How would the Houston Astros respond after taking their first loss of the playoffs? Quickly, that's how. They laced three doubles and scored two runs in the first four pitches they saw off Philadelphia Phillies star Zack Wheeler, ambushing a dominant starter to take control of World Series Game 2. Behind the steady Framber Valdez, the Astros held on from there, winning 5-2 to even the series at 1-1.
The Astros wound up scoring three in the first-inning rush, then added two more on Alex Bregman's homer in the fifth. Wheeler, who had been spectacular in October up until Saturday night, weathered the storm to go five innings.
But unlike Game 1, a Phillies comeback was not forthcoming. Astros manager Dusty Baker once again trusted his starter, but this time it paid off. Valdez grounded the Phillies' rollicking offense, holding them to one run and handing it off to the bullpen.
The closest the Phillies got to threatening the Astros was when Kyle Schwarber smashed two different balls that came within inches of making it a two-run game in the eighth inning. The slugging leadoff man ripped two deep shots off reliever Rafael Montero — one was initially ruled a homer but called a foul ball after replay, the next landed in right fielder Kyle Tucker's glove a step in front of the wall.
An Astros fielding misadventure then put two men on for Bryce Harper, but he popped out to right field to end the inning.
The series will head to a surely revved up Philadelphia for Game 3 on Monday night.
Framber Valdez provides quality, as usual
The 28-year-old lefty, who earlier this season set an MLB record for consecutive quality starts, gave Houston exactly the type of game they needed. Thoroughly in control throughout, Valdez went 6 1/3 innings and allowed only one run. Especially in the early innings, he stifled the Phillies. Overall, he gave up only four hits, striking out nine and keeping the ball on the ground. Of the five hardest-hit balls against him, four were on the ground and two turned into double plays.
Sometimes overlooked with Verlander looming ahead of him in the Astros rotation, Valdez has been a spectacular starter. A gem of the Astros development system, only 10 qualified starters have a better ERA than him over the past two seasons.
Jose Altuve warms up with 3 hits
Altuve, the Astros' diminutive linchpin, has been ice cold at the plate in the playoffs. He entered Game 2 4-for-37 in the postseason. Then, Saturday night, he rattled off three hits and looked more like the threat he usually has been.
His ambush of Wheeler in the first inning started the Astros' early barrage.
He added two singles later, an encouraging sign as Houston looks forward in the series.
Astros catcher was using an illegal bat
Don't freak out, but an Astros hitter may have run afoul of the rules. Per a report by Tom Verducci on the Fox broadcast, Astros catcher Martin Maldonado was informed by MLB that the bat he used in Game 1 was illegal. The veteran catcher reportedly used a bat passed along by retiring legend Albert Pujols, but Pujols had been grandfathered in to using bat specifications no longer allowed.
Maldonado used a different bat in Game 2.
How'd we get here? Catch up on everything you need to know for the World Series: