MLB

Verlander, Pressly and Astros defense shine to move within one win of World Series title

By Sports Desk November 03, 2022

The Houston Astros are one win from a World Series championship after fine pitching displays from Justin Verlander and Ryan Pressly held off the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 in Game 5 on Thursday.

Verlander claimed his first-ever World Series victory in his ninth start with six strikeouts across five innings before Pressly's five-out save at Bank Citizens Park.

The Astros' defense came up big when it mattered too, with first baseman Trey Mancini making a huge play from Kyle Schwarber's low line drive to close the eighth inning, along with outfielder Chas McCormick leaping and holding a J.T. Realmuto shot on the wall for the second out in the ninth.

Houston go 3-2 up ahead of Game 6 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday, with the Game 5 winner when the World Series has been tied going on to win 30 of the previous 45 editions.

Jeremy Pena, who had three hits for the game, drove in Jose Altuve in the first inning, before Schwarber's leadoff homer over right field squared it up.

In the fourth, Pena blasted Phillies' starter Noah Syndergaard over Schwarber's head at left field for his fourth homer this postseason, becoming the first rookie shortstop to hit a blast in World Series history.

Altuve, who got on base three times, plated in the eighth inning from Yordan Alvarez's ground ball which first baseman Rhys Hoskins tried to charge.

Jean Segura's RBI single drove in Nick Castellanos in the bottom of the eighth, but Pressly held his nerve after replacing Rafael Montero, with Mancini's clutch play on first base closing the inning.

Alec Bohm's brilliant double play ended the Astros' ninth, but the Phillies were denied despite Bryce Harper getting on base for the fourth time in the game, with McCormick plucking a great catch before Castellanos hit to Pena who threw to Mancini to close it out.

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    Mohamed Salah is "suffering" after seeing Liverpool's "well-drilled machine" frontline disbanded this season, according to Jurgen Klopp.

    Sadio Mane left for Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich prior to this term, while Roberto Firmino has seen his role diminished after the arrival of Darwin Nunez and more recently Cody Gakpo.

    Egypt international Salah remains the constant in Klopp's front three, though he has struggled in front of goal this campaign – converting just 11.7 per cent of his chances for seven Premier League goals.

    That mark may seem poor for the three-time Premier League Golden Boot winner, whose previous lowest conversion rate for Liverpool was 14.4 per cent when he scored 19 in the 2019-20 campaign.

    "Of course he is suffering," said Klopp ahead of Sunday's FA Cup fourth-round clash with in-form Brighton and Hove Albion. "It is specific, offensive play that requires a lot of work and a lot of information."

    Salah, Firmino and Mane fired Liverpool to a Champions League crown and the Premier League title, though that front three are now a distant memory at Anfield.

    "It was a well-drilled machine the front three, everything was clear what we were doing," the German added.

    "You create a feeling about a lot of these things, about where your team-mate is and where to pass the ball without looking."

    Gakpo and Nunez are among the new faces tasked with reinventing Liverpool's attacking fortunes but Klopp acknowledged it will take time for his side to adapt.

    "Now we have Cody as a really important asset, like a connector, he can play the wing and the centre as well," he added.

    "When Darwin is playing there he is obviously more high up, going in behind. We never played with a nine before, even when Sadio played in the position he was dropping in moments.

    "It is all good if they would all be in and we could build something, but we haven't been able to do that yet."

    Diogo Jota is nearing a return to bolster a Reds attacking line-up in desperate need of some form, yet Klopp believes Liverpool – who are ninth in the league – have greater concerns than a misfiring attack.

    "If you had scored hundreds of goals in the past and now you are not scoring then that is the first thing you would think about but that is not our problem at the moment," he said.

    "But usually you have a real basis to build on and that is what we don't have. The problem is you need time and nobody wants to invest time.

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  • Real Sociedad dreaming of going all the way, 20 years on from pushing the Galacticos until the end Real Sociedad dreaming of going all the way, 20 years on from pushing the Galacticos until the end

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    President Javier Tebas insists LaLiga is, in sporting terms, the most competitive league in the world, something he believes is proven by the performances of Spanish teams in Europe over the past 20 years or so.

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    The omens aren't great.

