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Forcing Game 7 'the most 2019 Nats thing'

@juanctoribio
October 30, 2019

HOUSTON -- Just 48 hours ago, the talk was centered on the Astros and how they were closing in on their second World Series title in three seasons. There were doubts as to whether the Nationals would be able to bounce back after losing three consecutive games at home. But

HOUSTON -- Just 48 hours ago, the talk was centered on the Astros and how they were closing in on their second World Series title in three seasons. There were doubts as to whether the Nationals would be able to bounce back after losing three consecutive games at home.

But maybe that’s exactly how the Nats want it.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 22 WSH 5, HOU 4 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 23 WSH 12, HOU 3 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 25 HOU 4, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 26 HOU 8, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 27 HOU 7, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 6 Oct. 29 WSH 7, HOU 2 Watch
Gm 7 Oct. 30 WSH 6, HOU 2 Watch

The Nationals’ path to the World Series has been well documented. They were 19-31 through 50 games and had a 0.1 percent chance of winning the World Series, according to Baseball-Reference.com. They were one inning away from being eliminated by the Brewers in the National League Wild Card Game. They were down to their final six outs in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the top-seeded Dodgers.

Now they are just one win away from a World Series title after Stephen Strasburg delivered a masterpiece to lift Washington to a 7-2 win over Houston in Game 6 on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.

Strasburg steps up when Nats need him most

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

He's right. This is probably the way that it was drawn out. And as they get ready for Wednesday night's Game 7, all the strange stats seem to favor the Nationals.

With Washington winning Game 6, the road team has won each of the first six games of the series for the first time in any of the major American sports -- a total of 1,420 best-of-seven series. That doesn’t guarantee that the Nats, who will be looking to become the first team with four road wins in a World Series, will do so on Wednesday, but a wild stat like that fits in perfectly with a team that has dealt with its fair share of weirdness this season.

“It’s crazy,” said outfielder Adam Eaton. “I like sleeping at home in my own bed, and I’m sure they do, too. It’s pretty crazy. I think it’s pretty par for the course. Our whole road has been crazy, and the World Series has been crazy. ... Let’s keep the craziness going.”

The Nationals have also won each of the four times they’ve faced elimination this postseason, and they’ve done it in historic fashion. They are the first team in Major League history to have four comeback wins in a single postseason when facing elimination, according to STATS. Since moving to D.C. in 2005, they're 7-4 in win-or-go-home games.

“We love playing together, we love competing together,” Strasburg said. “I think we’ve been groomed for elimination games because we’ve played quite a few of them. Probably some regular-season games there, too, that you can consider elimination games.”

Stats aside, there’s also what -- or, rather, who -- the Nationals will have on the field on Wednesday.

Washington will be starting three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer in the winner-take-all game. Even though it remains to be seen just how long Scherzer, who was scratched from Game 5 due to neck spasms, can pitch, having the seven-time All-Star on the bump gives the Nats confidence against Zack Greinke and the Astros.

“My guess is he comes out tomorrow and he’s going to get prepared like he prepares any other game,” said manager Dave Martinez. “And he’s ready to go, and you’re going to see Max be Max.”

The Nationals will also have the luxury of having all of their pitchers -- Strasburg aside -- available out of the bullpen. With Strasburg giving the Nats 8 1/3 dominant innings, Washington only had to use Doolittle to retire the final two batters of the game. Because of that efficiency, the Nationals will have Anibal Sanchez, Patrick Corbin, Daniel Hudson and Doolittle at their disposal.

“I told [Strasburg] after the game, I said, ‘That was tremendous. You picked us all up, and we’re going to Game 7 because of your performance,'” Martinez said.

With just one game left in this strange season, the Nats are right where they want to be. It all comes down to Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park, where they have won three times over the last week.

“Game 7,” Scherzer said. “Let’s go.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.