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Astros defeat Phillies to pull level in World Series

(AFP)

Houston starting pitcher Framber Valdez struck out nine over 6 1/3 innings on Saturday, sparking the Astros over Philadelphia 5-2 to pull level in the World Series.

The 28-year-old Dominican left-hander, a 17-game winner in the regular season, allowed only one run on four hits with three walks to frustrate Phillies batters.

As a result, Houston equalized at 1-1 in Major League Baseball’s best-of-seven championship final, which shifts to Philadelphia for games three through five from Monday through Wednesday.

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The Astros, playing in their fourth World Series in six seasons, seek their first title since 2017 while the Phillies, in the playoffs after an 11-year absence, seek their first crown since 2008.

The Phillies became the first team in 20 years to rally from five runs down to win a World Series game in capturing the opener 6-5, ending the Astros’ unbeaten run in this year’s playoffs.

Houston leadoff hitter Jose Altuve, batting 4-for-37 in this year’s playoffs, went 3-for-4 at the plate.

“My confidence and timing were there tonight and hopefully I’ll keep going,” Altuve said. “I got a couple good pitches I could put a hit on and made some good ones.”

Valdez struggled in last year’s World Series against Atlanta, losing game one and giving up a grand-slam homer in the first inning of game five, which Houston rallied to win.

But he was more than equal to the task in a crucial game, mystifying Phillies batters with masterful command of his pitches.

“He was great,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said of Valdez. “His sinker was good. His breaking ball, once he got tired, was excellent. He was tough.”

The Phillies went only 2-for-17 with runners on base.

Houston’s first three batters — Altuve, Jeremy Pena and Yordan Alvarez — all doubled on only four total pitches from Phillies starter Zack Wheeler to provide the Astros a quick 2-0 lead.

“I was just trying to get my pitch and be on time, basically get a good pitch to hit and hit it hard,” said Altuve. “It’s always good with one swing of the bat to get the boys going.”

Alvarez took third base on Kyle Tucker’s fly out to centerfield and raced home on an error by Phillies shortstop Edmundo Sosa to give Houston a 3-0 lead after one inning.

Alex Bregman blasted a two-run homer off Wheeler with two out in the fifth inning to boost Houston’s lead to 5-0, the same edge the Astros had squandered the night before.

Bregman’s six career World Series homers are the most by any third baseman in MLB history.

The Phillies, 0-for-7 with runners on base through five innings, broke through in the sixth when Kyle Schwarber walked and Rhys Hoskins singled. But Valdez struck out J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper grounded into a double play to end the threat.

Philadelphia scored to pull within 5-1 in the seventh inning when Nick Castellanos doubled, took third on Alec Bohm’s ground out to shortstop and raced home on Jean Segura’s sacrifice fly to left field.

Video nixes homer 

Bryson Stott drew a 12-pitch walk to open the Phillies’ eighth and Schwarber hit a towering blast to the right-field pole.

Schwarber rounded the bases with what appeared to be a two-run homer but a video review by the umpires ruled it was a only foul ball and Schwarber later hit a deep fly out as Houston escaped the inning without surrendering a run.

In the ninth, Astros relief pitcher Ryan Pressly surrendered a one-out double to Bohm, who scored on a two-out fielding error by Houston first baseman Gurriel before Stott grounded out to end the game.

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