generous. Which makes the catch extra special.

5) “The best feeling ever,” McCormick said in the postgame media session. “Just laying there. Looking at the Phillies fans. I was speechless. Just how quiet the stadium was. It was one of the best feelings.”

This is another reason why we still love baseball.

6) Another reason why we love baseball: Trey Mancini’s snatching of a wicked 99 mph hot ground ball at the first-base bag to deny Shwarber of what would have been a tying or go-ahead double with two outs in the eighth and the Philadelphians down 3-2. Mancini was a part-time first baseman in Baltimore, and not exactly artful in his defense. But the moment found him, just as it found McCormick, and Mancini went to his knees and got a foot on the bag for the third out … with Schwarber removing his batting helmet and slamming it to the ground in a fit of anger.

Trey Mancini, all-around fantastic guy, cancer survivor, generous in his efforts to assist others that are persevering during their own cancer crisis … Trey Mancini, beloved by Baltimore fans and admired by all.

Trey Mancini, who batted only .176 in 51 regular-season games with the Astros after being traded by Baltimore. Trey Mancini, who is a nightmarish 0 for 18 this postseason with seven strikeouts. But Mancini’s quick-reflex play at first base was an important stop that protected Houston’s lead. And Mancini was there only because starting first baseman Yuli Gurriel had to leave the game with a sore knee after slipping during a rundown.

“I had nothing going through my head,” Mancini told reporters when asked about the play. “I just tackled it, basically.”

“Before the game, if you told me that I contributed in a big way, I would have thought it would have been with my bat and not my glove,” Mancini said. “I’m much more known for my bat than the glove, I’d say. I’m just really happy to contribute. That’s a huge win.”

7) Teams that take a 3-2 lead have won the World Series around 70 percent of the time. But the 2019 Astros had a 3-2 lead over Washington in the World Series and lost the final two games at home. The Phillies aren’t freaking out. They weren’t expected to get to this point, anyway.

“We’ve faced adversity all year,” Castellanos said. “What’s a better storybook ending than if we can go there and win this in Game 7?”

8) Both bullpens continue to dominate in this World Series. Houston’s relievers covered four innings after Verlander and allowed one run. Which is certainly acceptable. The Houston bullpen has allowed two earned runs in 18.1 innings against the Phillies, with a strikeout rate of 33 percent … and Philadelphia relievers have yielded three runs in 23.2 innings against the Astros. Houston’s hitters aren’t easy to strike out, but the Philly relievers have a 30 percent K rate against them through the first five games. Houston’s bullpen excellence isn’t surprising. It’s a well established strength. But the Philadelphia bullpen entered the postseason after getting slapped around for a 5.04 ERA over the final two months of the regular season.

9) The Philly hitters need to reactivate the “clutch” mechanism. After going 4 for 10 with runners in scoring position in their 6-5 comeback win in Game 1, the Phillies are 1 for 19 with RISP in the last four games. That includes a devastating 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position in Game 5.

10) After swatting five home runs to build a 7-0 lead through five innings in Game 3, the Phillies have scored only two runs in their last 21 innings. Some regulars are slumping: Realmuto is 1 for his last 17 with 11 strikeouts since hitting the winning homer in Game 1. Rhys Hoskins is 1 for his last 19 with 11 strikeouts. Castellanos is 3-for-20 with eight strikeouts through the first five games. Jean Segura, who did have an RBI single in Game 5, is 3-for-18 against the Astros. And rookie shortstop Bryson Stott is 0 for 13 in the World Series, and batting .140 for the postseason. (But he’s also drawn seven walks.)

The Phillies have had plenty of chances to break through; in Game 5 they had runners on base in seven innings.

“We’re striking out more than we normally would in those situations and that’s a testament to how good their pitchers are,” Realmuto told reporters. “They’re doing a better job of putting the ball in play with runners in scoring position and we’re just striking out a little bit too much. That’s something that if we’re going to be successful in the next two games, we’re just going to have to put the ball in play when guys are out there.”


Rookie Astros shortstop Jeremy Pena had a splendid rookie season, hitting 22 home runs and driving home 63 runs and winning a Gold Glove after leading all MLB shortstops with 16 defensive runs saved. He’s kept it up during the postseason, batting .333 with a 1.005 OPS in 12 games and winning the MVP award in the ALCS. Through the first five games of the World Series, Pena is 8 for 21 (.381) with two doubles, a homer and three RBI. Last night he was Houston’s star of the game offensively, giving his team the lead twice in the game with an RBI single in the first inning and then a leadoff homer in the fourth to break a 1-1 tie. We can see why Astros management decided to let their star shortstop Carlos Correa walk as a pricey free agent after last season.

Pena is the son of former Cardinals outfielder Geronimo Pena. I liked Pena, who played in St. Louis from 1990 through 1995. He had real talent offensively but was repeatedly set back by injuries. The injuries reduced Pena’s viability, and the Cardinals released him on July 1 of 1996. He latched on with latched on with Cleveland but appeared in only five games with his new team in ‘96.

That was the end of his MLB career – at age 29. “I guess I am snakebit,” Geronimo Pena once said. “I’m always having a tough time.”

Pena was a good hitter in the majors. He wasn’t a big home-run guy but did hit 11 homers in the lockout–shortened season of 1994. He had double-digit doubles totals in three seasons. He stole at least 13 bases in three consecutive seasons (1992-94.) He slugged .478 in 1993, and .479 in 1994.

In 373 games as a Cardinal, Pena hit .262 with a .345 onbase percentage, .427 slug and a 111 OPS+ that made him 11 percent above league average offensively. Geronimo Pena was a pleasant, if shy, guy. Another thing about Pena: he was always working the bubble gum and was skilled at blowing very large bubbles.

Thanks for reading …


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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.



Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.