The Philadelphia Phillies came out swinging in Game 3 of the World Series, and they didn’t stop until it was out of reach. They crushed five home runs off Houston Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr., starting with an opening shot from Bryce Harper, to grab a 2-1 series lead in front of the Philadelphia crowd.
Phillies starter Ranger Suarez, brought back into the picture for Game 3 by Monday’s rain postponement, tossed five scoreless frames. By the time manager Rob Thomson turned to the bullpen, he had the luxury of a huge cushion.
Astros skipper Dusty Baker raised eyebrows by not turning to his well-stocked, well-rested bullpen sooner. McCullers wound up allowing an MLB postseason record five home runs — a stat that reflects how he pitched, yes, but also how long he was left out there when he clearly wasn’t fooling the Phillies’ lineup. Even if he had been pulled before facing the lineup a third time through — conventional even in the regular season now — he would have allowed only three homers.
Bryce Harper leads charge vs. Lance McCullers Jr.
The Philly fireworks started almost immediately. After a walk to Kyle Schwarber, Harper demolished the first World Series pitch he saw at Citizens Bank Park.
In the second inning, the Phillies smoked two more homers to put the Astros in a demoralizing 4-0 hole. The last burst left McCullers with all seven runs on his tab, the most runs allowed by a World Series starter since 2004.
Still, McCullers could have been on the hook for the loss with just one homer given the punchless performance of the Astros’ offense. They didn’t manage a single extra-base hit, even against the second tier of the Phillies’ bullpen.
Was McCullers tipping his pitches?
If the rapid fire home runs didn’t raise suspicions that McCullers was tipping his pitches, then Harper’s pre-at-bat whisper to Bohm — who immediately homered — took care of it.
Internet sleuths and broadcaster John Smoltz were soon rooting through the ways the Astros starter may have been giving the Phillies a heads up about what was coming.
Notably, McCullers was refusing to throw his fastball, especially to left-handers, so they already had a bit of a leg up in being able to sit on his usually dynamic breaking balls. He threw only 14 sinkers (his primary fastball) in 78 pitches.
He settled down a bit after the initial burst of long balls, at one point retiring eight in a row.
But Baker did him no favors by allowing him to face the top of the order a third time. He allowed homers to Schwarber and Hoskins to make dubious history before finally getting the hook.
The Phillies now have a clear goal: Try to put the series away without going back to Houston. To do that, they will first need to win Game 4 on Wednesday night. Co-ace Aaron Nola, coming off a rough Game 1 outing, gets the ball for the Phillies. The Astros will start Cristian Javier, who was really their third-best starter all season, and one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball.
How’d we get here? Catch up on everything you need to know for the World Series: