PHILADELPHIA – In the first World Series playoff game at Citizens Bank Park in 13 years, the Philadelphia Phillies laid a historic walloping on Houston Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr.
And superstar Bryce Harper dished out the initial punishment and, apparently, some crucial advice.
Harper’s two-run homer in the bottom of the first inning kicked off a record-setting five-homer blitz off McCullers as the Phillies took a 7-0 lead into the late innings of Game 3.
Philadelphia became the first team to hit five home runs in the first five innings of a World Series game in the event’s 118 years.
And McCullers, pitching in his first World Series game since 2017, became the first pitcher in postseason history – let alone World Series history – to give up five home runs in a single game.
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The punishment was quick and unrelenting and both the Phillies’ info-sharing – and the results they yielded – certainly created the impression McCullers might have been tipping his pitches.
Harper, the cleanup batter, homered on the first World Series pitch he saw in his home digs, launching a McCullers curveball off the facing of the second deck for a two-run homer in the first inning, the Phillies’ first advantage in regulation this series.
An inning later, the Phillies made history, as Alec Bohm also jumped on a first-pitch McCullers offering and Brandon Marsh a two-ball pitch for solo homers, for a 4-0 lead and a shellacking the home crowd of 45,712 thirsted for.
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And after Harper pounded McCullers’ pitch 402 feet and finished rounding the bases, he paused and whispered advice to the following batter, Nick Castellanos, like a 15-year-old telling his travel-ball pal the dirt on the pitcher’s curveball.
Castellanos grounded out to third, but TV cameras caught Harper whispering to Bohm, too. And Bohm jumped on the first pitch he saw from McCullers – a 93-mph sinker on the inner half – and clubbed it over the Yuengling sign in left center field, for the 1,000th home run in World Series history.
Marsh, the No. 9 hitter, hit a classic Citizens Bank ball – popped into right field but carrying too far for Kyle Tucker to corral it. The play was reviewed for fan interference but held up for a 4-0 lead.
Three innings later, the Astros still trailed just 4-0 and with Phillies starter Ranger Suarez tiring, Houston was very much in it. But with three games in a row with no off days, Houston manager Dusty Baker opted to stick with McCullers, even with the game still in reach.
Not for long.
Marsh’s one-out single flipped the lineup over and Kyle Schwarber unloaded, with a 443-foot drive to the pine trees in dead center field. Still no hook.
So Rhys Hoskins finished McCullers, driving another ball to left for a 7-0 lead and garbage time in Game 3. McCullers got just 13 outs and earned an unwelcome spot in the record books.
With an extra day to prepare thanks to Monday’s rainout, Philadelphia clearly did its homework on McCullers, who prominently features a curveball and slider. And while Bohm did not cop to what Harper told him in a post-homer interview, perhaps it doesn’t matter: The Phillies were on McCullers, whether the veteran right-hander was tipping pitches or not.
“That’s between us,” Bohm said during an in-game dugout interview.
The Astros had little answer for Suarez, who struck out four in five shutout innings and won a Game 3 for the second consecutive series, after he defeated San Diego in the NLCS.
Suarez has given up just one earned run in his last 11 1/3 innings, earning two wins and a save over that stretch of four appearances. His precision will certainly give the Phillies confidence to trot him out in a Game 7 start – should they need it.
But Game 3 was about the big bats. And none is bigger than Harper, who has slugged six home runs this postseason and, four years into a 13-year, $330 million contract, has certainly been worth every penny in these playoffs.