World Series teed up: Harper, Phillies go deep, face Astros

Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber break the bank in Philadelphia. Yordan Alvarez launches moonshots in H-Town.

Dusty Baker tries a most elusive victory. Justin Verlander too. An excited Harper and All-Stars JT Realmuto and Zack Wheeler, stepping onto baseball’s biggest platform for the first time.

Hey! The Philadelphia Phillies, of all teams go to the World Series. Against those back-for-more Houston Astros, all of you.

A pretty tasty matchup that kicks off Friday night at Minute Maid Park, a fall classic full of vibrant sights, smells and sounds.

Think cheesesteaks, hoagies, and water ice versus BBQ brisket, Tex-Mex, and Blue Bell ice cream.

The Fanatic and Phils fans need a late rally at Citizens Bank Park? Call something like “Rocky”. Want to party in Houston? Sing and clap along with mascot Orbit in front of Moe Bandy’s “Deep in the Heart of Texas” bouncy castle during the seventh inning.

Harper has already hit five homeruns this postseason. In the signature swing of his career, his eighth-inning drive against San Diego on Sunday in Game 5 sent the Phillies into the World Series for the first time since 2009 and earned him the NL Championship Series MVP.

The Astros are 7-0 this postseason after a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series. Alex Bregman’s lead single led to a 6-5 victory on Sunday-evening.

And now, a chance for crowds to witness a Schwar bomb or the Chas Chomp every game.

But no opportunity to see sibling rivalry. Astros reliever Phil Maton broke a finger on his pitching hand when he slammed his locker after a shaky performance in the regular season finale, an outing that saw him give a hit to his younger brother, Phils utility man Nick Maton.

City of Brotherly Love, not so much. But a nice treat for fans in both cities: The Philadelphia Eagles, the NFL’s only undefeated team, visit the Houston Texans on the travel day between Games 5 and 6, if needed.

Weather won’t be a problem with the Houston retractable roof. There’s no telling what the elements will be with the open air in Philly.

Featuring the likes of Jose Altuve, Rhys Hoskins, Jeremy Peña and Alec Bohm, this World Series is a best-of-seven matchup that represents some of the game’s best present and future. Plus a good piece from the past – remember that these teams have played against each other nearly 600 times.

There was the thrilling 1980 NL Championship Series, when Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton and the Fightin’ Phils defeated Nolan Ryan at the Astrodome on their way to their first World Series title.

Years later, closers Brad Lidge, Billy Wagner, Mitch Williams and Ken Giles spent time with both clubs. So did future Hall of Famers Joe Morgan and Robin Roberts.

And this beautiful piece of history: The Phillies were the first team to ever beat Houston, in 1962 when the expansion Colt lost .45s at Connie Mack Stadium.

Funny, the Phillies are also the most recent team to beat the Astros. Way back on October 3, Philadelphia opened the final series of the regular season with a 3-0 win over Houston, with Schwarber homering twice while Aaron Nola defeated Lance McCullers Jr.

The Astros then closed an AL-best 106-56 record by winning the next two behind Verlander and Framber Valdez – Philadelphia still lead 297-283 in their head-to-head games, mostly all before Houston moves from the National League to the U.S. League. 2013.

Houston then defeated Seattle in the AL Division Series and the Yankees in the ALCS with his winning formula of impressive starting pitching, a dominant bullpen and a lineup of home run hitters like Alvarez and Kyle Tucker.

This is the Astros’ fourth trip to the World Series in six years, and their only title in 2017 was tarnished by an illegal board theft scandal. Last season, they lost in six games to Freddie Freeman and the underdog Atlanta Braves.

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At age 73 and in his 25th season as manager, Baker is looking to crown his extensive resume.

“I mean, victories drive me. And I will get it,” he said during the ALCS. “You can’t rush it until it’s here, because it isn’t here yet. So you just have to put yourself in a position to do it.”

Verlander, the likely winner of the AL Cy Young Award after coming back from Tommy John surgery, is hoping to improve his 0-6 score in seven World Series starts in his career.

Meanwhile, the Phillies looked like a big zero this year before reaching this point in October.

Stuck on June 21-29, they fired manager Joe Girardi a few days later and placed the interim tag on bench coach Rob Thomson. Then the Phillies suddenly took off.

They overcame Harper’s broken thumb by sidelining the two-time NL MVP for two months, beating Milwaukee for the final playoff spot 87-75 and quickly defeating NL Central champ St. Louis in the wildcard round. Philadelphia eliminated defending World Series champion Atlanta in the NLDS and defeated San Diego in the NLCS.

Now that Thomson has been awarded a two-year contract, the Phillies are the first team in third place in baseball history to reach the World Series.

Philadelphia lost to the Yankees in his last trip so far. A year earlier, in 2008, Lidge concluded his remarkable year winning 48-for-48 in save opportunities to close the Phillies’ second title when a team led by Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard took the Tampa Bay into defeated five games.

Spurred on by their rambunctious home crowd, Harper and this pair of Phils hope to add another banner.

Thomson tries to join Jack McKeon (Marlins, 2003) and Bob Lemon (Yankees, 1978) as the only mid-season managers hired to win the title. For 59-year-old Thomson, it comes as no surprise that his team is in this position.

“When we came out of spring training… we knew we had a good ball club. We knew our bullpen was good, the rotation was good, we had a lot of attacks,” he said earlier in the playoffs. “We started a little slow and kind of spiraled.”

“And we had ups and downs during the season, just like any other club. But they knew that at some point they would come out and win again. And we did that,” he said.


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