PHILADELPHIA — After he leaped against the right-center-field scoreboard and secured the catch of his life — a catch that, depending on what the Houston Astros do the rest of this week, could go down as one of the most memorable and important in baseball history — Chas McCormick just laid there, back to the warning-track dirt, feet sprawled out in front of him, glove to the sky.
He looked up at the faces in the crowd and saw himself as a young, die-hard fan of the Philadelphia Phillies. He saw the 14-year-old boy who had his spirit crushed by the 2009 World Series loss to the New York Yankees, only this time he was the one delivering all the pain.
“It was weird,” McCormick said. “It felt like a dream.”
It wasn’t. The Astros, propelled by McCormick’s improbable ninth-inning catch, are one win away from another World Series championship. They rode a gutsy pitching performance from veteran Justin Verlander, a spectacular offensive showing from rookie Jeremy Pena and a couple of late-game defensive gems — first by Trey Mancini as a first-base replacement, then by McCormick — to a 3-2 victory over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in Thursday night’s Game 5.
Now they’ll have two chances in Houston to secure their first title since the tainted one of 2017.
“Zero complacency,” Verlander said after securing his first win in his ninth World Series start. “We’ve been in this situation before.”
The Astros recently lost two World Series to underdog teams from the National League East, first the Washington Nationals in 2019 and then the Atlanta Braves in 2021. It seemed as if it might happen again this year, when the Phillies, a team that won 19 fewer regular-season games, earned a split from Houston and took a 2-1 Series lead with a five-home-run barrage in Game 3 in Philadelphia.
But Cristian Javier and three relievers combined for a no-hitter in Game 4, and then an assortment of others contributed to a crucial, Series-swinging victory in Game 5.
It began with Verlander, who shook off a leadoff home run from Kyle Schwarber, fought through lacking fastball command and found his slider to contribute five innings of one-run ball. Verlander departed to a 2-1 lead thanks to Pena’s first-inning single and fourth-inning homer.
The Astros had extended their advantage to two runs by the eighth until Jean Segura contributed an RBI single, breaking the Phillies’ 20 at-bats hitless streak with runners in scoring position.
There were runners on the corners with one out, the Phillies’ lineup was close to turning over a fifth time, and Astros manager Dusty Baker went to his closer, Ryan Pressly, to try to convert his first save of more than four outs since July 14.
“It’s the postseason,” Pressly said. “You got to go out there and get outs whenever you’re called upon to go do ’em.”
Pressly promptly struck out the Phillies’ No. 9 hitter, Brandon Marsh. Next up was Schwarber, the Phillies’ fearsome left-handed slugger. By that point Mancini was in the game at first base in place of Yuli Gurriel, who had injured his knee on a scary rundown collision the inning before.
Mancini had basically been in exile, his 0-for-18 start to the postseason keeping him out of the lineup. It had been nearly a month since he spent a game at first base; most of his pregame work in recent weeks had come in left field, the position the Astros often needed him most.
“But it’s my natural position,” Mancini said of first base. “I’ve been playing there since I was playing T-ball.”
Astros bench coach Joe Espada, noting Schwarber’s tendencies, got Mancini’s attention and informed him to hug the right-field line. Four pitches later, Schwarber turned on Pressly’s slider and sent a 99 mph one-hopper in that direction. Mancini fielded it on his knees and stepped on first base to end the inning.
“That ball gets by him,” Pressly said, “we’re looking at a different game.”
The same could be said of the ball J.T. Realmuto hit the next inning. The Phillies were down to their final two outs, and their superstar catcher stayed back on a 1-1, outside-corner slider and hit an opposite-field drive that seemed primed for extra bases. It could have gone for a triple, given the weird ways baseballs bounce off that spot at Citizens Bank Park. And the hot-hitting Bryce Harper was up next.
“When the balls are hit that way, sometimes they stay here and sometimes they go in another direction,” longtime Phillies reliever and current Astro Hector Neris said. “He was going to extra bases no matter where it went.”
McCormick, who claims to have been able to dunk a basketball, sprinted 92 feet, gathered himself and timed his jump perfectly, stretching his right hand up near the white stripe that outlines the top of the scoreboard and somehow securing the catch.
Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker, who had come over to back McCormick up, shot his fist into the air. Pressly placed his hands atop his head and kept his mouth ajar as he looked toward the outfield.
“Holy s—,” he recalled thinking.
“Incredible,” Mancini said. “I thought off the bat it was a homer. If not, off the wall.”
McCormick, now 27, grew up in West Chester, 30 miles west of Citizens Bank Park, and attended college about a 90-minute drive away. McCormick still maintains a deep fanhood for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles; all of his closest friends also continue to root for the Phillies. His catch made him think back to the one Aaron Rowand made against the center-field fence in 2006, which bloodied his nose.
“That catch will never leave my head,” McCormick said. “I remember watching that live on TV and it was amazing.”
McCormick saw anger, disappointment, shock when he looked up at all those faces in the crowd. About a dozen friends and family members were part of a sold-out crowd of 45,693, and suddenly they all went silent.
McCormick took it all in. He laid on the ground, and for a moment time stood still. He didn’t want to get up.
“I wanted to lay there longer,” McCormick said. “If it were the last out, I would’ve laid there all night.”