Was Framber Valdez using a foreign substance? Phillies react


HOUSTON -- The Phillies have rallied from behind often enough this season and this month, in particular, that it qualified as a mini-surprise Saturday night when they couldn't come up with the big hit they needed.

Framber Valdez was too filthy. The Astros lefty stifled the Phils, allowing one run and striking out nine over 6⅓ innings in Houston's 5-2 win. 

The Phils found themselves down five runs through five innings a night after falling behind 5-0 against Justin Verlander. They responded in the fourth and fifth innings Friday against the future Hall of Famer to tie the game and eventually won in extra innings, but there was no miracle in Game 2.

Valdez spun his curveball well with late, sharp break and his trademark sinker played well off of it. There's a reason he set the major-league record this season with 25 consecutive quality starts. He's a workhorse with one of the best repertoires in the game, and he's trusted his curveball enough lately to throw it more than 40 percent of the time in the playoffs compared to 28 percent during the regular season.

"I haven't seen a curveball break like that in a minute," said Nick Castellanos, whose seventh-inning double off of Valdez was the hardest hit ball of the night until Alec Bohm doubled in the ninth.

"His curveball was extremely good today. Just really sharp. It broke and took off quick.”

Was it, perhaps ... too sharp?

There was internet speculation that Valdez, who sweats a lot, was using a foreign substance. He was seen wiping his forehead and touching his right hand. The Phillies’ dugout noticed. He was checked throughout the game and umpires found nothing.

"It’s all over Twitter. The umpires check these guys after almost every inning and if there's something going on, MLB will take care of it," Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. 

The Phillies weren’t too concerned because Valdez was being examined and his mannerisms were similar to the last time they faced him on October 5.

"We've only faced him the one time. That's kind of how he was the first time, too," Rhys Hoskins said. "So, nothing really looked out of the ordinary to me."

Valdez switching gloves midway through the game did appear unusual.

"I didn't notice that, I was told that after the game," he said. "I didn't notice it mid-game. But that's not usually something that goes on unless it broke."

While no hijinks were discovered Saturday night, the Astros don't get the benefit of the doubt from much of the baseball world for obvious reasons. Their 2017 World Series trophy will always be tainted by the sign-stealing scandal that cost general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch their jobs.

There was also a report from Fox during Game 2 that catcher Martín Maldonado had used an illegal bat in Game 1.

Whether the Valdez controversy ended Saturday night or continues along with the series, the result of Game 2 won't change. The Phillies are headed home with a split.

“Nobody should think of it as anything like in the wrong way,” Valdez said. “I do it out in the open. But it's all tendencies I do. I do it throughout the game. Maybe distract the hitter a little bit from what I'm doing. Like maybe look at me, rubbing different things, and nothing about the pitch that I'm going to throw. I've been doing it all season.

”Again, just tendencies that Dominicans do just to be able to stay loose. Just tendencies. The important thing obviously is to win. And we're winning, obviously winning legally. But, yeah, just random tendencies.”

The Phils didn't have a runner in scoring position until the sixth inning Saturday when Schwarber walked and Hoskins singled. Valdez was still in the game and nearing 100 pitches, giving the Phils their best opportunity to chip away and make it a game. But Friday's hero, J.T. Realmuto, struck out swinging and Bryce Harper grounded into an inning-ending double play.

After catching breaks pretty much all postseason, the Phils experienced some tough luck in the seventh and eighth innings. With one out and Castellanos on third base, Jean Segura hit a deep flyball to left-center field that was just a few feet from either banging off the wall in left or landing in the Crawford Boxes for a home run. Instead, it was a sacrifice fly.

In the eighth, Schwarber nearly homered twice in the same at-bat. He hit one into the right-field seats for what was originally ruled a two-run home run, but after the umpires conferred, it was ruled a foul ball. It was, indeed, a foul ball. Schwarber crushed the next pitch to right field but Kyle Tucker caught it at the wall.

"It was close but it was foul," Schwarber said. "I was like, 'Oh, they see something I didn't see.' But foul ball.

"I've done that once in my career -- foul, then fair. It sucks. You want to be able to put some runs up there. I felt like we had some really good innings and we were one swing away."

The Phillies have already made history this postseason by becoming the only team to come back from deficits of at least four runs in both the LCS and World Series.

There wasn't enough magic Saturday, but this is a confident team headed back home to play three games in a row with the huge home-field advantage that Citizens Bank Park has become this October.

To a man, these players expect madness in South Philly Monday through Wednesday.

"I think Philly's coming," Castellanos said. "We're coming and the whole city is coming with us. The World Series is back at Citizens Bank. What more could anyone want?"

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