NEW YORK– History will be made this weekend at Minute Maid Park as confetti pours from the rafters with a World Series Champion awaiting to be crowned. Jeremy Peña and the Astros are on the doorstep of a parade in downtown Houston, approximately 27 outs away from becoming World Series Champions, leading the Fall Classic (3-2) entering Saturday. But, what’s holding that Houston celebration up? Bryce Harper and the ‘fightin’ Phillies plan to answer the bell in Game 6 and force what many deem the two greatest words in sports: Game 7.
“This is what it’s all about,” Harper said. “I mean, this is why you play the game; this is why you show up to spring training and you have an ultimate goal of winning a championship. This city, and this town is starving for that, and I think as an organization we’re starving for that as well.”
Philadelphia’s desire in extending the series, and keeping their title hopes alive falls upon the arm of right-hander Zack Wheeler. The 32-year-old held his own this postseason, ranking in the top ten among qualified starting pitchers in strikeouts (28), innings (30.1), ERA (2.67), and opponent batting average (.151). Knowing what’s at stake, Wheeler is prepared for the moment.
“I take a lot of pride in that and just try to be a stopper and give our team one more chance after tomorrow,” Wheeler said yesterday leading up to Game 6. “So tomorrow’s a must-win and I’ll take pride in that. Hopefully I can go out there and give us the best chance.”
“We just got to keep doing what we’re doing and concentrate on doing the little things,” said Phillies Manager Rob Thomson. “I always tell ’em, Focus on the little things and big things will happen. Don’t try to do too much, be yourself, good at-bats, play good defense, throw strikes, execute pitches, that type of thing.”
Nonetheless, Wheeler, who recently made his World Series career debut, became neutralized by Houston sluggers (José Altuve, Peña, Yordan Álvarez) immediately in Game 2, allowing two runs within his first four pitches thrown. He adjusted and eased in during the second, third and fourth inning, but again, the Astros bats were too much to be tempered with. Surrendering two runs in the fifth to increase the damage to five runs (four earned) across a five-inning frame, Wheeler, and the Phillies are anticipating better results this time around.
“I think it’s always just making the adjustments that you should be or that you think you should make, but not overcorrecting or over-adjusting at the same time,” said Wheeler. “I’m going to pitch to my strengths and hopefully I command the ball a little bit better this outing and I think that will help.”
The unpredictability out of his slider and curveball creates an unbalanced, off rhythm approach on hitters; expect Wheeler to rely on both pitches early in the counts, especially against the core of the Astros lineup. In addition, Houston’s offense produces by slugging the fastball, as well as capitalizing on misses in locations from secondary pitches, making for the ultimate challenge Wheeler and the bullpen must be up for.
The star-studded Astros Framber Valdez is scheduled to make the Game 6 start as Houston stands one victory away from capturing their second World Series title in franchise history. Similar to Wheeler, Valdez has proven to be a defiant factor in his teams October success, posting a 1.42 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 19.0 innings pitched this postseason.
Let alone appearing in a World Series, the 28-year-old, of Sabana Grande de Palenque, Dominican Republic, is cherishing what baseball has provided to him and his family. It’s not mentioned enough, but, baseball is more than just the action on the playing diamond.
His father, Jose Antonio Valdez Ramirez, traveled from the Dominican Republic to witness Valdez pitch in Game 2 of the Fall Classic last Saturday, marking the first time he’s seen his son pitch in person since he’s been in the major leagues. Valdez was resilient on the mound, recording nine strikeouts across 6.1 innings, surrendering one run in Houston’s Game 2 win.
— MLB (@MLB) October 30, 2022
“I’m so grateful,” his father said last Saturday. “I am so happy, happy, happy of what he’s been able to accomplish and proud of him for everything he’s done and to be here in the World Series.”
Valdez mentioned yesterday that his father will be in attendance for Game 6 as well. “Yeah, he will be there on Saturday,” he said. “Yeah, he was just really proud of me, what I’ve been able to accomplish, obviously in that game. Also, he thanked me for just pushing him to be able to come to the game.”
The left-handers sinker/curveball combination is one of the most prolific blends across MLB. Easily the go-to weapon against a Phillies lineup, who combined for two runs and six hits in their last two games, included with a combined no-hitter in Game 4 by Astros Cristian Javier, Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly.
Regardless of individual statistics, the superb confidence and composure out of Valdez separates him from the majority on the bump. He remains effective in his repertoire and has built up plenty of experience for the chance of clinching a World Series Championship at his team’s home ballpark.
“Just try and attack hitters early, try to breathe, try to stay calm, try to meditate,” Valdez said. “It’s something that’s really exciting. I think it’s something that really adds a lot to your career and I’m really excited for this opportunity.”
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Robert Rizzo writes for Latino Sports
Follow on Twitter: @RobertRiz994
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