Astros have ‘zero breathing room' after Phillies' bats, fans put on a big show in Game 3


When it was over, when the Phillies had completed their 7-0 shellacking of the Houston Astros to move within two wins of a World Series championship on Tuesday night, Nick Castellanos didn't want to talk as much about his first-inning catch on Jose Altuve's sinking liner to right -- J.T. Realmuto called it a potential game-saver ... yes, a first-inning game-saver -- as he did about what everybody else did.

Castellanos talked about the offense, the analytics department, Ranger Suarez' pitching performance and the fans who continue to give the Phillies an amazing home-field advantage. They're 6-0 at Citizens Bank Park this postseason with two more to play there in this World Series.

"The energy and the atmosphere here is second to none," he said. "The only thing I can compare it to is a European soccer game. It's tough to play here. I can't imagine what it's like for the Astros right now. They just really have zero breathing room and that's a good thing."

The Phillies lead the series two games to one. Castellanos helped get Tuesday night's rousing Game 3 win off to a good start when he made a sliding catch in right field to take away a hit from Altuve on the first pitch of the game. 

"If that ball falls, it could change the entire game," Realmuto said. "If Altuve starts off the game with another hit (as he did in the Astros' 5-2 win in Game 2), there's no telling how that game ends up going."

Castellanos' catch, a carbon copy of two other big ones he's made during this incredible postseason run, brought an early roar from the crowd of 45,712.

"That was as loud as I've heard," Realmuto said. "Maybe not quite as loud as Bryce's homer in the last series, but it was as loud as I've heard other than that."

The crowd had more to go crazy over in the bottom of the first inning as Bryce Harper belted a two-out, two-run homer against Houston's Lance McCullers Jr.

The right-hander had a miserable night. He gave up five homers, a record for one pitcher in a postseason game.

Harper hit a first-pitch slider that hung up in the zone like a piñata.

It looked like he knew what was coming.

He didn't know. But he had a hunch. So he was sitting slider.

"Of course," Harper said. "He throws that slider and that curveball heavily. But at the same time, I didn't want to get beat by anything else. So I just tried to see the best pitch I could and take a good swing on it."

In addition to Harper, Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh, Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins all hit homers against McCullers in the first five innings. Harper, Marsh and Hoskins all hit sliders. Bohm hit a hanging sinker. Schwarber hit a changeup in the shrubbery beyond the center field wall.

McCullers was hit so hard that there was speculation he was tipping his pitches. Hoskins, Harper and Realmuto all shot down that theory. 

Right after his home run, Harper spoke to both Castellanos and Bohm.

"Just trying to pass along information about what I'd seen," Harper said.

Bohm smiled and pretended to zip his lips when he was asked what Harper told him.

"I think any little tidbit of information that you can get helps," Hoskins said. "I know the camera caught Bohm and Harp talking. It's mostly about the shape of the pitches, where you need to see the pitch, what lane it needs to start in."

Castellanos credited the Phillies' analytics staff for providing tidbits on McCullers, who loves to throw sliders and curveballs, 51 percent of his pitches this season. He threw just two four-seam fastballs to lefty hitters in 96 plate appearances this season. Phillies hitters knew that.

"I'll just say that our analytics team is very good at picking up tendencies," Castellanos said. "All the information that we get as a team, not just on their starters, but on their bullpen guys, has been a huge help. We'll take any advantage on any of their pitchers that we can get.

"The people whose job it is to go find any information they can to make our lives easier is greatly appreciated. So it's a group effort.

"All the communication and information we can give each other is a huge help. Everybody here has bought into the bigger picture of winning a game. So no one right now is sulking or unhappy if they don't get the result they wanted. They understand the next person up is most important."

Realmuto scoffed when the idea of McCullers' tipping pitches came up.

"He's a guy we saw at the end of the year in Houston," Realmuto said. "We got to see his pitches then and, to be honest, he just left pitches in the heart of the plate today and we have a really good lineup and when you do that, guys are going to make you pay for it. It's not like we crushed out 12 hits off him and were hitting rockets all over the place. It was when he did make that mistake, our guys took advantage of it and capitalized."

Three homers in the first two innings. An unrelenting crowd. It can wear down an opponent. McCullers walked Schwarber to open the bottom of the first.

"The first couple of pitches against Schwarber, he immediately started looking and flicking at his nail," Castellanos said. "It's hard to play here in Philly, man. We could all kind of see that he was kind of iffy from the start of the game. I think we as a group sensed that and we didn't let our foot off the gas.

"I think now in the World Series everybody knows on that side that pretty much anybody in our lineup can hit the ball out of the park, so they're going to have to be that much more careful every time they throw the ball because they might not get it back."

Game 4 is Wednesday night. Aaron Nola pitches for the Phillies. Cristian Javier goes for the Astros. We'll see what the Phillies have on him. 

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