October 4, 2023

Astros tie World Series as Zack Wheeler’s velocity drops


Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler walks back to the dugout after giving up three runs during the first inning in Game 2 of baseball's World Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

When the Phillies are trailing, at least in this postseason, someone usually steps up with a big hit or a big play.

Saturday, that did not occur. And it will not be every night.

The Phillies came out flat in Game 2 of the 2022 World Series and were never really in the ballgame as they 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, leading up to Halloween night, Game 3 at Citizens Bank Park on Monday.

Zack Wheeler, who has been sharp in his prior starts this postseason, allowed three runs in the first inning and two in the fifth. One of the runs was unearned as the Phillies made two errors 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.

The biggest concern is 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. Saturday night, 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. This may have been the problem.

While Wheeler struggled, Houston lefty Framber Valdez cooked the Phillies lineup with mostly sinkers and curveballs. Valdez held the Phillies to four hits and a run over 6 1/3 innings. He walked three and struck out nine.

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 firing against Wheeler. The Astros doubled three times and scored twice on Wheeler’s first four pitches of the game. Center fielder Matt Vierling and shortstop Edmundo Sosa made errors 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 being its top-two pitchers: Wheeler and Aaron Nola, have been handed 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 head home dissatisfied with Saturday night’s loss, they were upbeat about being able to get one win on the road and lessen the series to a best-of-five event with the next three games at home, 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 boisterous crowds, has been a huge difference-maker for the Phils this postseason and they need it to be again Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights.

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