Nationals shock the Astros in Houston, twice
By now everyone knows the cliché, so to avoid repetition, I'll render it in Spanish: Houston, Ud. tiene un problema. I tend to be cautious in my prognostications of sporting contests, and I evidently underestimated my favorite team, the Washington Nationals. Most people are talking about the big clutch hits by the Nats' sluggers, but what really made the difference in both games, I think, was the grit and determination of the two starting pitchers, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
Game 1 started off on an optimistic note with a leadoff single by Trea Turner, but he didn't get across the plate. In the bottom of the first, the Astros got the first two runners on base via a walk and a single, after which Max Scherzer struck out the next two batters. But number five in the lineup, Yuli Gurriel, smacked a two-run double to give the home team an early lead. In the second inning, Ryan Zimmerman smacked a home run just left of dead center field, in a location that would have rolled up the slope that used to be in center field of Minute Maid Park. Now I'm glad they got rid of "Tal's Hill"! That gave the Nats a big lift, and two innings later, the then-20-year old Juan Soto crushed a ball to the opposite field (left center), and it landed on top of the platform where the train tracks are situated. It was estimated that it would have traveled 417 feet, but I think it might have gone farther. All of a sudden it was a tie game, and the psychological aspect of the game immediately changed. One inning later, the Nats launched a three-run rally, thanks to an RBI single by Adam Eaton and a two-run double by Juan Soto -- his third RBI of the night! Max Scherzer got through the fifth inning, tired but not broken. In spite of the adversity, the Astros' ace pitcher Garret Cole stayed on the mound for two more innings. In the bottom of the seventh, George Springer hit a solo homer for the Astros, and and in the eighth he hit an RBI double, but that was as close as they came to narrowing the gap. Final score: Nats 5, Astros 4 -- a big upset.
Then on Wednesday night both teams scored two runs in the first inning. For the Nationals, Anthony Rendon knocked a two-run double that bounced off the scoreboard wall in left field, but none of the next three batters could get him home. In the bottom of the first, Jose Altuve doubled but was later caught stealing at third base, a huge play for the Nats' catcher Kurt Suzuki. Then Michael Brantley singled and Alex Bregman hit a home run to tie the game. The score remained 2-2 for the next five innings, a textbook pitchers' duel between Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander. Then in the seventh inning there was something of a miracle when Kurt Suzuki hit a lead-off homer to left field. That clearly rattled Verlander, and before you knew it Nats were scoring left and right. They added six runs in that inning, three more in the eighth (featuring an Adam Eaton homer), and one more in the ninth (featuring a Michael A. Taylor homer). Fans in Houston could not believe their eyes, and most of them were gone by the time the game ended. Martin Maldonado hit a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth, a token gesture of resistance. Somehow the underdog Nationals had not only won both games in Houston, but had done so in stunning fashion.
Those two victories put the Nationals in a commanding position, with a very real chance to win the series back home in Washington. That is just like the NLDS, and in fact, that sentence was copied from my October 14 post, which indicated that the visiting team has not won the first two games in any World Series at least as far back to 2002; see the Postseason scores page. I'll find out later when the last time it happened...
Game 3 is about to get underway in Washington tonight, and the atmosphere in Nationals Park must be absolutely electric. I wish I could afford to buy a ticket, but they were going for well over $700 the last time I checked. They'll have three chances to win two games in Washington and thus earn the ultimate championship, which would unleash a celebration unlike anything the city has seen in years. Go Nats!!!