WASHINGTON -- The Nationals spent the first two games of this World Series cashing in on their scoring opportunities with efficiency. Each time the Astros left the door cracked open, the Nats busted it down, capitalizing to go a combined 7-for-21 with runners in scoring position in Games 1 and
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals spent the first two games of this World Series cashing in on their scoring opportunities with efficiency. Each time the Astros left the door cracked open, the Nats busted it down, capitalizing to go a combined 7-for-21 with runners in scoring position in Games 1 and 2.
The difference between capitalizing on chances and squandering them can be small, however, as the Nationals saw firsthand in a 4-1 loss in Game 3 on Friday night at Nationals Park that snapped their record eight-game postseason winning streak. The Astros cut into their Series advantage by pitching their way out of jams all night, leaving the Nats 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position, with 12 stranded.
“If we put that many people on base every night from here on out, I’ll take my chances,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “Sometimes you’ve got to give those guys credit. They made pitches when they needed to make pitches. You can’t get the big hit every night.”
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For two games it felt as though the Nationals did come through every night while the Astros could not take advantage again and again. Washington scored 17 runs through the first two games and did it with just 30 baserunners, which is ridiculous efficiency. Meanwhile, Houston had gone a combined 3-for-17 in the first two games with runners in scoring position, but rebounded to go 4-for-10 on Friday night.
It’s the latest example of how “clutch” hits are not predictive, but can become the difference in a game.
“Both teams had a lot of chances to score runs,” Zimmerman said. “It’s not easy to get those hits.”
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No team had gone 0-for-10 (or worse) with RISP in a World Series game since Game 1 of the 2008 World Series, when the Phillies went 0-for-13, the worst in World Series history, although they won that game. The Nats had just two games all season in which they finished a game at least 0-for-9 (July 24 against the Rockies and Sept. 13 against the Braves).
“It just happened, a bad day,” left fielder Juan Soto said. “We need to keep doing the same thing we've been doing. We just missed an opportunity today. Tomorrow we're going to get a chance, and we've got to get it done.”
The Nats put at least one runner in scoring position in each of the first six innings. In four of those six, they did it with fewer than two outs. First they wasted back-to-back singles to begin the second inning. Then, with one out in the third, they had runners on first and second with Anthony Rendon and Soto due up and did not score. In the fourth, manager Dave Martinez allowed Aníbal Sánchez to hit for himself with a chance to tie the score after Victor Robles' one-out triple drove in a run.
Each of those scenarios played out in tantalizing fashion before a sold-out crowd of 43,867 that brimmed with anticipation from the start of the night. Hours before the game began, fans filed into the Navy Yard neighborhood around the ballpark, filling the bars, restaurants and streets for the first World Series game played here in 86 years. By first pitch, a buzz filled the ballpark. The crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to Soto, who turned 21. They clapped and cheered in unison to “Baby Shark” when Gerardo Parra pinch-hit to start the sixth.
But what they really wanted was a reason, any reason, to cheer even louder, as they waited for the Nationals' offense to break open the game. Instead the Nats were left tipping their respective caps to the Astros' pitching staff with their series edge cut in half, to 2-1.
“We were a little bit aggressive outside the strike zone,” Martinez said. “We took balls I thought we should hit, uncharacteristic of what we've been doing. [Astros starter Zack] Greinke got out of some jams, got opportunities early. We couldn't capitalize.”
And sometimes the difference in the game is that small.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.