A day after World Series meltdown, Astros remind Phillies who they really are

HOUSTON — Oh, what a difference 24 hours makes. 

The Houston Astros reminded everyone once again why they are the most dangerous team in baseball Saturday evening, overpowering the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-2, and evening the World Series at one game apiece. 

The game wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated, not with Astros starter Framber Valdez dominating the Phillies’ vaunted lineup in front of a sellout crowd at Minute Maid Park. 

Valdez, a complete a mess in last year’s World Series against Atlanta, yielding a 19.29 ERA, never gave the Phillies a chance on Saturday. He gave up just four hits in 6 ⅓ innings, while Phillies co-ace Zack Wheeler gave up three doubles and two runs to the first three batters he faced. 

Really, the Phillies were never in this game. They had only four opportunities with runners in scoring position the entire game. The only time Valdez was even in a hint of trouble was in the sixth when the first two Phillies’ batters reached in the sixth inning, bringing up Game 1 hero J.T. Realmuto and NLCS MVP Bryce Harper. 

Valdez yawned. He struck out Realmuto for the second time in the game. And then induced an inning-ending double play from Harper, keeping him hitless for the night. 

Alex Bregman celebrates his two-run homer in the fifth inning with Yordan Alvarez.

What was most satisfying for the Astros was the awakening of the offense. They were completely shut down by the Phillies’ bullpen in Game 1, held scoreless with only four hits the final seven innings of their 6-5, 10-inning loss. 

This time, they ambushed Wheeler, who entered the game with a 1.78 ERA this postseason. 

All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve, having a miserable postseason with a .108 batting average and no RBI, jumped on the first pitch with a double. 

He stood on second base  and it was as if the anxiety, stress and failure left his body at once. He produced another single in the fifth inning, and another in the seventh. 

He had just one fewer hit in four at-bats than he produced the entire postseason. 

“He might be the strongest dude in this building mentally,’’ Baker said before the game. “He’s probably had to be most of his life. So, I just know that any minute now, he’s one hit away from a hot streak.’’ 

Yep, just like that Altuve is back. 

And so are the Astros. 

Jeremy Peña followed Altuve by hitting the next pitch for a run-scoring double. Two pitches later, Yordan Alvarez, who was in a 3-for-25 skid, hit another run-scoring double. 

Four pitches, three doubles and the Astros had a 2-0 lead. 

The Astros became the first team to open a World Series game with three consecutive extra-base hits. 

The Astros, thanks to an error by shortstop Edmundo Sosa, had a three-run lead after the first inning and a 5-0 lead in the fifth inning on Alex Bregman’s two-run homer. 

This time, there would be no blown five-run lead like the Astros’ debacle in Game 1. 

The series now returns to Philadelphia where the Phillies are 5-0 at Citizens Bank Park this postseason, and 21-9 since the ballpark opened, out-scoring the opposition by 62 runs. 

The Astros are bracing themselves for perhaps the most hostile environment they’ve encountered since their 2017 cheating scandal was exposed.

“It’s not like we haven’t gone through this before,’’ Bregman said. “We’ll be ready. 

“Really, we have no choice.’’ 

See you in Philly.