'Had to be this way' -- G7 decides storied season

Nationals, Strasburg turn tables on Astros in Game 6

October 30th, 2019

HOUSTON -- Say this for the Washington Nationals: They did themselves proud. They did their sport proud, too. This is what championship teams do. They find a way. They shut out the noise.

With the Houston Astros on the verge of winning another World Series, with a ballpark rocking and a city preparing for a street party, the Nationals made a stand.

showed again why he’s one of the all-time great postseason pitchers by turning in 8 1/3 dominant innings in the biggest start of his career, and his teammates clubbed three home runs in a 7-2 handling of the Astros in Game 6 on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.

Now we’ve got a Game 7 on Wednesday night. This is just the 40th time a World Series has gone the distance. If you’re looking for an edge, don’t. Home teams have lost three straight Game 7s, most recently in 2017 when Houston won at Dodger Stadium.

Oh, that.

We’re six games into the 2019 World Series and the road team has won every game for the first time in history. Don’t bother looking for an explanation. Other than this one: That’s baseball. That’s why we love it.

“We’re going to continue to try to ride this wave as long as possible,” Nats third baseman said after a three-hit, five-RBI game. “Maybe they enjoy our park, and maybe we enjoy their park. We're not going to ask questions, we're just going to try to go out there and just have some fun.”

Game 7 will be Max Scherzer for the Nationals and Zack Greinke for the Astros. If the Nats win, it’ll be the finishing touch on a season that has a magical feel to it. After a 19-31 start, they’ve made their way to their first World Series.

Now they’re on the threshold, close enough to touch it and taste it and imagine it.

“For the people that followed this team the whole season, it had to be this way,” closer said. “It was going to be this way. We had a knack for making things a little tougher on ourselves than we needed to at times. It just feels like it’s the most 2019 Nats thing for this to come down to Game 7 of the World Series.”

Scherzer simply taking the mound will be an improbable story. He was unable to make a scheduled Game 5 start on Sunday night because of neck and right shoulder pain, and he was so uncomfortable that he needed help with a simple task like putting on a shirt.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner was given a cortisone shot in his neck that he hoped would allow him to pitch a potential Game 7. After doing some throwing in the outfield before Game 6, he pronounced himself ready to go, saying simply, “I’m good.”

Scherzer made a few more tosses in the bullpen during Game 6 and is set for Wednesday’s showdown. If he’s unable to pitch deep into the game, Washington will have starters Anibal Sanchez and Patrick Corbin ready in the ‘pen.

As for Greinke, the Astros acquired him at the Trade Deadline for a moment like this. They needed depth for a rotation that had a pair of aces at the top and not enough depth after that.

Greinke has a 5.30 ERA in four starts this postseason. Meanwhile, Scherzer has a 2.16 ERA in four starts and one relief appearance.

The Astros were 50-17 when or started this season, but the Nationals won three of the four games started by the duo this Series. That should make beating Greinke in a Game 7 seem imminently doable.

Here’s another one: Washington is 3-0 this Series at Minute Maid Park, a ballpark in which Houston went 65-22 during the regular season and the American League Division Series and the AL Championship Series.

Again, the way the Nationals came out and played this Game 6 says so much about them.

When the Nats lost three in a row at home over the weekend, it seemed like the beginning of a coronation for an Astros team had been picked by many to win the World Series since the first day of Spring Training.

To flip that script in Game 6, the Nationals got to Verlander, who dropped to 0-6 in World Series games. He has pitched better than that record indicates, but not on Tuesday night.

Verlander has worked more innings (258 1/3) than any other Major League pitcher this season, and that workload appears to have taken a toll. He allowed three runs and departed after five innings in which he was forced to throw 93 high-stress pitches. Verlander took a 2-1 lead into the fifth, but in the space of nine pitches, and homered to give Washington a lead it would not surrender.

Things got crazy in the seventh inning when umpires called shortstop Trea Turner out for interfering with first baseman Yuli Gurriel. Nats manager Davey Martinez eventually was ejected for arguing that ruling.

But by then, the Nationals were well on their way to forcing a deciding game. Strasburg allowed two runs in the first inning, later saying he was tipping his pitches. He was nearly perfect after that, especially in the bottom of the fifth when the Astros had runners on second and third with one out. Strasburg got José Altuve to chase a breaking ball for a strikeout and then got Michael Brantley on a grounder to short.

Now to Game 7. On the first day of Spring Training, both teams would have signed up for this. Both teams are tired, both are pushing toward the finish line. When asked about stress last week, Houston manager AJ Hinch called a World Series “the best kind of stress.”

Welcome to Game 7.

“We have a great opportunity,” Hinch said. “Maybe not how we drew it up in terms of how we got there, but it doesn't take away the opportunity we have to win the World Series.”