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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Connections abound, but Philadelphia has an edge on Houston

Dodgers broadcaster Joe Davis at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on July 9, 2022. Davis’s day job is calling games for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but this season he also became Fox’s lead voice for the All-Star Game and the World Series.

The 118th World Series, which starts in Houston on Friday (8:03 p.m. ET, Fox) with the Astros hosting the Philadelphia Phillies, will be the ultimate test for an esoteric but fascinating theory: When it comes to professional sports, Philadelphia owns Houston.

The Phillies were in the city in early October, for the final series of the regular season, and they clinched their first playoff berth since 2011. It was a fitting place to do it, because so much of what’s good about Philly sports — not a hotbed of championship activity, if we’re being honest — can be traced to Houston.

The most important victory in Phillies history came in Houston, in the seismic 1980 National League Championship Series, when the team of Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton finally broke through to reach the World Series. They went on to win the first championship in team history.

The second came in 2008, and the pitcher on the mound at the end, Brad Lidge, came to the Phillies in a trade with Houston. Calling the action from the Phillies’ broadcast booth was the beloved Harry Kalas, whose son, Todd, is now the Astros’ television play-by-play announcer.

Harry Kalas came to the Phillies from the Astros in 1971, hired by longtime club executive Bill Giles, who also came from Houston. Kalas stayed on the job until his death in 2009, and now has a statue on the concourse at Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies play a recording of his victory anthem, “High Hopes,” after every win.

When the Phillies exiled Mitch Williams in 1993, after he had given up Joe Carter’s World Series-winning homer for Toronto, they shipped him to the Astros for another closer, Doug Jones, who promptly made the All-Star team. Several other Phillies standouts — starters Curt Schilling and Roy Oswalt and outfielder Hunter Pence — arrived through trades with the Astros.

This goodwill trend goes beyond baseball. The Philadelphia Eagles were 6-0 against the Houston Oilers and are 5-0 against the Houston Texans, with another game scheduled in Houston for next Thursday, on the off-day before a possible Game 6 of the World Series. The hero of the Eagles’ only Super Bowl win, in February 2018, was quarterback Nick Foles, a native of Austin, Texas. (Close enough.)

In basketball, when the Philadelphia 76ers sought a superstar in 1982 to help Julius Erving finally win an NBA title, they traded with the Houston Rockets for Moses Malone, the reigning MVP. Malone immediately won another MVP and helped the 76ers sweep the NBA Finals.

That was the last title for the 76ers, who acquired another former MVP for the Rockets, James Harden, in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets last year. The architect of the current 76ers is Daryl Morey, who previously guided the Rockets.

(And we haven’t even mentioned the buzzer-beater by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins to win the 2016 NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship, in Houston.)

So, yes: For a city that rarely reaches the top — the long-departed Athletics still have more titles than any existing local franchise — Philadelphia has a strange pattern of success when Houston gets involved. It should be no surprise that the greatest Phillie of all, Schmidt, picks this World Series to follow the trend.

“A key part of becoming a championship team is believing it and feeling it,” Schmidt said, noting that Houston has gotten used to reaching the World Series. “Four times in six years? Say what you want, but it would be hard to say that Houston’s hungrier than the Phillies. Every player wants to win the World Series when they’re in it, no doubt about it, but for the Phillies to accomplish what they’ve accomplished based upon where they were at one time during the season makes them sort of feel like they’re unbeatable.”

Houston is a great team, Schmidt acknowledged, and who could argue? The Astros are 113-56 this season, including a 7-0 romp through the American League playoffs. But to Schmidt, the Phillies’ mental edge will prevail.

“I think that carries a lot of weight in a series,” he said. “I think the World Series is going to play out this way: a split in the first two games, the Phillies winning two out of three at home, and the Phillies winning in seven games, 7-6.”

A seven-game series? Now that would be something new for the Phillies. All of the other teams that existed before the expansion era — including the Chicago White Sox, who did it in a best-of-nine series — have played a Game 7. The Phillies have played decisive fifth games but have still never played a postseason Game 7.

For openers

The Phillies were the visitors for the first official games at the Astrodome and Minute Maid Park, following exhibitions between Houston and the New York Yankees.

On April 12, 1965, they spoiled the opening of baseball’s first indoor stadium with a 2-0 victory behind Chris Short’s four-hitter and a two-run homer by Dick Allen, with Ruben Amaro Sr. scoring the first run. On April 7, 2000, at Minute Maid Park, the retractable-roof stadium originally named Enron Field (oops), another Phillies lefty, Randy Wolf, came away with a 4-1 win. Doug Glanville, who will work this year’s World Series pregame show for ESPN Radio, led off with a single and Scott Rolen hit the first home run.

Héctor the strikeout collector

The Phillies’ 10-season playoff absence can roughly be described as the Héctor Neris Era. They missed the postseason every year from 2012 through 2021, and Neris, a right-handed reliever from the Dominican Republic, pitched in the last eight of those seasons.

