It still amazes me how quickly a baseball playoff series, especially one of the seven-game variety, can pivot.
Just yesterday, the Houston Astros were being mocked for how their offense had gone to the land of wind and ghosts for a game-and-a-half or so — two full games if you count the back half of Game 1 when after they scored their five runs they went into vapor lock. Ranger Suarez was a lab experiment that couldn’t be solved by any human means, and Dusty Baker’s brain was retreating back down his neck and into his torso.
And then a second look at Aaron Nola, and Christian Javier on the mound, and suddenly the Astros can take a 3-2 lead back to Houston where Framber Valdez will be waiting if they can simply best the Phillies in a bullpen game tonight. Just 24 little hours.
When the calls went out for Baker to use the rainout of Game 3 as an opportunity to skip Lance McCullers Jr. and go to Javier on normal rest, it was because of the discrepancy of stuff between the two and the discrepancy of how the Phillies handle that stuff. The Phils crush breaking balls, and they promptly did so at first asking in Game 3 (Bryce Harper’s homer had an in-flight movie). Javier, on the other hand, throws zippy and impolite fastballs most of the time, and the Phightins are far less effective against heat. Especially high and fast heat. Javier’s average velocity of 94 MPH doesn’t quite reach the smoke point that the Phillies wilt at (95 MPH), but thanks to having one of the highest “rise” marks on his four-seamer, Javier’s fastball plays up beyond what the actual velocity is (we know fastballs don’t actually rise but Javier’s sinks less than just about any other pitcher’s on the way to the plate. It puts up quite the fight with gravity).
We know the Phillies didn’t get a hit all night. Javier threw 70 fastballs out of his 97 pitches. The Phillies put eight of them in play. As you can see, Javier mostly kept them up in the zone, where that “rise” would play even better.
That didn’t change when Baker had to pull Javier after six innings thanks to his pitch count (97). Bryan Abreu threw seven fastballs, none lower than 97 MPH, and didn’t see one put in play. Rafael Montero only offered one non-fastball of his 10 pitches, and was barely touched. Only Ryan Pressley gave the Phillies a look at something else for the most part, and by then it was too late.
It’s just one game, and the Phillies could come prepared to hit a bunch of cheese with Verlander on the mound tonight. Verlander attempted this gameplan in Game 1, except he couldn’t really find the zone with it after the first couple of innings. The map is clear, however.
It also leaves Baker in something of a quandary should this get to a Game 7, because that would mean it’s…yep, McCullers’ turn. Or Javier on three days’ rest? A combination of the two? Everything is in play for a Game 7 of course, but had Baker pushed Javier up to Game 3 he would have him locked and loaded for Game 7 should we get there. Mighty oaks from little acorns, children.
A special mention for Baker’s decision to insert Aledmys Diaz into the lineup. Diaz came up in the 10th of Game 1 with the Phillies trailing. It’s important to note that Diaz is hitting .056 in the postseason before Game 4. He got up 3-0, after attempting to lean into a curve to get a free base and being one of like three hitters who gets called for that per season. Again, hitting .067 at this point, Diaz proceeded to swing at a 3-0 pitch and miss it by a good two feet, before grounding out on the next pitch. This was the guy Baker had to have up.
The bottom of the Astros lineup has been a giant sucking sound all postseason, but in Game 3 Baker rediscovered that David Hensley was still breathing oxygen and he actually provided a hit, something that Trey Mancini or Diaz or any other goofus in the bottom third of the Astros lineup could claim.
But no, Baker reinstated Diaz into the lineup, where he got three of the worst ABs imaginable and three Ks. The kicker was in the top of the second, when Michael Tucker attempted to create a rally all on his own by doubling and then advancing to third on the next AB when Alec Bohm failed to look him back to second while throwing to first. Christian Vasquez walked, which brought Diaz to the plate with two on and one out. The Phillies were giving Diaz the entire right side of the infield.
Now, normally I’m not one for a hitter going away from his usual approach. There have been treatises — too many to count — written on why hitters just don’t take the free single when infields shift. But this is Aledmys Diaz. He’s hitting .056 up to this AB. He’s just had a hilariously futile attempt in Game 1. He can give the Astros their first lead in Philadelphia.
He swung wildly at four of the five pitches he saw, furiously trying to yank them to Wilkes-Barre. Of course, he struck out. May we all one day find the unwarranted confidence of an Aledmys Diaz coursing through our veins and making us think we’re capable of the greatest feats.
Let’s end with Kylian Mbappe and his goal yesterday against Juventus. This is some original Ronaldo shit — the Brazilian one — the kind of goal that got him a NIke ad in America when soccer players didn’t get NIke ads in America:
May Frederico Gatti’s family find solace in the knowledge that he lived his dream of playing for the most famous club in Italy, before Mbappe buried him 20 yards from goal at Allianz Stadium. Then the accuracy to go post and in after beating two other defenders. The best find serenity at the most chaotic moments.