WASHINGTON -- This just became the World Series we deserve.
The Astros have their swagger back. The Nationals are reeling. That’s the bottom line after Houston got back-to-back road wins at Nationals Park, including an 8-1 victory in Game 4 on Saturday.
Reset the World Series. Now, tied at two games apiece, it’s a best-of-three series with the home-field advantage back with the Astros, who will host Game 6 on Tuesday and Game 7 (if necessary) on Wednesday. Speaking of home-field advantage, didn’t that used to be kind of a big deal? This is just the fifth time in World Series history -- and the first time since 1996 -- that the road team has won the first four games.
This is where it gets good. World Series legends are born in times like this. Pressure? This is the kind of pressure that gets into hearts and minds, that shrinks the strike zone for some, blows it up for others, that brings some to their knees and extracts the best from others. Buckle up, friends and neighbors.
Here. We. Go.
1. The World Series will end in Houston
This is what the Astros had hoped to do when they flew to Washington after a pair of losses at Minute Maid Park. They knew if they could win two out of three at Nationals Park, they’d force the World Series back to the ballpark where they had the best home record in the Majors this season.
That’s what wins in Games 3 and 4 got them. Never mind that thing about the road team winning every game. Never mind that the Nats won twice last week in Houston.
The Astros are 65-24 at home including the postseason, and no matter what happens in Game 5 on Sunday, they’re again World Series favorites.
2. Aces are lined up
Both teams have their best ready to pitch Games 5 and 6. These are the matchups the Nationals won in Games 1 and 2, so there’s that. Isn’t that how a great World Series should be decided? The Astros have Gerrit Cole for Game 5, Justin Verlander for Game 6. The Nats have Max Scherzer for Game 5, Stephen Strasburg for Game 6.
When players walk into the clubhouse and see those names on a lineup card, their thought is, “We’re going to win today.” That’s the highest compliment one professional athlete can pay another.
The Astros? They gave rookie right-hander Jose Urquidy his first postseason start, hoping against hope for five innings but expecting far less. He’d made two appearances since Sept. 27, the longest was 2 2/3 innings.
Urquidy pitched an efficient five shutout innings as Houston jumped Corbin for two runs in the first inning and two more on a Robinson Chirinos homer in the fourth. Astros manager AJ Hinch got two huge outs from right-hander Will Harris in the sixth, then Houston broke it open on an Alex Bregman grand slam in the top of the seventh.
4. On the other hand…
Scherzer is the living, breathing definition of an ace in that he wants the responsibility of pitching the big game. He’s the face of the franchise in the post-Bryce Harper era and leads the Nationals in ways large and small. Scherzer won Game 1, though the Astros forced him to throw 112 pitches in five innings. But they scored just two runs against him and lost the game, 5-4. The Nats will also have manager Dave Martinez’s two trusted relievers, Doolittle and Hudson, rested, as neither appeared in Game 4.
5. Reports of the Astros’ demise have been exaggerated
To be clear, they did not have a players-only team meeting after Game 2 -- unless you count a 30-second session in which Verlander and José Altuve walked through the clubhouse and said, “Keep your heads up.”
Makes for a great narrative. Happens not to be accurate. No team meeting was needed. The Astros have won so much the last three seasons that their confidence in themselves is unshakable, even when they faced an 0-2 hole in the World Series.
Now, Houston again looks like the team that won 107 regular-season games with an offense that was historically good. Since scoring seven runs in Games 1 and 2, it has collected 24 hits, including three home runs, drawn 10 walks and scored 12 runs.
If the Nationals are having a moment of doubt for the first time, the Astros are right where they expected to be since the first day of Spring Training.
“We want it badly,” Hinch said. “We want to be rewarded for all the work we’ve done.”