PHILADELPHIA — In the 32 days since he last had a hit, Trey Mancini has had plenty of time to imagine how he might contribute to his team’s World Series run. Maybe he would start at the designated player and drive a line into space. Maybe he would come in as a pinch hitter and put a ball against the wall. Maybe he would score on an infield single. Anything, really, to feel like it had an effect on one Star team that traded for him expecting one.
Instead, as he stood in the Houston clubhouse after a 3–2 victory in Game 5 of the World Series to bring the Astros within one win of a championship, he heard his teammates praise him for a glove he didn’t even design. Don, a glove that held a lead, ended an inning and struck it out Phillies“The best chance in a rally.
“It was an unbelievable game,” said third baseman Alex Bregman, as he named Mancini the player of the game amid loud cheers. “To come off the bench and do it – it was a game changer.”
“Thank you for putting up with me,” Mancini told them. “I didn’t exactly expect to do it with the glove, but I’m glad to somehow manage.”
Half an hour earlier, he was almost ready to throw something. With two on and two outs in the top of the eighth inning of Game 5 of the World Series, the series knotted at two games apiece, Houston leading the Phillies by two, manager Dusty Baker sent Mancini to pinch hitter Yuli Gurriel . , who had twisted his right knee and was caught in a situation in the seventh. Mancini did what he’s done all postseason: He missed two pitches he could handle and swung at one he couldn’t.
“It’s probably a little bit between pitches,” hitting coach Troy Snitker explained: a little late on fastballs, a little early on off-speed stuff. Just never in the right place at the right time.
They can diagnose the problem, but they haven’t been able to fix it yet. Perhaps in the offseason Mancini will renew his swing. Meanwhile, he mostly just keeps trying and keeps feeling bad. In the two months after Orioles sent him to the Astros at the deadline, Mancini had a .622 OPS. In the postseason, that number is .100. Mancini, his voice almost cracking, said: “I was traded here to be a hitter, and I haven’t been that far. I’m sorry I haven’t been.”
The 30-year-old Mancini was never a top prospect, but he became the face of a dying franchise shortly after Baltimore called him up in 2016. His teams struggled through six straight losses and sent him to Houston in the midst of a rebuild. Most frighteningly, he was diagnosed with colon cancer on his 28th birthday. is in recession. He doesn’t downplay the disease by associating it with baseball, but says it has given him perspective.
So where he might once have taken his frustration out on the bats Thursday, he instead tried to forget it as he took the field for the bottom of the eighth, playing first base for the first time since Oct. 5. He played only 31 games this year at first base, 10 with the Astros. He didn’t even get ground balls at the position in Philadelphia, so sure was he not going to spend time there. But Baker and bench coach Joe Espada decided they trusted him there over their other bench option, Alendmish Diaz.
Righty Rafael Montero walked two of the first three men he faced, then allowed a single to Jean Segura to score a run and bring the game within one. Closer Ryan Pressly struck out Brandon Marsh on three pitches to bring up left-hander Kyle Schwarber, one of the Phillies’ most feared hitters.
Schwarber faced an infield shift during 90.5 percent of his plate appearances this year, usually with the first baseman a few steps away from the baseline and barely in the dirt, the second baseman in shallow right field, the shortstop between of first and second base and the third baseman just to the third base side of the second baseman. And indeed, that’s where they pitched the Astros on Thursday night. Mancini held Segura at first, but dropped him two steps from the bag. Pressly’s first pitch was an inside slider, which Schwarber fouled out. The next pitch was a curveball in the dirt for ball one. Schwarber walked through a curveball to strike out two. Catcher Martín Maldonado called for a slider.
In the dugout, Espada caught Mancini’s attention and motioned for him to take two steps closer to the bag. They needed to prevent a double — Segura is fast enough to score from first and give the Phillies the lead — and they knew Schwarber would try to pull a ball for a home run. “I saw the shoot at Pressly,” Espada said, “So I’m like, ‘dude, just stay in that line.’
Schwarber drilled a rocket, straight down the baseline. Mancini leaned to his right, snared it and, flipping over, stepped his left foot on the base for the out. He looked more like a catcher or a hockey goalie than a first baseman, the textbook approach to a ball like that. If he was two steps from the bag, he wouldn’t have caught it. “The ball was hit so hard,” Espada said. Instead, inning over. The rally is over. Espada smothered him with a hug as soon as he returned to the dugout.
“Nothing crossed my mind,” Mancini said. “I just dealt with it, basically.” He added that given the stakes, this had to be the best game of his career. “I don’t know how many highlight plays I have on defense,” he said with a laugh. “Probably not too many.”
Four innings earlier, Jeremy Peña had become the shortstop first rookie to hit a home run in the World Series and give the team the lead. In the ninth, center fielder Chas McCormick would make an incredible play of his own, a leaping, wall-scaling double to turn a JT Realmuto double into an out. But in the end, the Astros decided that Mancini was the man of the game, because he was finally in the right place at the right time.
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