2022 World Series: Lance McCullers struggles in loss; how will Astros respond?


PHILADELPHIA — The Houston Astros, the favorites who entered their fourth World Series in six years with an undefeated postseason record this year, are no longer in the driver’s seat. After dropping Game 3 in a 7-0 loss to the Phillies, they’re starting to look like the underdogs.

This is a shocking turn of events for Houston, especially considering they are facing a Phillies team that entered the playoffs with the third-best record in the NL East. While the Phillies continue to surprise, it’s the Astros, who held every paper advantage in the series, who are falling.

It was hard to find anything flatter than Lance McCuller Jr.’s pitches. in Tuesday’s loss. The Astros right-hander became the first pitcher in postseason history to allow five home runs in one game. Only one pitcher in the past 83 years had allowed even four home runs in a World Series game, and that was Cardinals right-hander Dick Hughes in the 1967 Fall Classic against the Boston Red Sox.

Bryce Harper and the Phillies combine in Philadelphia’s wild Game 3 World Series victory

Bryce Harper and the Phillies combine in Philadelphia's wild Game 3 World Series victory

Ben Verlander and Alex Curry dissect the Philadelphia Phillies’ big win over the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the World Series. The Phillies hit five homers; was astros starter lance mccullers jr. flipping?

Part of the reason McCullers coughed up dingers to Bryce Harper, Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh, Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins was because he lost his location on some off-speed pitches and the Phillies rushed to punish their mistakes.

“I got a scream,” McCullers said. “End of story.”

But this is not the end. There’s more to Houston’s Game 3 loss: McCullers should never have been left in the game long enough to give up five home runs in the first place.

Astros manager Dusty Baker appeared asleep at the wheel. It took until Schwarber hit a two-run bomb that extended the Phillies’ lead to 6-0 for Baker to even get a reliever in the bullpen. It didn’t take until his team was trailing 7-0 for the skipper to make the slow walk to the mound and catch the ball from McCullers with one out in the fifth inning. Baker’s decision-making might have signaled, perhaps inadvertently, to the Astros, “Hey, we’re waving the white flag in this Game 3. Let’s try to get them tomorrow.”

“The thought process was the fact that I had two good innings, two really good innings, and then they hit a blooper, a homer, and then I couldn’t get anybody going,” Baker said. “I mean, it was my decision.”

And she was a bad one.

Quick hooks and multiple pitch changes are common in modern baseball, but even more so in the World Series. Aggressive management, like the style of Phillies skipper Rob Thomson in Game 1, is usually rewarded. Meanwhile, Baker’s decision to leave McCullers mirrored his thinking in Game 1, when Baker opted to leave Justin Verlander long enough for the Phillies to score five runs on him.

After that Game 1, Baker said he didn’t want to “just go through your entire bullpen so early in the game.” And on Wednesday, after Game 3, Baker mentioned again that he wanted to refrain from shuffling the Astros’ entire pitching staff.

“I understand the reality of the game right now, I’m trying to eat out,” McCullers said. “I’m trying to save our bullpen.”

Save the bullpen for what? The Phillies hold a 2-1 lead in the World Series and will enter Wednesday just two wins away from glory.

It was obvious that the Phillies were on top of McCullers’ off-speed pitches, and it was clear that Houston’s stellar relief arms would have given the Astros a better chance of keeping them in the game. The Astros sported the best bullpen ERA (2.80) in the major leagues in the regular season. But Baker’s cautious decision-making left most of Houston’s best weapons unused Tuesday.

The Phillies make Game 3 of the World Series a home run derby

The Phillies make Game 3 of the World Series a home run derby

Bryce Harper, Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh, Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins hit home runs to help the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Houston Astros 7-0 in Game 3 of the World Series.

There really wasn’t a need to “save the bullpen” since, after Monday’s rainout, those reliever arms hadn’t pitched since Saturday night in Houston and, as such, were very well rested.

“I think Dusty understands the type of competitor that I am and I think he knows that he’d want to be out there if there’s an opportunity to save our bullpen,” McCullers said. “Even if I’m not pitching my best, if the game gets to that point where we feel like it might be hard to come back, but we’re trying to steal and save our arms.”

In the process of saving his arms, the Astros’ deficit grew and grew until, finally, his blowout loss was in the books. But hey, that’s fine with their dugout leader, Baker seemed to indicate. With the Astros down a game to two, they will look to bounce back tomorrow.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Mets for the New York Daily News. Follow her on Twitter at @Deesha Thosar.


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