HOUSTON — Framber Valdez swapped his glove and his spikes midgame. He repeatedly rubbed his hands.
By the time he strode off the mound to a standing ovation and handed the Houston Astros‘ bullpen a seventh-inning lead, it was clear he had thrown a curve at the Philadelphia Phillies.
“This was a really good game for the fans, a really good game for our team and also for me,” he said through a translator after pitching the Astros over the Phillies 5-2 Saturday night to tie the World Series at one game apiece. “I’ve just been playing really inspired.”
Valdez made a five-run lead stand up after Houston’s lightning first-inning burst and Alex Bregman homered as the Astros rushed to a 5-0 lead for the second straight night. Unlike ace Justin Verlander in the opener, Valdez and Houston held on.
“His curveball was on tonight,” Phillies star Bryce Harper said after going 0 for 4. “It was big, sharp.”
Houston became the first team to open a Series game with three straight extra-base hits, and Valdez pitched shutout ball into the seventh, rebounding from a pair of poor outings against Atlanta last year that had left him with a 19.29 Series ERA.
He threw 42 curveballs among 104 pitches and got six of nine strikeouts with that pitch, three of them looking. He allowed four hits and one run in 6 2/3 innings, giving up a leadoff double in the seventh to Nick Castellanos, who scored on Jean Segura’s sacrifice fly off Rafael Montero.
Valdez said his hand-rubbing was inconsequential.
“Nobody should think of it as anything like in the wrong way. I do it out in the open,” he said. “It’s all tendencies I do. I do it throughout the game, maybe distract the hitter a little bit from what I’m doing, Like maybe look at me, rubbing different things, and nothing about the pitch that I’m going to throw. I’ve been doing it all season.”
Valdez started the game with a tan glove and spikes with orange and yellow trim, then swapped ahead of the second inning for a dark glove and dark cleats with a white stripe.
“Normally have different spikes when I warm up and the ones that I go into the game. Today I decided to start the game with the ones I warmed up in,” he said. “I had a long inning there and I was like, You know what, I’m going to change everything. I’m going to change my glove, my belt, my cleats. And those are just things that us Dominicans do, just some tendencies here and there.”
When the Phillies put two runners on for the only time against him in the sixth, Valdez struck out Game 1 star J.T. Realmuto with high heat, then got Harper to bounce a first-pitch sinker into an inning-ending double play.
Phillies manager Rob Thomson didn’t take issue with Valdez rubbing his palm - social media was abuzz, wondering if there was some banned sticky substance.
“The umpires check these guys after almost every inning and if there’s something going on MLB will take care of it,” Thomson said. “We saw it the last time he started, too.”
Jose Altuve, Jeremy Peña and Yordan Alvarez all doubled as Houston took a two-run lead four pitches in against Zack Wheeler. Shortstop Edmundo Sosa’s throwing error allowed another run in the first.
Bregman added a two-run homer in the fifth when Wheeler left a slider over the middle of the plate, Bregman’s sixth career Series homer.
A day after coming back for a 6-5 win in 10 innings, Philadelphia tried to rally in this one, too.
With the Phillies trailing by four runs, Kyle Schwarber hit a drive deep down the right-field line with a man on in the eighth against Montero that was originally ruled a two-run homer by right field line umpire James Hoye.
First base umpire Tripp Gibson signaled for umps to conference and the call was reversed on a crew chief review when it was determined the ball was just to the foul side of the pole.
Schwarber, who led the NL with 46 home runs this season and added three more in the playoffs, hit the next pitch 353 feet to right, where it was caught by Kyle Tucker just in front of the wall.
Ryan Pressly finished a six-hitter for a bullpen that lowered its postseason ERA to 0.89, giving up a run on when an first baseman Yuli Gurriel allowed Brandon Marsh’s grounder to skip past him and down the right-field line for an error.
Following the split in Houston, the Series resumes Monday night when Citizens Bank Park hosts the Series for the first time since 2009.
Of 61 previous Series tied 1-1, the Game 2 winner went on to the title 31 times - but just four of the last 14.
“I just can’t wait to get out on Monday and keep it rolling,” Segura said.
Altuve, who broke out of a 4-for-37 postseason slump with three hits, lined a sinker into left on Wheeler’s first pitch and Peña drove a curveball into the left-field corner on the second for a 1-0 lead. Alvarez fouled off a pitch and drove a slider high off the 19-foot wall in left.
Wheeler gave up five runs - four earned - six hits and three walks in five innings, a day after Aaron Nola struggled.
“I think everybody deserves a poor start every once in a while,” Thomson said. “Those guys have been so good for us for so long, and I fully expect them to come back and be ready to go and pitch well for us.”
Houston won 106 games during the season and Philadelphia 87, the second-highest win disparity in the Series behind the 93-win Chicago White Sox beat the 116-win Cubs in 1906.
RHP Noah Syndergaard will start Game 3 for the Phillies and RHP Lance McCullers Jr. for the Astros. Phillies LHP Ranger Suárez will take the mound for Game 4, and likely LHP Cristian Javier for Houston.
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