In large measure because they were the victims of a combined no-hitter in Game 4, the Philadelphia Phillies came into World Series Game 5 against the Houston Astros without having managed a hit in 11 straight innings. Whatever pressures stemmed from that streak, they were perhaps heightened by the fact that the Astros pushed across a run in the top of the first of Game 5 to take a 1-0 lead.
Then, however, non-traditional leadoff hitter Kyle Schwarber in the bottom of the first was confronted with a 93.5 mph fastball from Justin Verlander that was actually above the zone. Schwarber swung, and he did not miss:
That left the bat at 110.6 mph and traveled an estimated 368 feet, tied the score at 1-1, and marked the first time the Phillies had notched a hit since Game 3. That's also Schwarber's fifth home run of these playoffs, and if you count the regular season then he's now got 51 home runs in 171 games in 2022.
Despite Wednesday's no-hitter, Schwarber didn't seem particularly stressed.
"I really don't give a shit," he told reporters after Game 4. "Nope. Move on to tomorrow. We'll be in the history books I guess."
As for Verlander, Schwarber's early clout is the latest episode of his World Series struggles. The Astros starter entered his Game 5 start with a record of 0-6 in World Series start and the highest ERA in World Series history. Now, the future Hall of Famer is atop this list:
Kyle Schwarber's HR was the 10th HR allowed by Justin Verlander in his World Series career.— Paul Casella (@Paul_CasellaMLB) November 4, 2022
That breaks a tie with Catfish Hunter for the most HR allowed by any pitcher in World Series history.
At the time of Schwarber's, those 10 home runs had come in 43 World Series innings.
And to bring it all full circle:
The 2022 Phillies (Harper, Hoskins, and Schwarber) join the 2017 Astros (Altuve, Springer, Correa) as the only teams ever to feature a triumvirate of hitters with 5+ homers in a single postseason.— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) November 4, 2022
The Phillies have now out-homered the Astros by a margin of 7-4 in this World Series, but, as we now know, that wasn't enough for the hosts in Game 5. In retrospect, Schwarber's home run was less an end to the Phillies (very) recent offensive struggles than it was an interruption of them.
They had some traffic against Verlander and even the bullpen in those innings to come, but they weren't able to turn enough runners into runs. Instead, the Phillies stranded 12 runners on base in all and were just 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position. That one hit, yet another opposite-field single on a low-and-outside pitch by Jean Segura, concluded this run of ineffectiveness:
None of those other three teams won the World Series that occasioned their RISP struggles. Anyhow, Segura's knock cut the Houston lead to 3-2 in the eighth and gave the Phillies runners on the corners with one out. In the modern era, teams that have first and third with one out score at least one run about two-thirds of the time. That wasn't the case for the Phillies on Thursday night, though.
At that point, Houston manager Dusty Baker called upon Ryan Pressly for the five-out save, even though he'd had only one outing of more than one inning during the regular season. Pressly proceeded to strike out Brandon Marsh on three pitches, and tease a sharp pull-side grounder out of Kyle Schwarber. At first base, Trey Mancini, playing the field for the first time in almost a full month, did the rest:
Pressly worked a clean ninth – with a– for the high-pressure, five-out save that gave Verlander that .
Speaking of Pressly's work in Game 5, Baker on Thursday was perhaps at his most aggressive in using his bullpen in this series. Even though the Astros manager hinted pregame at a long leash for Verlander, he lifted his ace after the fifth inning. From there, the deep and rested Houston relief corps did what you'd expect for the most part. Baker used four different relievers, two of whom entered mid-inning, and those four pitchers combined for one run allowed on two hits in four innings of work with six strikeouts.
You can easily argue that that one run allowed should have been two or even three, but the Phillies in Game 5 weren't able to sequence their hits in such a way – or, if you prefer, weren't able to come through when it mattered most. That cost them Game 5 and maybe the series, and by that point Schwarber's first-inning blast seemed a very long time ago indeed.