J.T. Realmuto’s heroic homer in 10th inning lifts Phillies over Astros in Game 1 of World Series

HOUSTON – One month of chaos continued all the way through to a World Series Game 1 stunner.

And now the Philadelphia Phillies, the team that would not have qualified for the playoffs one season ago, that were dealt the steepest road to advance in this expanded field, have taken a significant upper hand on the dominant and heavily favored Houston Astros, erasing a five-run deficit and riding J.T. Realmuto’s 10th-inning home run to topple the Houston Astros, 6-5, at a stunned Minute Maid Park.

“The way we fought back in that game after being down 5-0,” said Realmuto, “that’s a Phillies win right there.”

The Phillies held their breath and survived a bottom of the 10th inning closed out by David Robertson. He gave up a wall-banging double to Alex Bregman with one out, struck out Kyle Tucker before pitching around Yuli Gurriel, throwing a wild pitch and throwing three straight balls to pinch hitter Aledmys Diaz.

But Diaz grounded to third base to end the 4 hour, 34-minute struggle.

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And so a game that began Friday night bleeded into what could certainly be an epic Saturday in Houston: Realmuto’s shot 384 feet to the opposite field off Luis Garcia set up Robertson’s high-wire act.  And Saturday evening, ace Zack Wheeler will get the ball with an extra days’ rest, squaring off against unpredictable lefty Framber Valdez.

A 2-0 lead heading back to Philadelphia would be beyond the Phillies’ wildest dreams. Then again, putting even a brief scare into the Astros on Friday night seemed like a pipe dream.

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Tucker hammered a pair of home runs off Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola, the latter giving the Astros a 5-0, second inning lead. And as he opened with three perfect innings, likely AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander seemed ready to reverse a decade’s worth of World Series futility.

Instead, the Phillies feasted in their second look at him, with two-run doubles from Alec Bohm and Realmuto in the fourth and fifth to wipe out a 5-0 deficit forged almost entirely on Tucker’s two home runs.

J.T. Realmuto rounds the bases after hitting a solo homer in the 10th inning.

Tucker’s blasts only ensured Verlander would escape without another loss on his World Series record. It was already crowded enough.

He remains 0-6 in eight starts, his ERA ballooning to 6.07. But he did complete five innings, preventing the Astros from totally rewriting the script. The Astros bullpen, by far the most dominant unit this postseason, pitched four shutout innings, lowering its playoff ERA to 0.73 through nine innings to match zeroes with a mix-and-match Phillies unit.

Phillies manager Rob Thomson burned his best arms early in hopes of keeping pace into the ninth, and lived to tell about it as Robertson was summoned to shut down the Astros in the bottom of the 10th.

But the Astros nearly won it in regulation. A bloop hit from the struggling Jose Altuve, a stolen base and then another softly hit ball by Jeremy Peña floated into right field. But Nick Castellanos, one of the worst defensive outfielders in the major leagues according to outs above average, stormed in, dived and came up with the ball.

He ended up flat on his back as his disbelieving Phillies teammates celebrated, not unlike a crucial catch he made late in Game 1 of their NLDS conquest of defending champion Atlanta.

That win was one of several unlikely outcomes that spurred the 87-win Phillies – gifted the third wild card Major League Baseball instituted just this year – past the Cardinals, Atlanta and San Diego into this World Series.

The fairy tale was supposed to end here.

It was long understood that the Astros, with their fantastic bullpen, deep starting lineup and taut defense, would enjoy a significant edge at the margins in this 118th Fall Classic. But Philly’s fight, on display throughout this October, was enough to turn this game into a standstill when the stars graced the stage.

Nola was gone after registering just 13 outs, Verlander after five innings. And in a nod to the urgency of this game, both clubs employed their most dominant relievers from the get-go. For the Astros, that meant Bryan Abreu, unscored upon in six postseason games this season, graced the mound in the sixth, his earliest appearance in this postseason since Verlander struggled in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.

This time, he started a near-perfect relay, recording the first five outs in a string of four shutout relief innings to quell the Phillies. When he found trouble in the sixth, former Phillie Hector Neris was summoned for his first bases-loaded appearance this year – and struck out Castellanos on a split-finger fastball to keep the game tied.

Rafael Montero needed eight pitches for a scoreless eighth. Ryan Pressly punched out the problematic Kyle Schwarber in a perfect ninth – and the stage was set for Realmuto’s final heroics.

They were made possible thanks to Thomson’s aggression, deploying lefties Jose Alvarado and Ranger Suarez, the valuable swingman, to retire Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez in the fifth and seventh innings. He asked for five outs from Dominguez, who got them thanks to Castellanos’ unlikely catch before Robertson’s high-wire act saved it.