HOUSTON (AP) — Dusty Baker has been here before.
It’s hard not to think of the last time the Astros’ manager was up 3-2 in the Fall Classic as he leads the team back to Houston Saturday night for Game 6 of the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies needing just one win for a championship.
In 2002, Baker’s San Francisco Giants and big bopper Barry Bonds entered Game 6 against the Anaheim Angels up by the same margin. As the road team for the last two games of that series, the Giants squandered a five-run lead in a 6-5 loss in the sixth game before the Angels won the title with a 4-1 victory in Game 7.
Twenty years later in his third trip to the World Series, Baker is still looking for that elusive championship after a quarter-century as a major league manager. As a player, he went three times with the Dodgers, winning it all as a big-hitting left fielder in 1981.
“I don’t think about the situation I’m in,” Baker said of chasing the title. “Just taking a day of rest, because (if) you think about something all the time, it would drive you crazy.”
With A.J. Hinch as manager, the Astros also led the Series 3-2 in 2019 against the Nationals and lost in seven games.
The 73-year-old Baker, whose contract expires at the end of the postseason, also insisted that he hasn’t spent any time worrying about his future either.
“I’ve just learned over a period of time that, hey, you just live your life, try to do the right things, seize the moment, and enjoy as much as you can,” he said. “Enjoy this ride … I always thought, hey, when I’m supposed to win, I’m going to win. And when I’m supposed to sign a contract, I’ll sign a contract. But in the meantime, I’m just going to go out there and enjoy what I have been doing for a long time.”
The Astros took a lead in the series by winning the last two games. Cristian Javier and three relievers combined for the second no-hitter in Series history in Game 4 before Justin Verlander finally got his first World Series win in Game 5 thanks to a clutch homer by rookie Jeremy Peña and a terrific ninth-inning catch by Chas McCormick.
Despite a two-game skid, Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson isn’t worried about his team. After all, this is the same squad, led by stars Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber, that overcame a 22-29 start to reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.
“We’ve played really good baseball,” Thomson said. “I don’t think there’s any reason to panic. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing and concentrate on doing the little things. I always tell ’em, focus on the little things and big things will happen.”
Houston will start left-hander Framber Valdez against Zack Wheeler on Saturday night n a repeat of the Game 2 matchup the Astros won 5-2.
Valdez allowed four hits and a run with nine strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings for the victory in that one. Wheeler struggled, giving up six hits and five runs — four earned — in five innings.
Wheeler is looking for a better performance Saturday to allow the Phillies to force a Game 7 Sunday night where they could try for their third title and first since 2008.
“Just try to be a stopper and give our team one more chance after (Saturday),” Wheeler said. “So (Saturday’s) a must-win and I’ll take pride in that. Hopefully I can go out there and give us the best chance.”
After facing the hostile crowds in Philadelphia for the last three games, Baker expects to enjoy home support that will be at full tilt as the Astros try to win their second World Series. Their only title came in 2017, a crown won in Los Angeles that was tarnished by a sign-stealing scandal that rocked baseball.
The last team to win a Series at home was the 2013 Boston Red Sox. The Astros watched as the Nationals celebrated a title on their field in 2019 and again last season as the Braves beat them in six games.
“It’s going to be a great, great crowd,” Baker said. “They’re for us. The town’s for us. Tickets are at a premium because all of a sudden now everybody wants tickets. We could probably hold a couple hundred thousand if we had room.”