He left his mark in the Phillies’ record books with his final pitch for the team: a splitter to fan the Miami Marlins’ Jazz Chisholm Jr. for his 520th strikeout, breaking Ron Reed’s club record for strikeouts by a reliever. Neris signed with Houston last December and has worked in 75 games, including five in the postseason, for the Astros.

A Hall of Famer in the dugout

The Astros’ Dusty Baker, who ranks ninth on the career list for managerial victories, seems certain to someday be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. But the Phillies’ manager, Rob Thomson, is already a Hall of Famer, having been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Mary’s, Ontario.

A former minor league catcher, Thomson — who lives in Sebringville, Ontario, and was born in Sarnia, Ontario — played for the Stratford Hillers in Canada’s amateur Intercounty Baseball League. He also represented Canada at the 1984 Summer Olympics, when baseball was a demonstration sport rather than a medal-awarding competition. He is the majors’ first full-time manager from Canada in nearly 90 years, and he will be the first Canadian to manage in the World Series.

A restful Sunday

For decades, Major League Baseball had fearlessly scheduled at least one World Series game on a Sunday night, despite competition from football. Now, for the first time since the NFL introduced Sunday night games in 1987, there will be no World Series game on a Sunday. The World Series moves to a new schedule this year, with the first two games on Friday and Saturday, and Sunday reserved for travel.

Last year’s Sunday night World Series broadcast — Game 5 between Houston and Atlanta — drew 13.64 million viewers, about 2 million fewer than the competing NBC broadcast of the Dallas Cowboys’ game with the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8 of the season. A potential seventh game in this World Series would take place on Saturday, Nov. 5, which would be the latest the event has taken place. The last time it stretched to Nov. 4 was for the Game 6 finale of the Phillies’ and Yankees’ World Series in 2009.

Rookie on the call

This will be the first World Series for Joe Davis, who took over as Fox’s lead baseball play-by-play broadcaster when Joe Buck left for ESPN last winter. Buck had called each of the last 22 World Series and 24 overall, stretching to 1996, when Davis was a boy in Michigan aspiring to have a job like this.

“That’s the coolest part,” Davis, 34, said in an interview this summer, “thinking that Joe Buck has called all these World Series moments throughout my lifetime, and how these are burnt into my memory, and I’m pinching myself thinking that it’s going to be my responsibility to caption and capture those moments.”

Davis, who also calls games for the Los Angeles Dodgers, will be joined by analyst John Smoltz. This will be the fifth World Series in the booth for Smoltz, matching his total on the mound as a Hall of Fame pitcher for Atlanta.

Benched brothers

The NLCS featured the Nola brothers — Aaron, a Phillies starting pitcher, and Austin, a San Diego Padres catcher. The World Series teams also have brothers on either side, but neither is active. Nick Maton played 18 games at various positions for the Phillies, and right-handed reliever Phil Maton made 67 appearances for the Astros.

The brothers faced each other on the final day of the regular season, and Nick got a hit — which turned out to be very costly for his brother. Phil punched a locker stall in frustration after the game, breaking a bone in his pitching hand and costing himself a spot on the Astros’ postseason roster. The Phillies included Nick on their roster for the wild-card round but have left him off since.

Feeling a draft

The Astros have a few remaining cornerstones from their years of picking high in the draft — third baseman Alex Bregman, starter Lance McCullers Jr. and outfielder Kyle Tucker — but their three No. 1 overall picks are all gone. Carlos Correa, the top pick in 2012, left as a free agent for Minnesota (he’s on the market again), and Brady Aiken, the 2014 choice, was injured and did not sign. The 2013 choice, though, wound up with the Phillies this season: Mark Appel, a former Stanford University ace.

The right-handed Appel had pitched in the minors for the Phillies since 2016 — with a three-year retirement in between — before making his big league debut in June at age 30. He worked in six games with a 1.74 ERA before elbow inflammation ended his season. The Phillies, meanwhile, had one No. 1 overall draft choice during their rebuild: outfielder Mickey Moniak in 2016. Moniak hit .129 in parts of three seasons for the Phillies, who traded him to the Los Angeles Angels in August for right-handed pitcher Noah Syndergaard.

Reggie from Wyncote

The man with the most championship rings at the World Series will likely be Reggie Jackson, a close friend and special adviser to Astros owner Jim Crane. Jackson played for three title-winning teams with Oakland and two with the Yankees in the 1970s, part of a Hall of Fame career that earned him the nickname Mr. October.

Jackson, 76, was born outside Philadelphia in Abington, Pennsylvania, grew up in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, and is the only major leaguer from Cheltenham (Pennsylvania) High School. Alas, he spent his entire career in the American League before interleague play, and never played a game in Philadelphia — or in Houston, which was a National League city until 2013.

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