Nationals take a 3-0 NLCS lead, D.C. fans are ecstatic
After four agonizingly disappointing postseason attempts over the last decade, the Washington Nationals finally made it to the National League Championship Series, and they made the most of it in St. Louis over the weekend. Since their "big three" starting pitchers were worn out from the Clash of Titans with the L.A. Dodgers, Aníbal Sánchez took the mound on Friday night. I've been observing his steady improvement ever since he returned from the Injured List in May, and after Game 1, it's pretty clear that he now ranks alongside Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. To the amazement of all (and to the delight of Nats fans), Sanchez had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning, spoiled by pinch hitter Jose Martinez, who singled. Offensively, the Nats got on the scoreboard in the second inning thanks to doubles by Howie Kendrick and Yan Gomes -- one of the few truly clutch hits Gomes has had this year. In the seventh inning, Adam Eaton hit a one-out triple, and one out later Kendrick batted him in. Final score: Nats 2, Cards 0.
Late on Saturday afternoon, with the shadows covering more and more of the field at Busch Stadium, Max Scherzer started for the Nationals. Having grown up in the St. Louis area, it was familiar territory for him, and he pitched like he felt as if he were right at home. In fact, he almost duplicated the superlative pitching feat of Sanchez the night before, not giving up any hits until the seventh inning. He threw 11 strikeouts altogether. In the third inning Michael A. Taylor stunned the crowd with a solo home run, giving the Nats a slight but vital psychological edge as the game progressed. In the eighth inning, Adam Eaton hit a two-run double to give the Nats a 3-0 lead. In the bottom of that inning, Sean Doolittle was handling relief duties fairly well until a line drive by Jose Martinez (once again, pinch hitting) sailed over Michael A. Taylor's head in center field. Taylor misjudged it, but it was scored a double. That was the only run scored by the home team in St. Louis, as the Nats won again, 3-1.
Those two victories put the Nationals in a commanding position, with a very real chance to win the series back home in Washington. That made me wonder how the other teams that have begun seven-game series with two wins on the road have fared after that, so I checked my Postseason scores page, which goes back to 2002, and here is what I found:
|Year||Series winner||Series loser||Wins-losses|
Counting this year, that makes six league championship series that started off with two victories by the visiting team. (It has not happened in any World Series during that time period.) Of the five such series thus far, four of them ended up as sweeps and one ended up as a four-games-to-one outcome. That's not very encouraging for the Cardinals.
This evening, back home in Our Nation's Capital, the Nationals were well-prepared for Game 3. Stephen Strasburg was pitching, and he fully lived up to expectations, striking out an even dozen batters over seven innings. The Nats' Adam Eaton sparked a rally with a clutch RBI single in the third inning, followed by RBI doubles by Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick (two-run). With a 4-0 lead, Strasburg could cruise without too much pressure. Two innings later it was 6-0, and then 7-0. The Cardinals finally got on the board in the seventh inning, but the Nats responded in kind on an RBI single by Ryan Zimmerman. The final outcome was utter devastation for the visiting team which had wrought so much sorrow there seven years before: Nats 8, Cards 1. The 43,675 fans crammed into Nationals Park whooped in jubilation, eager for the next monumental chapter in D.C. baseball history -- perhaps as early as Tuesday night.
ALCS: Yankees, Astros split two
In Houston, meanwhile, the New York Yankees came very close to repeating what the Nationals had done in St. Louis -- taking a 2-0 series lead on the road. In Game 1 (Saturday), Astros pitcher Zack Greinke (acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a trade on July 31) gave up three runs, two of which were solo homers in the sixth inning, after which he departed. It got worse after that, and the Yankees won, 7-0. Game 2 was more of a pitchers' duel, but an odd one in which the Astros' Justin Verlander went against a series of Yankee relief pitchers. The Astros tied it 2-2 in the [fifth inning], and then won the game on a home run by Carlos Correa in the 11th inning. Final score: Astros 3, Yankees 2.
I noticed that Sports Illustrated featured the Astros' two top pitchers (Gerritt Cole and Justin Verlander) on their cover last week, perhaps another installment of the "SI Curse." There was also an article about the Atlanta Braves moving to the northern suburbs where most of their fans live, and perhaps they suffered from that curse as well.