Astros shock the Nationals in Washington, thrice*
Full of vim and vigor after winning their first two World Series games in Houston last week, and with soaring hopes as they returned home, the Washington Nationals instead collided head on with cold, hard reality over the weekend. Whereas they started the series with at best a 30 percent chance of winning it all, after Game 2 those odds had risen to perhaps 70 percent. They could either win two of three games at home or else win just one game and then count on Stephen Strasburg to win Game 6. That is exactly what they are hoping for tonight, but since they failed to win any games at home, this will be a do-or-die elimination game. So now the shoe is on the other proverbial foot: Washington, you have a problem.
Game 3 on Friday night was a litany of missed opportunities for the Nats hitters, who went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position. Two singles to start the second inning, and nothing. Bases loaded in the third inning, another zero. In the fourth inning Ryan Zimmerman got a leadoff walk and after an out scored the Nats first run on a triple by Victor Robles. But he never got past third, and in spite of multiple situations with runners on second after that, the Nats didn't score any more runs. On the mound, Anibal Sanchez struggled a bit, giving up way too many hits, but at least he didn't implode. He made it into the sixth inning before being replaced, but took the loss in a 4-1 final result.
In Game 4, there were high hopes for high-priced starting pitcher Patrick Corbin, especially since he was going up against an unknown rookie, Jose Urquidy. But the Astros scored twice in the first inning, and took a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning when Robinson Chirinos hit a towering two-run homer way up into the left field seats. The Nats' only run came on a ground ball out to first base hit by Juan Soto. The Nats only managed four hits in the entire game, which was as many runs as the Astros scored in the seventh inning, when Alex Bregman hit a grand slam. (The aged reliever Fernando Rodney was pitching.) It was about as dispiriting result as one could imagine. Final score: Astros 8, Nationals 1.
The Nats still had hopes since Max Scherzer was expected to start Game 5, but when it was learned on Sunday afternoon that he had been scratched, hopes quickly dimmed. Joe Ross started in an emergency situation, and he did about as well as could be expected. The line score looked a lot like the one from Game 4, but the Astros scored two runs each in the second and fourth innings instead of the first and fourth. The Nats' only run came in the seventh inning, when Juan Soto hit a homer that just cleared the fence in front of the Red Porch in left-center field. That closed the gap, but then the Astros scored three more runs in the final two innings to make the final score an ugly 7-1. That game will remain famous for two peripheral incidents: a Nats player in the first row of the Red Porch seats blocking an Astros home run ball with his chest while holding on to two (2) beers, and two ladies wearing yellow shirts flashing pitcher Gerrit Cole in hopes of distracting him. It didn't work, and they have been indefinitely banned from baseball games.
What happened to Max Scherzer?
News that ace pitcher Max Scherzer would not be able to pitch Game 5 was a bitter blow to Nats fans who were dismayed by Games 3 and 4, hoping to avoid a three-game sweep. On Sunday morning he woke up with sharp spasms in his neck muscles, and could hardly move his head or shoulders. The latest word is that he is doubtful for the rest of the series, which means that if the Nats can pull off a win tonight in Game 6, they will have to rely on an awkward combination of pitchers in a possible Game 7. Prospects aren't good, obviously, but the Nationals have overcome steeper odds in making improbable comebacks this year, so it's still anyone's guess who will be crowned champion. Anything, and I mean anything, can happen in the baseball postseason!
* For you folks in Rio Linda, that's an archaic way of saying "three times."