Zack Wheeler hit hard as Astros tie series heading into Game 3 in Philly


HOUSTON -- There was no great comeback in this one, no big break, no big defensive play, no big hit.

The Phillies came out flat in Game 2 of the World Series on Saturday night, were never really in the ballgame and suffered a 5-2 loss to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

The series is tied at a game apiece, heading into an off day Sunday and a Halloween night Game 3 at Citizens Bank Park on Monday.

The Phils overcame a 5-0 deficit against Astros ace Justin Verlander to win Game 1 of the series, 6-5 in 10 innings, on Friday night. In that game, the Phils got breaks (Verlander failed to turn a double play that opened the door for the Phillies to score three runs), stroked big hits (mostly from J.T. Realmuto) and made clutch defensive plays (see Nick Castellanos' game-saver in the bottom of the ninth.)

In this one, they did none of the above. 

Zack Wheeler, brilliant in his first four starts this postseason, was tagged for three runs in the first inning and two in the fifth. One of the runs was unearned as the Phillies made two defensive miscues in the first inning. Wheeler walked three and struck out just three.

The five runs attached to Wheeler's line were as many as he had allowed in 25⅓ innings over his previous four starts this postseason.

Of concern, Wheeler's fastball velocity was down from his previous postseason starts. He threw more sinkers and sliders than four-seam fastballs. His four-seamer averaged 97.2 mph in his last start and he threw 11 of them at 99 mph. In this outing, he reached 97 mph only three times and his four-seamer averaged just 95.6 mph, which was below his season average of 95.9.

Wheeler took a line drive off the inside of his left knee in the NLCS clincher Sunday at Citizens Bank Park. On Friday, he said the knee was sore, but he insisted it was not a factor. He did spend a month on the injured list late in the season with elbow tendinitis. Could that have been an issue?

While Wheeler struggled, Houston lefty Framber Valdez carved up the Phillies hitters with mostly sinkers and curveballs. Valdez held the Phillies to four hits and a run over 6⅓ innings. He walked three and struck out nine, five on curveballs. He threw 104 pitches, 42 of them curveballs, and the pitch produced nine swings and misses.

Valdez was 17-6 with a 2.82 ERA during the regular season and he led the American League with 201⅓ innings pitched.

One night after being stunned by the Phillies, who scored six unanswered runs in Game 1 and went ahead on Realmuto's homer in the 10th, the Astros came out looking for blood against Wheeler.

The Astros doubled three times and scored twice on Wheeler's first four pitches of the game, a fastball, a curveball and a slider. Center fielder Matt Vierling and shortstop Edmundo Sosa had defensive miscues behind Wheeler, which led to a run.

Wheeler kept the Astros off the board the next three innings but gave up a two-run homer to Alex Bregman in the fifth.

Two games into the World Series, the strength of this Phillies team -- its 1-2 punch of Wheeler and Aaron Nola -- has been blitzed for 10 runs by the Astros' offense.

After Saturday night’s game, manager Rob Thomson said Noah Syndergaard will start Game 3 with lefty Ranger Suarez set for Game 4.

While the Phillies headed home disappointed with Saturday night's loss, they were upbeat about being able to get one win on the road and reduce the series to a best-of-five event with the next three games at Citizens Bank Park. The Phils won Game 1 in both the NLDS and NLCS then lost Game 2 both times. They headed home to Citizens Bank Park for Game 3 in both series and did not lose a game. Citizens Bank Park, filled with raucous crowds, has been a huge difference-maker for the Phils this postseason and they need it to be again Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

This World Series is just getting started.

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