Phillies

Phillies see the two sides of Vince Velasquez in home-opening loss to Nationals

Phillies see the two sides of Vince Velasquez in home-opening loss to Nationals

BOX SCORE

The two sides of Vince Velasquez -- alternately fascinating and frustrating -- were on display in the Phillies' home opener Friday.

There was all that potential, the electric right arm and the crackling fastball, warming up a cold day with 10 strikeouts.

But there was also the maddening inconsistency and the inability to economize pitches and locate them precisely in big situations.

The Phillies provided some entertainment in their first game of the new season at Citizens Bank Park when they scored six unanswered runs in the late innings to nearly erase a big deficit against the Washington Nationals. In the end, however, their comeback came up short and they suffered a 7-6 loss to fall to 1-3 after four games (see Instant Replay).

There were plenty of ifs and buts in this one, but when it was over, Velasquez put the loss on himself.

"It was just a lack of performance on my end," he said. "It's frustrating to have a show like that at the end and not come out on top because of my performance."

The "show" that Velasquez spoke about was the six runs the Phillies scored in the final four innings, the outburst highlighted by Aaron Altherr's two-run homer in the seventh and Freddy Galvis' two-run homer in the ninth.

The "lack of performance" that he spoke about was his own work. Yeah, his rocket arm produced 10 strikeouts. But his lack of command caused his pitch count to swell to 94 and he didn't make it past the fourth inning. And in those four innings, he gave up a pair of two-run home runs.

Bryce Harper got him on a full-count changeup in the first inning. Daniel Murphy got him on a 2-2 fastball in the third inning.

On both occasions, there was a man on base via a walk.

And both times, Velasquez missed his spot with a pitch.

The changeup to Harper was thigh-high on the inner half of the plate.

The fastball to Murphy was right down the middle.

"If the changeup to Harper was on the outside of the plate, it might have been a different result," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Velasquez had been up on Murphy, 0-2, but could not put him away.

"Murphy is just a great hitter," Velasquez said. "It's hard to get that guy out. That fastball was right over the middle. I was all over the place. I couldn't command my fastball."

All of the Nationals' seven runs came on homers. Joely Rodriguez came in for Velasquez in the fifth and gave up a three-run homer to Jayson Werth (more on him here). It was Werth's 101st homer as a National and his 20th against his old team and it gave his club and 2016 NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer a 7-0 lead.

Going to the bullpen in the fifth inning is just too early, but in this case, it was a necessity.

"It's very frustrating giving up two home runs the first few innings and not giving your guys an opportunity to come out on top," Velasquez said. "I give our guys credit for battling the way they did, but I need to go deeper into the game."

Velasquez is 24 and still a developing pitcher on a developing team. It would be worth filing this performance -- the good and the bad -- to see if he grows from it down the road. It could end up being a learning experience.

"He knows what he has to do, but it doesn't come overnight," Mackanin said.

Scherzer -- 8-1 lifetime against the Phillies -- gave up just two runs over 6 2/3 innings. The Phillies scored four times against the Nats' bullpen and might have had more if Brock Stassi hadn't been nailed trying to move up to third on a ball to the backstop in the seventh. The ball shot hard off the backstop allowing Washington catcher Matt Wieters to catch it and fire to third to get Stassi. Mackanin absolved Stassi of any blame.

"Galvis, after the inning, was like, 'I've been playing here for however many years and that's the first time I've seen that happen,'" Stassi said. "I was like, 'Hmm. Figures it happens to me on my first game here.'"

In the eighth, the Phils got the first two men aboard then went down quietly against reliever Koda Glover.

Tommy Joseph popped out to end that threat. He has started off the season 0 for 13. Maikel Franco is 2 for 16 and Michael Saunders is 1 for 10.

Meanwhile, Odubel Herrera is 6 for 14 and Howie Kendrick is 5 for 13 (more on Herrera here).

So there is some good and some bad. Sort of like Velasquez's outing Friday.

Astros reach World Series, shut out Yankees in ALCS Game 7

usa-jose-altuve-astros.jpg
USA Today Images

Astros reach World Series, shut out Yankees in ALCS Game 7

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve embraced Justin Verlander as confetti rained down. An improbable thought just a few years ago, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series.

Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers combined on a three-hitter, Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Astros reached the World Series for only the second time by blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Verlander, the ALCS MVP, and fellow Houston ace Dallas Keuchel will have plenty of rest before the World Series begins at sweltering Dodger Stadium.

"I love our personality," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have the right amount of fun, the right amount of seriousness, the right amount of perspective when we need it. This is a very, very unique group. To win 100 games and still be hungry is pretty remarkable."

The Astros will try for their first World Series title, thanks in large part to Altuve, the diminutive second baseman who swings a potent bat, and Verlander, who switched teams for the first time in his career to chase a ring.

Four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees on consecutive nights after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first crown, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

"This city, they deserve this," McCullers said.

Clutch defensive plays by third baseman Alex Bregman and center fielder George Springer helped Houston improve to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and become the fifth team in major league history to capture a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four. A noted curveballer, McCullers finished up with 24 straight breaking pitches to earn his first major league save.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

"I know people are going to talk about how we didn't win many games on the road. There were some other teams that haven't won many games on the road, either. We just happened to run into a very good team that just beat us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros also eliminated New York in the 2015 postseason, with Keuchel winning the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia entered 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double. He snapped an 0-for-20 skid with an ground-rule RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night in a 7-1 win.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York went 1-6 on the road this postseason.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS exactly 13 years earlier.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh.

With McCullers in charge, the Astros soon closed it out.

"It's not easy to get here. And I don't take any of this for granted. And this is what we play for," Verlander said. "These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back, winning these games, just playing the World Series. Hopefully winning the World Series."

MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

usa-justin-verlander-game-6.png
USA Today Images

MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON — Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.