Simply put, Wednesday’s Game 2 of the World Series was just bad all around for the Astros, who are now 0-2 in the best-of-seven series without having played a game away from their home ballpark. Worse yet, the 1-2 punch of Gerrit Cole and Verlander has produced zero wins, giving Houston a very real chance to start its offseason, soon, without a downtown parade.
It was a long, strange night for Verlander, who provided a lengthy outing, but not quite a dominant one. He was wobbly at the beginning. Verlander opened the game by walking Trea Turner, then Adam Eaton followed with a base hit. Anthony Rendon drove in both runners with a double that banged off the top of the scoreboard in left field, putting the Astros in the early hole.
Verlander has yielded nine first-inning runs this postseason. In his prior outing -- Game 5 of the AL Championship Series at Yankee Stadium -- he allowed four in the first before retiring 20 of the final 21 batters he faced. Verlander wasn't quite as efficient this time, but he was mostly able to tame the Nats hitters from the second through the sixth, before the floodgates opened.
Verlander insisted he felt the same regardless of the inning, calling the first frame an "anomaly more than anything.”
"I'm not going to change anything," he said. "There was the first-inning walk, and then [Eaton] squeaks it right inside the third-base line, and then you're chasing one of the best players [Rendon] in the National League after that. He did what he does, he's been doing it all season. and then [I] was able to get out of it."
Manager AJ Hinch also expressed a lack of concern about the first-inning runs.
"It's a little bit of the quality of the hitters," Hinch said. "I think most kind of big, elite physical pitchers may have a little trouble getting into the game. But J.V. has been exceptional the entire season, including the first inning. We have seen it in this playoffs, having a little bit of trouble in the first. But these are really good teams. From the get-go when they put pressure on you, you're usually facing a pretty good guy every time up."
Verlander's outing concluded with a rather bizarre sequence of events in the seventh. After throwing to Robinson Chirinos the entire game -- and the entire season, for that matter -- he was suddenly paired with Martín Maldonado, a switch necessitated when Kyle Tucker pinch-hit for Chirinos in the sixth.
Verlander's second pitch to Maldonado during Suzuki's at-bat, a 93 mph fastball, wound up in the Crawford Boxes, and gave the Nationals a 3-2 lead.
"It was kind of like, 'Wow,'" Maldonado said. "Having not caught Verlander all year, and the second pitch I called was a homer. At the same time, we talked. Before I came out we talked about what we want to do. Sometimes you have to tip your cap -- he put a good swing on a good pitch."
Verlander, who walked Robles before exiting and was charged with four runs, was unfazed by the catching change.
"We worked together a bunch last year," he said.
Verlander has made six World Series starts, and his team has lost five of them, tied for third most in history. Only Whitey Ford (10) and Don Sutton (6) have started more World Series games that their team has lost. This year, Verlander is 1-3 over five starts in October. If Houston manages to win two of three in Washington, the right-hander will receive another World Series start in Game 6, with a chance to push his team to a Game 7. If the Astros win their next three, Verlander could find himself in a championship-clinching scenario.
"We don't dwell on win-loss record [for pitchers] anymore, right?" Verlander said with a wry smile. "I'd like to win a couple. Hopefully, I'll have another opportunity."
Not everything was out of the ordinary in this contest. Verlander's strikeout game was typically strong, and, as it turned out, record-setting.
Verlander's strikeout of Victor Robles in the second inning was the 200th postseason strikeout of his career, a new Major League mark. It pushed him past Hall of Famer John Smoltz, who struck out 199 over 41 career postseason appearances, including 27 as a reliever.
Verlander, who fanned six, reached this milestone in his 30th career postseason game, and in his 178th postseason inning. By comparison, Smoltz -- who watched his record be broken as the color commentator for FOX's World Series broadcast -- threw 209 innings in the playoffs.
But it’s fair to assume historical feats are not driving Verlander these days. His focus is on the next game. Verlander knows it would behoove the Astros to win it.
“We know it's a harder task ahead of us, of course,” Verlander said. “We've had our backs against the wall more than once. All season long, we had short spurts of things not going our way and we were able to turn it around quickly. I don't see how this should be different.”