PHILADELPHIA – Lance McCullers Jr. didn’t have to look — he had seen enough already.
Rhys Hoskins had just lined a slider into the left-field seats for the Philadelphia Phillies’ fifth home run — five! — to punctuate one of the most calamitous starts in World Series history Tuesday night.
Only after hesitating did the 29-year-old Houston Astros right-hander turn for a peek. He really didn't have to.
Bryce Harper, Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh and Kyle Schwarber also went deep in the first five innings, 1,950 feet of long balls that powered Philadelphia to a 7-0 victory and a 2-1 Series lead.
Of course the Phillies would have five of a kind — they are, after all, a wild-card team.
“I don’t really get hit around like that, so I was a little bit in disbelief,” McCullers said, answering question after question for at least 10 minutes, telling a club official not to cut media off.
Five years after winning Game 3 of the Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, McCullers had a Charlie Brown-type outing, the first pitcher to allow five homers in any postseason game.
“Other than the homers, there was a lot of balls in the ground,” he said, chuckling and realizing what he had just said.
Was he tipping his pitches?
“I got whooped. End of story," he said. "This has nothing to do with tipping."
Schwarber walked leading off the first inning.
“We could all see he was kind of iffy from the start,” Phillies outfielder Nick Castellanos said.
Speculation started soon after Harper hit a go-ahead, two-run drive with two outs in the first, sending a knuckle-curve 402 feet into the right-center field seats. McCullers did a 360 and hopped off the mound, not even waiting for the ball to land.
“Kind of a lazy curveball,” catcher Martín Maldonado said.
Harper said something to Castellanos and pointed a finger at his teammate's chest after crossing the plate.
“Guys are always looking for something, always looking to see if they’re tipping their pitches,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We didn’t see anything.”
Harper then yelled “Bohmer!” before a quick chat with Bohm, who was on deck.
“Anytime you have information, you want to be able to give that to your teammates at any point,” Harper said. “Throughout the whole season we’ve done that.”
Bohm led off the second with the 1,000th homer in Series history, driving a sinker 373 feet into the left-field stands.
Did Harper tell him anything?
“Maybe,” Bohm said with a smile.
Thirteen pitches later, Marsh sent a hanging slider soaring 358 feet and just over the right-center wall, where the ball dropped out of the glove of 10-year-old Ty Kuhner of Wilmington, Delaware, and bounced back onto the field. The home run call was upheld after a video review.
Schwarber led off the fifth with the most majestic of the homers, launching a hanging changeup 443 feet off the shrubbery behind the center-field fence. McCullers crouched, then turned and watched with a pained look as the ball landed.
“It was kind of mind-boggling because he doesn’t give up homers,” Baker said.
Pitching coach Bill Murphy visited the mound. Five pitches later, Hoskins reached out for a slider and drove it 374 feet into the front of the left-field stands. McCullers was pulled with a seven-run deficit.
“I don’t feel like the 2-0 slider was a mistake to Marsh. I didn't feel like the changeup was a mistake,” McCullers said. “I didn't think the pitch to Harper was great — that wasn't a great one. The 0-0 to Bohm was supposed to be away, it leaked in. So I feel like some were good pitches that they just did a good job hitting and some were not the best pitches that they hit out.”
McCullers missed all of 2019 following Tommy John surgery and didn't make his season debut this year until mid-August because of a strained right flexor tendon.
He had never before given up more than three homers in a game. Now he had broken the Series record: The Chicago Cubs' Charlie Root gave up two each to the Yankees' Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1932's Game 3; Cincinnati's Gene Thompson allowed four against the Yankees (including one by Joe DiMaggio) in 1939's Game 3; and St. Louis' Dick Hughes yielded four against Boston in 1967's Game 6.
“Nothing else I can do now than prepare for a Game 7," McCullers said. “I still believe if we get to that point I'm the best guy to take the ball, and I've just got to pitch better.”
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