WASHINGTON -- To make this series a Series, to make the math more practical and palatable, the Houston Astros needed to win a ballgame Friday night. And under ordinary circumstances for a club that had done that 114 times this year, that wouldn’t seem especially difficult. But circumstances aren’t ordinary when your co-aces get humbled at home and a sizzling opponent smells blood and the history lessons are hard ones.
But the Astros did, indeed, win Game 3, 4-1, against the Nationals at Nationals Park, spoiling D.C.’s first World Series game in 86 years and overcoming a home crowd that was loud, proud and very well red. Houston has cut its best-of-seven deficit to a more manageable 2-1, potentially planted that first small seed of doubt in the hearts and minds of a franchise and a fan base tantalizingly close to its first title and, yes, given all of us a Series with a capital S.
“Now we've got enough experience and enough feel about how series go that we knew -- we win today, get a little mojo back on our side, get a little bit of momentum, start to swing the bats a little bit better, we're not afraid of playing in any venue. The fans here were incredible and just alive, like you would expect in the World Series. And our players thrive on that, too.”
Houston is trying to become just the 14th team to come back from an 0-2 hole in a best-of-seven postseason series, and the first to do so in the World Series since the 1996 Yankees. In all postseason series with the current 2-3-2 format, teams that have taken Game 3 after falling behind 2-0 have come back to win the series 12 of 43 times (28%).
You can’t get to four wins without one, and the Astros’ first win of this Series was close enough that the red-clad crowd was never unengaged, particularly when the “Baby Shark” phenomenon made its Series debut prior to Gerardo Parra's pinch-hit at-bat in the sixth. But Houston shook off the shark and everything else, better reflecting its regular-season performance by making the pivotal pitches, maintaining a steady presence on the basepaths and capitalizing just enough in the capital to halt the Nats’ record-tying postseason win streak at eight.
It only felt like it had been 86 years since the Astros had a hit with a runner in scoring position. This mighty lineup of the American League champs was 3-for-17 with RISP in the first two games of this Fall Classic and 17-for-97 with RISP this postseason. But in Game 3, Houston went 4-for-8 in those situations against Washington starter Aníbal Sánchez.
“I feel like in the postseason, we’re trying too much,” said Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos, who homered in the sixth. “Trying to be a hero. That’s something we talked about on the plane also last night. We’re like, ‘Let’s have a good approach, good at-bats as a team and don’t try to do too much. Just keep the line moving. Don’t swing for a fence. Just go the other way and make sure we’re seeing the ball and swinging at strikes.’ And I feel like we did that tonight.”
It was the Nationals who dealt with the RISPy business, going 0-for-10, stranding 12 runners.
That made all the difference.
“We were a little bit aggressive outside the strike zone,” Nats manager Dave Martinez said. “We took balls I thought we should hit, uncharacteristic of what we've been doing. Greinke got out of some jams. [We] got opportunities early. We couldn't capitalize.”
Houston got on the board in the second inning, when Josh Reddick blooped a base hit to shallow left to score Carlos Correa, who had doubled, from second. Juan Soto fielded the ball and heaved a wayward throw toward home plate, allowing Reddick to skip to second base, and the 21-year-old birthday boy would have another fielding foible in the third, when he misplayed a ball in the left-field corner to turn a José Altuve leadoff double into three bases instead. Michael Brantley grounded an infield single off Sánchez's glove to score Altuve and make it 2-0.
The Nationals responded in the fourth when Ryan Zimmerman drew a leadoff walk from Zack Greinke and Victor Robles ripped and skipped a triple past third baseman Alex Bregman to make it 2-1. But Robles was stranded after Martinez opted not to pinch-hit for Sánchez, who bunted for strike three before Greinke made a nice play on a short grounder from Trea Turner to end the threat.
Robles was one of 10 baserunners the Nationals stranded just in the game’s first six innings. When they had two runners in scoring position with two outs in the fifth, Hinch replaced Greinke with young Josh James, who got Zimmerman swinging on an 89 mph changeup inside. When the Nats had two on with one out in the sixth, Will Harris calmly struck out Turner and compelled a groundout from Adam Eaton. Washington's frustration was amplified by the sixth-inning loss of catcher Kurt Suzuki to a hip injury that has his status uncertain for Game 4.
The Astros, on the other hand, had added valuable insurance against Sánchez on a Brantley RBI single in the fifth and Chirinos' 108.4 mph solo dinger off the left-field foul pole in the sixth.
Their offense wasn’t overwhelming, but it was enough to win a game and start a Series.
“I think this World Series, these are two really, really talented teams, really good teams, really driven teams,” Hinch said. “It takes four wins, and no one has got it yet.”