Pressure shifts to Phillies as Astros even World Series with no-hitter: What’s next in ‘race to 2’?

PHILADELPHIA — They were on the wrong side of baseball history, and as far as Rob Thomson was concerned, it ended at 11:27 p.m. ET when the Astros celebrated a combined no-hitter by congregating on the mound at Citizens Bank Park. Thomson, as he always does, waited in the dugout until every Phillies player had passed through — including those who trudged in from the bullpen. Then the Phillies manager followed them inside the clubhouse Wednesday night.

He had something to say after Game 4 of the World Series. Thomson stepped into the middle of the room.

“Last time this happened,” Thomson said, “we turned out pretty good.”

There weren’t many words said. Some players heard different versions of the speech.

Keep your heads up.

Turn the page.

Move on.

The last time this happened, it was not the World Series. It was April. Thomson was the bench coach. When five Mets pitchers orchestrated a no-hitter against them, the Phillies were 21 games into a journey that has now reached unthinkable limits. This, a 5-0 loss to the Astros that tied the series at 2-2 and guaranteed a return trip to Houston, was the Phillies’ 177th game of the season. Everyone is tired. The moment had never felt too big for these Phillies; they shoved their way into this postseason and have pushed everyone around. They were buoyed by the deranged energy inside this ballpark where, until Wednesday, they were undefeated in the postseason.

The Phillies now face real adversity, a rare occurrence during this surreal sprint toward a championship. There were few close calls Wednesday against Cristian Javier and the three other Houston pitchers — Bryan AbreuRafael Montero and Ryan Pressly; Jean Segura lined out to end the eighth inning and Kyle Schwarber missed a double down the first-base line by inches in the third inning. The Astros fired 89 four-seam fastballs — almost two-thirds of their total pitches — and the Phillies were helpless.

For one night, at least.

“Confident as ever,” Alec Bohm said. “I don’t think anybody’s worried. Tonight stays here. Tomorrow’s a new day.”

Alec Bohm reacts after striking out against Cristian Javier in the fifth inning. (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

Thomson does not often address his players as a group. He avoids it because he is not a manager who believes in performative traditions. Team meetings are not Thomson’s style.

It had been 66 years since the World Series had a no-hitter. The disappointment merited a quick visit to the clubhouse.

“He understands that it’s a loss,” Schwarber said. “We all understand it. When he comes in and he says that, it’s just that little. …”

Schwarber snapped his fingers.

“Everything’s good. Season’s not over.”

The season has, at most, three games remaining. The Phillies will start Noah Syndergaard in Game 5 — the final baseball game of the year in South Philadelphia. The bullpen will record more outs than Syndergaard will; a best-case scenario is something like four innings from the 30-year-old righty. Syndergaard has pitched in the World Series before, but that was seven years ago. He began that game with a 98 mph fastball that intentionally sailed over Alcides Escobar’s head. Syndergaard was a different pitcher then.

“I’m trying to remember what I was thinking seven years ago,” Syndergaard said Wednesday afternoon.

Even seven months ago feels like forever. Syndergaard was with the Angels, trying to reinvent himself. That process began with his first start, against the Astros. Justin Verlander opposed him. Now those two will end their seasons facing one another. They shared the same physical therapist who helped them navigate the arduous rehab process after Tommy John surgery.

“The whole opportunity just kind of gives me chills,” Syndergaard said.

The Phillies had a chance to start Zack Wheeler on regular rest in Game 5, but they opted to hold him back for Game 6 so he could have more time. Wheeler is not the same pitcher he was at the start of the postseason, and it’s a major concern. The Phillies looked at the schedule and determined having a bullpen game in Game 5 made the most sense because there is a scheduled day off between Games 5 and 6, but not Games 6 and 7. Thomson will have his full stable of relievers behind Syndergaard for Game 5.

Everyone is tired right now. José Alvarado looked vulnerable for the first time in weeks. He inherited a difficult situation in the fifth inning Wednesday night — bases loaded, no outs — and hit Yordan Alvarez with the first pitch he threw. It had been four days since Alvarado pitched. He did not think he was rusty. He was not trying to come inside on Alvarez. He just misfired.

“I was focused on the target,” Alvarado said. “The same Alvarado as always. The last thing I want to do there is hit him.”

Yordan Alvarez is hit by a pitch from José Alvarado to force in the Astros’ first run. (Eric Hartline / USA Today)

The Phillies will have regrets; they had jumped on every advantage to suffocate opponents at Citizens Bank Park. It has, to this point, allowed them to avoid the most pressure-packed scenarios in these postseason series. Now, to win the World Series, they know they must win at least one game in Houston.

They will have Ranger Suárez on regular rest for a potential Game 7. Aaron Nola, who was removed after 67 pitches in his 37th start of the season, could be an option for a few innings in Game 7 on three days’ rest. The Astros could counter with Javier on three days’ rest. But he threw 97 pitches. He would be limited in Game 7. “I don’t know, two or three innings, maybe,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. Maybe Houston trusts Lance McCullers Jr. enough to rebound from a horrendous outing in Game 3 to be a factor in a Game 7. Maybe the best thing that happened for the Phillies is that Baker decided to start McCullers before Javier in this series.

But Houston has the best starter left in this series, Framber Valdez, for Game 6. That, plus home-field advantage in two of the potential three games, provides an inherent advantage to the Astros.

“It’s just a loss,” Schwarber said Wednesday night. “Now it’s a race to two. See what happens.”

Astros closer Ryan Pressly and catcher Christian Vázquez celebrate the combined no-hitter. (Kyle Ross / USA Today)

What’s it like being on the wrong side of history?

“I really don’t give a sh-t,” Schwarber said. “We’ll move on to tomorrow. It’s cool. We’ll be in the history books, I guess.”

“It’s not good,” Bryce Harper said. “Not good.”

“Nobody cares,” Bohm said. “So what? What are you going to do? Cry about it? We move on. I don’t think anybody in here cares at all.”

The Phillies, all season, have preached about the team’s resilient qualities. They have seen some things since April. They have gone for a ride that few teams have ever enjoyed. It has never been straightforward. So, add being no-hit in the World Series to the book.

“These guys, they got a short memory,” Thomson said. “They’re going to go home tonight. They’re going to go to bed and come back in here tomorrow and prep and compete like they always do.”

But the manager knew: This wasn’t any loss. It had been 66 years since a team was no-hit in the World Series. He had to say something — brief and obvious — but something his players needed to hear.

“And,” Nick Castellanos said, “he was absolutely right.”

(Top photo of Kyle Schwarber: Bill Streicher / USA Today)

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