Phils’ early defensive miscues open door for Astros

Two off-target throws in first inning help Houston plate third run

HOUSTON — As Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler came out laboring in the first inning on Saturday, Astros hitters came out swinging during Game 2 of the World Series. At that juncture, it was poor timing for Philadelphia’s defense to lapse.

During the Phillies’ 5-2 loss to Houston at Minute Maid Park, which split the series 1-1, three straight doubles gave the Astros a 2-0 lead after only four pitches from Wheeler. But the right-hander was doing solid damage control until back-to-back mistakes were made behind him.

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With one out, Kyle Tucker skied a high but routine fly ball to center field. As center fielder Matt Vierling camped under it to make the catch, Yordan Alvarez tagged up and bolted for third base. Vierling’s throw to third baseman Alec Bohm got away, as Alvarez slid safely into the bag.

“I knew that the ball was pretty high up in the air, so I wanted to make sure I was under it,” Vierling explained. “Looking back on it, I would have liked to get a couple more steps behind that, but I still thought that I could make a pretty strong throw to third base. It was, but it was just a little bit of a short hop.”

Astros’ three-run 1st inning
The 91.9 mph throw bounced to Wheeler, who was backing up Bohm to prevent an error.

“If that ball is two or three feet with a better bounce, he’s probably out. I wasn’t surprised [Alvarez tagged up]. I had a feeling he might,” Vierling said.

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It still looked like Wheeler would escape with only the two runs allowed. Yuli Gurriel followed with a routine two-out grounder to the left side. The normally sure-handed shortstop Edmundo Sosa fielded it cleanly, but his throw to first base was in the dirt. First baseman Rhys Hoskins botched the scoop, and the ball skipped out onto the dirt as Alvarez scored the unearned run for a 3-0 Astros lead.

Alvarez scores on Sosa’s error
“I tried to do my best to get that out,” Sosa said via translator Diego Ettedgui. “I could have made a better throw, definitely. At the end of the day, I made an error. It was a run that cost us a little momentum in the game. But you just got to move on from that.”

Acquired by the Phillies from the Cardinals on July 30, Sosa posted six outs above average this season, per Statcast.

“It was an error or a throw that Sosa doesn’t usually make,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “He’s a pretty accurate thrower, but you never know. I thought that Zack should have come out of there with only two runs, and maybe it’s a different story. But you just got to move forward and keep plugging away.”

Philadelphia was ranked near the bottom of the Major Leagues in team defense this season; it ranked 25th in defensive value per FanGraphs (-20.3). But the club has mostly had sound defense while winning 10 of its previous 12 games in this postseason.

Alec Bohm’s leaping catch
One other costly mistake came in the sixth inning of Game 2 of the NL Division Series vs. the Braves. Coincidentally, Wheeler was on the mound when Hoskins missed a two-out grounder from Matt Olson for an RBI single that led to a three-run rally in a 3-0 loss on Oct. 12.

Matt Olson’s RBI single
The right-handed Sosa and Vierling didn’t start Game 1, but they were in Thomson’s Game 2 lineup because Houston started a left-hander in Framber Valdez.

Even though shortstop Bryson Stott had some good plate appearances on Friday — with two walks — Thomson valued Sosa’s defense.

“We’ve been doing this the whole time with [lefties and righties]. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Sosa, too,” Thomson said before the game. “And Wheeler’s got a heavy ground ball, and Sosa’s an elite defender.”

Zack Wheeler on rough start
In the fifth inning with one out and Jose Altuve on first base, Alvarez’s hustle paid off again for Houston. After he grounded to third base with a runner at first, the Phillies were unable to turn the double play. The next batter, Alex Bregman, hit Wheeler’s 2-0 pitch for a two-run home run to left-center field that made it a 5-0 game.

“I think the credit for that should go to Yordan for hustling down the line and keeping that inning alive, to be honest,” Bregman said. “It was a bang-bang play at first. I feel like this team plays hard and never takes a pitch off. To be able to add some insurance was huge, especially against another great team that we’re playing.”

Alex Bregman’s two-run homer
The Phillies have overcome the odds throughout the postseason. But on Saturday, their defense opened the door, and the Astros were more than happy to walk right through on their way to an important win.