    Real Madrid have lost only one of their last 15 LaLiga home games against La Real (W12 D2), the one exception coming in May 2019.

    But there's something a bit different about this vintage.

    Until the slender 1-0 Copa del Rey defeat to Barcelona at Camp Nou on Thursday, La Real's nine-match winning streak across all competitions was the best such run they have managed since returning to LaLiga for the 2010-11 season.

    Sitting third heading into the weekend, La Real are seven points clear of fourth-placed Atletico Madrid and already look near-certainties for the Champions League.

    Defeat to Barca in the week was undoubtedly a setback, but it provided yet more evidence of them not being easy to beat.

    The fact their 38 points from 18 matches is just two shy of a club record set in the 2002-03 season – more on that team later – highlights just how impressive they've been generally.

    Yet, it doesn't tell the whole story. Imanol Alguacil has overseen this start to the campaign despite losing Alexander Isak to Newcastle United and then seeing his replacement Umar Sadiq succumb to a serious knee injury – from which he still hasn't recovered – after playing just 82 minutes for his new club.

    The neat and intelligent Martin Zubimendi thrives in defensive midfield; 36-year-old David Silva continues to defy his age as the number 10; Robin Le Normand has developed into one of the most under-rated centre-backs in the league; Brais Mendez has taken their midfield to a new level; and Alexander Sorloth – who once scored no Premier League goals in a year at Crystal Palace and netted just four all last season for La Real – is the unlikely talisman up top.

    The big Norwegian has scored eight goals, none of which have been penalties, in LaLiga. Only Robert Lewandowski (13) has more, while Sorloth ranks third for non-penalty expected goals (xG) with 6.0.

    We can't call it a title challenge yet. They are still six points behind Barca having played a game more than the Blaugrana.

    But with just over half the season still to go, La Real find themselves in position to pounce should Xavi's side let up – providing they can retain their own momentum.

    Win at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday and everyone else will begin to take them a little more seriously as well.

    Two points from immortality

    La Real have been here before.

    Their flirt with the title in the 2002-03 season is probably the best example of a so-close-yet-so-far tale in modern Spanish football.

    It effectively came out of nowhere, too.

    Four successive seasons of mid-table obscurity had offered no hint of what was to come, and what followed that campaign made it all seem like a farfetched dream.

    La Real pushed a Madrid side that included Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos to the wire, even beating them 4-2 at Anoeta to reinvigorate their campaign after a chastening derby defeat to Athletic Bilbao in late 2002 was followed by something of a blip.

    The Basques headed into the final three games of the season knowing nine points would secure the rarest of title wins.

    They had risen to most challenges to that point. Their little-and-large striker duo of Darko Kovacevic and Nihat Kahveci plundered goals at will, racking up 43 between them; Xabi Alonso gave them almost ceaseless control in midfield; Valery Karpin and Javier de Pedro provided ammunition from the flanks.

    But it couldn't have been a shock that a team without a league title since 1982 crumbled in the end. A draw at home to Valencia was followed by defeat to Celta Vigo in Galicia, while Madrid beat Atletico Madrid.

    La Real's win over Los Colchoneros on the final day of the season was insufficient to keep hopes alive as Madrid comfortably saw off Athletic.

    It was a valiant effort, with La Real edged out by two points when all was said and done, but it was not the start of a prosperous new era. What followed was four seasons of dicing with relegation, the last ultimately claiming them and leading to three campaigns in the second tier.

    The difference this time? Stability, consistency. The past six years have essentially confirmed La Real as a top-half team, finishing sixth or higher four times, including in each of the last three.

    Imanol has been in charge for those three, moulding La Real into a highly organised, high-pressing and dynamic side. But their institutional excellence goes deeper than that, with synergy a key priority from top to bottom, hence how 15 members of the first-team squad have come up through the academy or the B team. Make that 16 if you include the coach himself.

    In all likelihood, La Real probably won't get that close to becoming the first team to upset the established order of the historical 'big three' since Valencia in 2004. Barcelona and Real Madrid are still too big for most to really go toe-to-toe with over a 38-game season, regardless of Tebas' changes.

    But with arguably a far more talented squad than 20 years ago, La Real are much better equipped to at least make title challenges a regular dream.

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