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Trey Mancini and Chas McCormick buoyed the Astros with clutch defensive plays in Game 5 of the World Series.

Defend home turf, and Houston will again be world champions.

The Astros and Phillies travelled Friday to Texas, where Game 6 will be played Saturday. Houston is on the brink of its second title – the team’s 2017 championship was later tainted by a cheating scandal – after winning 3-2 in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

Justin Verlander got his first Fall Classic victory in nine starts. Teammates feted the 244-game winner like a rookie, putting him in a laundry cart and wheeling him into the showers.

Mancini preserved a slim lead in the eighth inning with what seemed like the play of the game, smothering Kyle Schwarber’s sharp grounder at first base to strand two runners.

Then McCormick made the play of a lifetime, leaping into a chain-link fence in right-centre to snag J.T. Realmuto’s smash in the ninth. He crashed to the warning track with the ball in his mitt – prompting thousands to put their hands on their heads in disbelief.

“I thought he hit it out,” McCormick said.

With the Astros leading 3-2 in the best-of-seven Series, left-hander Framber Valdez is set to pitch Game 6 against Phillies righty Zack Wheeler. Valdez allowed one run, four hits and three walks over 6⅓ innings in Game 2, while Wheeler gave up five runs – four earned – and three walks over five innings, including Alex Bregman’s two-run homer.

World Series schedule (All times ET)

Game 6: Saturday in Houston, 8:03 p.m., FOX

Game 7 (if necessary): Sunday in Houston, 8:03 p.m., FOX

Phlailing about

Except for Bryce Harper, the Phillies’ best sluggers have gone cold in the World Series.

The good news: Philadelphia ended an 0-for-20 drought with runners in scoring position on Jean Segura’s RBI single in the eighth inning of Game 5. The bad news: the drought was behind only the 1980 Royals (22 at-bats) and 1966 Dodgers (22) for worst in World Series history.

The Phillies left 12 runners on base and went 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Nick Castellanos and Bryson Stott went a combined 0 for 17.

“Sometimes you go through times when you don’t hit with runners in scoring position and then three days later everybody’s getting hits,” manager Rob Thomson said. “So we’ve just got to keep battling, that’s all.”

The Phillies don’t have three days. They have until Saturday to find hits in those slumbering bats.

A rookie will lead them

In the biggest moments all post-season, the Houston Astros have been able to count on Jeremy Pena.

And then some.

The 25-year-old Pena did it again Thursday night, putting on a terrific all-around performance that helped the Astros hold off the Phillies. He became the first rookie shortstop to homer in the World Series, added two key singles and made a critical leaping catch in Game 5.

“Rookie or not rookie, it doesn’t matter,” Pena said. “We’re in the World Series. You just go out and play. Go compete and let the best man win.”

Having already won the AL Championship Series MVP award and a Gold Glove in the last two weeks, the emerging star from the Dominican Republic helped Houston move one win away from the ultimate prize – the World Series trophy.

“I talked to him earlier in the year about being ready, especially in a clutch situation, and to remain aggressive. And he works at it. He works at his game,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.

“Every once in a while these guys come along – not that often. But it just goes to show you, I mean, his future is very, very bright.”

It’s hard to imagine now the Astros started the season with many fans wondering how in the world they would replace All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa, who signed with Minnesota as a free agent.

“I never saw it as having to fill shoes,” Pena said. “I just had to come in and be myself, play my game.”

Dog days

Baker has a fuzzy little theory about why teams play better at home.

“If you got a dog, he don’t care if you struck out three or four times,” the veteran manager said before Game 5 of the World Series.

Houston returns to Minute Maid Park this weekend needing to win one of two potential games for a title. History is in the Astros’ favour. Home teams went 1,296-1,134 this season, a .533 winning percentage, and are 22-17 in the post-season.

“You got the home crowd, you’re familiar with your surroundings, you’re familiar with the caroms, you’re familiar with the playing surface, and you get to sleep in your own bed,” Baker said. “How come most teams don’t play as well on the road as they do at home? There’s got to be a reason. You don’t have to eat in restaurants. You can eat at home or your favourite restaurant. There’s a lot of positives.”

“Most of the time you have your kids telling you after you struck out three or four times that, dad, it’s going to be OK. I mean, all that matters.”

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