'One more': Fired-up Nats take Astros to Game 7
HOUSTON -- Huge homers. Bat deliveries to first base. A disputed call. An ejection. Max Scherzer warming. Stephen Strasburg dealing. And the Nationals continuing a ridiculous run of road wins in this World Series.
Game 6 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night was epic. It was classic. It was captivating. And the Nationals -- buoyed by native Houstonian Anthony Rendon’s five-RBI night, Juan Soto’s second-deck tiebreaker blast and the premier pitching of Strasburg on the biggest stage of his career -- won it, 7-2. The game that had a little bit of everything has given the baseball universe the greatest gift of all.
Never in World Series history had the road team won the first six games. The Nats, after squandering their 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven with a wasted weekend in D.C., completed the feat by taking it to Justin Verlander (who remains winless in his World Series career), and, perhaps, taking back the momentum in a Series that defies explanation.
“It's been a grind, so just keep going,” said Strasburg, who allowed just a pair of runs in 8 1/3 innings. “One more.”
The Series has been taken to the max, and it will involve Max. In seeking its first Series title in franchise history, Washington will start Scherzer, who was scratched from Sunday night’s Game 5 because of a neck issue but is now back (thanks to the medical magic of cortisone) to oppose Zack Greinke. Scherzer briefly threw in the bullpen mid-Game 6 for just one of Tuesday’s many mesmerizing moments, but ultimately the Nationals got most of the outs they needed from Strasburg.
“It's Game 7,” Scherzer said. “Let's go.”
Scherzer-Greinke is one last pleasing pitching matchup in a Series that has been full of them.
It's been full of surprises, too.
One surprise early in this one was Alex Bregman boldly carrying his bat all the way down the first-base line while beginning his trot after his solo homer off Strasburg gave Houston, a win away from its second title in three seasons, a 2-1 lead. The Nationals had taken a quick 1-0 lead on Rendon’s RBI single in the first, but the Astros answered by manufacturing a run after George Springer’s leadoff double and then with Bregman’s no-doubt-about-it blast to the Crawford Boxes. That Bregman celebrated his swat in a way that rubs against the game’s more conservative customs certainly drew the attention of the Nats -- and Soto, in particular.
The Nationals had squandered opportunities with two runners aboard in the third and fourth innings. But in the sixth, Adam Eaton, who had helped set up the first-inning run with a sacrifice bunt, did something bigger and better than bunting by belting a game-tying solo homer to right on an 0-1 slider that hung over the middle.
One out later, it was the 21-year-old Soto who strode to the plate. He worked the count to 3-1, then absolutely destroyed Verlander’s 96 mph offering in the upper reaches of the strike zone for a 413-foot wallop to a far-off land known as Section 253. Soto seized the opportunity for a first-of-its-kind retaliatory bat delivery to first-base coach Tim Bogar.
Suddenly, debates about bat flips are passé. Bat deliveries are here to ruffle feathers.
“[Bregman] shouldn't carry the bat past first base,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said. “Soto shouldn't carry it to first base, either.”
Carrying a 3-2 lead, the Nats fought hard for some insurance in the seventh. With Yan Gomes at first and no outs, Trea Turner hit a weak grounder toward third base.
Plate umpire Sam Holbrook called Turner out for interfering with the fielder taking the throw, and Nationals manager Dave Martinez protested, leading to a four-minute, 32-second discussion of the rule (not the call itsef, as that was an unreviewable judgment call) though the call went unchanged.
“The ruling was that Trea Turner interfered, basically -- not basically, he interfered with the first baseman trying to make a play,” MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre explained postgame. “In fact, [Yuli] Gurriel's glove even came off at that point in time. He did run to the fair side of those 45-foot lines, but really the violation was when he kept Gurriel from being able to catch the ball at first base.”
One batter later, Rendon hit a two-run homer off reliever Will Harris, who had relieved Brad Peacock, so the play wound up not affecting the outcome. Between innings, Martinez was ejected, becoming the first manager ejected in a World Series game since Atlanta’s Bobby Cox in Game 6 in 1996. But Washington kept adding on in the ninth, with Rendon delivering a two-run double to make it 7-2 and further confirming that the road dominance in this Series has not gone away.
“We're going to continue to try to ride this wave as long as possible,” Rendon said. “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.”
In postseason history, including all series and Wild Card Games, home teams are only 57-60 in winner-take-all games. That includes 19-20 in the World Series, where home teams have lost three straight Game 7s -- most recently the Dodgers to the Astros in 2017 -- after winning each of the previous nine going back to 1982.
If the first six games of this Series are any indication, the Nationals’ gray pants could be their biggest asset in the finale.
“This Series,” said Hinch, “has been very weird.”
Never weirder -- and never better -- than a wild Game 6. But the best is yet to come.