HOUSTON — This wasn’t a must-win, but it was pretty darn close. The Astros, ever confident on a postseason stage that has become part of their regular routine for six years and counting, did not want to go to Philadelphia down 2-0 in the World Series.
Fittingly, three players largely responsible for so many triumphs in past Octobers ensured things even out before the home version of the early part of the Series concluded.
Jose Altuve made noise at the top of the lineup. Yordan Alvarez reappeared as a force in the middle. And Alex Bregman, who seems to rise to the occasion the most stressful the situation, provided a homer that looked to put the game out of reach — for real this time.
“I think this team takes a lot of pride in going out and competing every single day and showing up with a clear head and being able to flush a bad game and move on to the next one,” Bregman said. “I think we did a good job of that today.”
Glimpses of the Astros of postseasons past appeared almost from the first pitch. Houston jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening inning, due in part to consecutive doubles by the first three hitters in the order.
“I was pulling for a fourth, actually,” manager Dusty Baker said.
Altuve leading off a game with an extra-base hit is not a new concept, but given how this postseason had gone prior to this plate appearance — he had four hits in 37 at-bats entering Game 2 — it set a nostalgic tone for an Astros lineup that had mostly persevered this postseason without him.
“I think the boys made it a lot easier because we’ve been winning,” Altuve said during a postgame interview with FOX. “We didn’t win yesterday, but we were winning the last two series, so I was just optimistic about my at-bats that I was going to get a hit sometime.”
Jeremy Peña and Alvarez repeated what Altuve started, logging doubles of their own off Phillies starter Zack Wheeler on his second and fourth pitches of the night. Those hits, coupled with a shaky defensive showing from the Phillies, capped a three-run frame that could be viewed as a tone-setter for the remainder of the game.
“We all know [Wheeler’s] a really good pitcher,” Alvarez said. “But we also know his plan is to attack hitters early in the count. That’s why we became aggressive and attacked him. Thankfully we were able to do it.”
Altuve logged a second hit in the fifth, and he added another one in the seventh by swatting at a 96 mph neck-high fastball from Connor Brogdon and plopping it into right field. Altuve now has nine career three-hit games in the postseason, tied for third-most in playoff history, trailing only Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams, who each have 12.
Bregman’s homer in the fifth inning off a 92.3 mph slider from Wheeler traveled 405 feet to left-center, left his bat at 104.3 mph and gave the Astros a 5-0 lead. At age 28, Bregman already has two more postseason homers than any third baseman in history. His two-run knock was his eighth, topping Gil McDougald and Scott Brosius.
Bregman praised Alvarez for setting up the sequence. Alvarez, hitting third as the Astros’ designated hitter, grounded into a heavily-shifted Phillies infield (third baseman Alec Bohm fielded the grounder at the edge of the dirt just a few feet away from first base) and beat out a double play by a hate.
“I think the credit for that should go to Yordan, for hustling down the line and keeping that inning alive, to be honest,” Bregman said. “It was a bang-bang play at first. I feel like this team plays hard and never takes a pitch off. To be able to add some insurance was huge.”
While it wasn’t a must-win, the Astros didn’t underplay the importance of grabbing this one.
“It was almost a mathematical must, actually, because it’s tough when you lose the first two games at home,” Baker said. “It is good for the city, good for our fans, that they went home happy after last night … people were kind of sick about last night. So you have to have a positive attitude throughout the city, and that vibe radiates to us. It was great to win that first game.”