By Stephen Hawkins
HOUSTON — Yordan Alvarez hit a towering go-ahead homer and the Houston Astros clinched their second World Series title in six seasons and got Dusty Baker his first crown as a manager with a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6 on Saturday night.
As Alvarez’s 450-foot blast in the sixth inning disappeared, Astros starter Framber Valdez jumped and wildly screamed in the dugout as fans in the crowd of 42,948 went into a frenzy waving their orange rally towels.
Baker finally got his first title in his 25th season as a manager, the past three since being hired by the Astros to help the team regain credibility after the sign-stealing scandal that cost manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow their jobs, and made Houston the most reviled team in baseball.
The 73-year-old Baker, who had been to the World Series twice before as a skipper, is the oldest championship manager.
Houston’s coaching and training staffs circled around Baker after Nick Castellanos flied out to end it, jumping up and down, and chanting “Dusty! Dusty! Dusty!” in the dugout before they joined the players on the field.
Astros rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña was the World Series MVP after getting another key hit, a single to set up Alvarez’s drive.
The 25-year-old star from the Dominican Republic also won a Gold Glove award and AL Championship Series MVP — Peña is the first hitter to win those three awards in a career, and he did it all in his first season, per OptaSTATS.
Alvarez’s homer cleared the batter’s eye in straightaway center, the backdrop that extends 40 feet above the field, and made it 3-1. It was the first time the Cuban slugger connected since the first two games this postseason.
Christian Vázquez added an RBI single later in the inning to make it 4-1.
Valdez earned his second win of this Series. He had been in the dugout only a few minutes after throwing his 93rd and final pitch while striking out nine over six innings.
But the lefty had walked off the mound with the wild-card Phillies up 1-0 on Kyle Schwarber’s solo homer leading off the sixth.
Schwarber, who hit his third homer in the past four games, rounded the bases waving his raised empty hand in the same motion as the fans with their towels.
But by the time Schwarber batted in the eighth, the NL’s home run leader was reduced to bunting, trying for a hit to stir a dormant Phillies offense. His bunt went foul with two strikes, resulting in a strikeout.
In the sixth, Houston got two runners on base against starter Zack Wheeler for the first time in the game, with Jose Altuve reaching on a forceout after a hit batter and Peña singling.
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Phillies manager Rob Thomson went to left-handed reliever Jose Alvarado to face the lefty slugger for the fourth time in the series — Alvarez had popped out twice and been hit by a pitch the first three times.
And Alvarado had allowed only three homers to left hitters in his six big league seasons, until his 2-1 pitch, when Alvarez crushed the 99 mph sinker.
Alvarez hadn’t homered since Game 2 of the AL Division Series against Seattle, when his two-run shot in the sixth inning put them up to stay. That came after his game-ending, three-run shot in Game 1 for an 8-7 win.
Houston won an American League-best 106 games and reached its fourth World Series during a span in which it made it to the AL Championship Series six seasons in a row. The Astros made their only other World Series appearance in 2005, while still in the National League, and were swept in four games by the Chicago White Sox.
This was their third ALCS and second consecutive World Series since former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers revealed after the 2019 season, when he had gone from Houston for two years since being part of their 2017 championship, that the team had used a camera in center field to steal signs and signal hitters on which pitches to expect by banging on a garbage can.
Philadelphia was 22-29 when Joe Girardi was fired in early June and replaced by bench coach Thomson, the 59-year-old baseball lifer getting his first chance a big league manager — he was on the Yankees big league staff for 10 seasons with Girardi, and was part of their last World Series and title in 2009.
The Phillies finished the regular season 65-46 under Thomson, their 87 wins good for the sixth and final spot in the NL playoffs, on way to their first World Series since 2009.
Valdez became the only left-hander other than Sandy Koufax in 1963 to strike five consecutive batters in a World Series game. He fanned the side in the third, then Bryce Harper swung and missed a 97 mph sinker to start the fourth before Castellanos’ 10-pitch at-bat that ended with him taking a 96 mph pitch on the inside corner — and clearly disagreeing with home plate umpire Lance Barksdale.
When Wheeler was on the mound in between that, he broke at least three Houston bats in the bottom of the third, and had to make one play while a shattered bat flew over his head and around him. The barrel of Chas McCormick’s bat landed short of second base and then slid all the way to the outfield grass.
After midseason addition Trey Mancini singled for his first career postseason hit, a pitch after having to change bats, McCormick’s second bat of the pate appearance shattered at the handle by a 97 mph sinker, with the barrel finally landing short of second base and then sliding to the edge of the outfield grass. Wheeler made the play, and threw to second baseman Jean Segura for the force with the bat still moving between him and Mancini running toward the base.
Wheeler gave up three doubles and two runs in his first four pitches in losing Game 2. His first four pitches a week later resulted in a strikeout of Altuve, and the right-hander matched a career best needing only seven pitches to get out of the first inning.
Wheeler finished with 70 pitches, allowing two runs on three hits over 5 1/3 innings. He struck out five and walked one.
The Phillies had two runners on in the second, around two called third strikes, when No. 9 batter Edmundo Sosa hit a drive to deep left. The ball was caught more than 360 feet away from the plate by Alvarez, in the cutout beyond the Crawford boxes. That ball would have been a home run in at least two MLB parks.
Schwarber homed on a 2-2 sinker, going down on the 96 mph pitch to pull it 395 feet into the right-field seats — well away from the pole, and well over the fence. He hit back-to-back pitches a total of 756 feet in Game 2, the first initially called fair before a crew chief review determined the 403-foot drive curled just foul and then a flyball caught at the wall 353 feet away from the plate.
It was the 15th career postseason homer for Schwarber, who hit .412 in the 2016 World Series for the Chicago Cubs, when he was activated after being out since early April because of a torn ACL.
Phillies: In less than four months, the Phillies will be back in Texas to begin their 2023 regular season, about 250 miles away for the opener of an interleague series March 30 against the Texas Rangers.
Astros: Whether or not Baker and/or general manager James Click are back — neither is signed past this season — the World Series champs will play their 2023 season opener at home March 30 against the Chicago White Sox.