Culture / Sporting Life

Invincibility Shattered — Deadpan Genius Kyle Tucker Deserves Better, But Another World Series Game One Loss Needn’t Doom the Astros

These Phillies Know How to Battle, But So Do Alex Bregman and Company

BY // 10.29.22

J.T. Realmuto’s home run — a long ball that will be remembered forever in Philadelphia if these never-die Phillies end up winning this World Series — goes soaring high over Kyle Tucker’s head. Which seems especially cruel considering how much Tucker does in this game to try and give it a different ending for the Houston Astros.

But that’s baseball. And that’s how these World Series games seem to go for the Astros lately.

“Maybe, I could jump a little higher,” Tucker says later, his back against an Astros logo in the home clubhouse at Minute Maid Park.

In truth, a 7-foot-6 NBA player probably could not have leapt high enough to snare Realmuto’s 10th inning shot. It goes several rows back in right field, well out of the defensively-excellent Tucker’s reach. And stands up as the game winner in Houston’s 6-5 Game 1 loss, a loss in which the Astros’ ageless ace Justin Verlander gives up every bit of a 5-0 lead.

The turnaround — from the elevation of a rocking and roaring, feeling-the-moment Minute Maid Park enjoying a big lead to the thud of a 0-1 series deficit — is shocking. These Astros looked invincible in the first two rounds of their playoff run, roaring into this World Series with a perfect 7-0 postseason mark.

Back to reality. With a thud — and a Verlander dud.

But doubt? These 113 win Astros still seem a long ways from doubt.

“It’s just the first game,” Tucker says. “We’ve got plenty more to go.  We shift our focus to (Saturday night’s Game 2) and try and get that. And go from there. We can’t let this get to us and affect tomorrow’s game. We’ve just got to get to sleep tonight and come back (Saturday) with the mindset of trying to win.”

Tucker does everything he can to avoid another Astros’ World Series Game 1 loss. He hits home runs in first two at-bats, unleashes an uncharacteristically epic bat flip after the second one, pushes Houston to that 5-0 lead. Kyle Tucker deserves better than this ending.

“Impressive,” Astros rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña says of Tucker’s night. “He came through for us big time. Twice. It sucks we couldn’t pull it off. . .”

Instead, Houston drops to 0-5 all-time in World Series openers — and must quickly prove this is more like 2017 than 2019 and 2021. Time waits for no team in the World Series. Things can change quickly in the fall classic.

Back to reality. With a thud — and a Verlander dud.

The Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies met for Game one of the World Series Friday at Minute Maid Park
Kyle Tucker went deep and flipped his bat. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Astros pinch hitter extraordinaire Aledmys Díaz stands at his locker, trying to make sense of making the last out of the game after he thought he’d gotten on base. With two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning, Diaz gets hit by a pitch from Phillies reliever David Robertson. But home plate umpire James Hoye rules that Diaz leaned into the pitch, calling him back before Diaz even can take many steps towards first.

It turns out to actually be one of Hoye’s better calls of the night. But that does not make it easier for the Astros.

“Not really,” Diaz says when someone asks if he argued about it. “Nothing you can do about it, I already told him. Nothing you can do about it in the moment.”

“Impressive. He came through for us big time. Twice. It sucks we couldn’t pull it off.” — Jeremy Peña on Kyle Tucker

Sometimes the moments just don’t go your way. There is Luis Garcia, the relief hero of that epic 18th inning win in Seattle, getting called into extra innings in this game. And giving up that home run to Realmuto on a 98 MPH fastball, the fastest pitch he will throw this night.

Tucker becomes the first Astro to hit two home runs in a World Series game. Hector Neris, the former Phillies reliever turned Astros bullpen stalwart, gets a big strikeout to end a Philadelphia threat in the seventh inning. The Astros push the potential tying run to third base in the bottom of the 10th inning after Alex Bregman’s loud leadoff double off the scoreboard in left field.

And the Phillies still end up celebrating a big win in Houston’s ballpark.

“They’ve got a really good ball club,” Bregman says, decked out in an Albuquerque jersey to represent his hometown. “They keep fighting. Just like we do.”

Kyle Tucker Feels the Championship Moment

When Kyle Tucker hits his first home run, he turns to the Houston Astros dugout as he heads for first, bat flipping in his wake, and screams “Let’s Go!” The Astros’ sometimes pulseless-seeming, unflappable young star is into this World Series. Tucker is eager to grab the moment. Desperate to get a championship of his own.

As Tucker made a point of noting the day before, he doesn’t have a title. He’s never won a world championship ring. Yet. Like most of these Astros — with the exception of the five Core Astros that celebrated in 2017 — Tucker is chasing his first.

The day before this Game 1, Tucker is at his deadpan best. When a TV reporter breathlessly asks Tucker what he is going to dress up as for Halloween, the Astros right fielder notes: “Don’t we have a game that day?”

Yes, that would be Game 3 of the World Series, set for Halloween night in Philadelphia.

“I’ll probably be dressed as an Astro,” Tucker concludes, no smile needed.

Kyle Tucker may be a low key baseball killer, but he’s a killer nonetheless. One who is more than capable of slipping in some magic — and a cool bat flip — when you least expect it.

Tucker will hit two home runs in the first three innings, stake the Astros to a commanding 5-0 lead in this loud and Houston proud Game 1. And Houston ace Justin Verlander will give it all back, surrendering six hits and five runs in the fourth and fifth innings to continue his strange World Series malaise.

Verlander comes into this Game 1 with a 5.68 ERA in seven World Series starts and that only goes up to 6.07 by the end of this Friday night. The ageless ace is still winless in the World Series, still not exactly looking like himself in these playoffs.

Former Astros closer Billy Wagner, GOAT gymnast Simone Biles and Reggie Jackson’s greatness may all be in the ballpark. But Verlander’s is not.

“Disappointing,” Verlander says. “My team gave me a five run lead and I wasn’t able to hold it. I feel really confident that 99 percent of the time that I’m able to hold that lead.

“And unfortunately today I wasn’t.”

The Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies met for Game one of the World Series Friday at Minute Maid Park
Olympic GOAT Simone Biles was part of the World Series fun. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Longtime Astros lifeline Jose Altuve is now 4 for 39 in these playoffs. Verlander still doesn’t have a World Series win. And Houston still hasn’t won a World Series Game 1.

Whether that ends up meaning everything — or really nothing at all — will be decided in the new few days. Starting with Game 2 this Saturday night.

Back to reality. With a thud — and a Verlander dud.

Now what?

“It’s just turn the page,” Peña says. “We know we have a great team. We got the necessary pieces to have a special run.”

One loss doesn’t change everything. Unless the Astros let it.

Part of the Special Series:

PaperCity - Astros Playoffs