WASHINGTON—The Nationals had forced Astros starter Zack Greinke out of the game and had the face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman, at-bat trailing by two runs with two on in the fifth.
Hard-throwing right-hander Josh James threw an 0-2 pitch up and in on Zimmerman, and he hit the dirt and stayed down for a moment.
James finished Zimmerman off with an 89-mph changeup, and Washington, which seemingly had capitalized on every opportunity in the first two World Series games, had finished five innings without a hit in eight chances with runners in scoring position.
The Houston Astros were the ones who capitalized on Friday night and came away with a 4-1 win over the Nationals in Game 3 of the World Series.
James took the sign from catcher Robinson Chirinos and registered the biggest out in the game.
“Whatever he put down, I was going to throw,” James said. “In the World Series, I think there’s always adrenaline, but when there’s two guys on, and it’s a close game, there’s probably a little bit extra.”
Washington still leads 2-1, but the 43,867 passionate fans at Nationals Park, who witnessed D.C.’s first World Series game in 86 years, are undoubtedly exhausted.
Screaming from the first pitch, hoping the Nationals could take a 3-0 lead, the fans hope that Patrick Corbin can give them a 3-1 lead on Saturday night. The road team has won the Series’ first three games, the first time that’s happened since 1996.
With runners on second and third and Washington trailing, 3-1, James threw eight pitches to record what turned out to be the game’s biggest out and picked up a World Series win.
“Zimmerman had had pretty good at-bats up to that point,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said.
“It’s Ryan Zimmerman in this ballpark. I’m well aware. It’s kind of his ballpark, it feels like. In that moment, it felt like power and a new look was going to be what he needed. Josh James came in and did his job.”
Zimmerman wasn’t downcast about the at-bat or the loss.
“Good pitch,” Zimmerman said of the 3-2 changeup. “I like my at-bat … We’ve lost games before. Everyone will be OK.”
Anibal Sanchez, who flirted with a no-hitter in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, was ordinary. That terrific, one-hit in 7 2/3 innings performance came two weeks ago, and because the Nationals wrapped up the NLCS in four games, he hadn’t pitched since.
The Astros scored single runs in the second, third, fifth and sixth against Sanchez, and by the time he left with one out in the sixth, he’d allowed 10 hits.
Jose Altuve, who’s hitting .364 in the postseason, had two doubles that were followed by RBI singles from Michael Brantley.
Josh Reddick’s RBI single in the second scored Carlos Correa, who had had doubled with one out.
Chirinos’ fly ball hit the left field foul pole with one out in the sixth, and Houston had a 4-1 lead that held up.
“It kind of reestablishes us in this series,” Hinch said.
Zimmerman walked against Greinke to start the fourth and scored on a one-out triple by Victor Robles.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez elected to have Sanchez bat for himself. He tried to bunt, but fouled a third strike for the second out. Trea Turner grounded back to Greinke to end the inning.
Martinez said he considered pinch-hitting.
“I liked the way Sanchez was pitching,” he said. “Just couldn’t put the ball in play with runners in scoring position.”
Washington left 10 runners on base in the first six innings, including the bases loaded in the third.
Juan Soto, who was 4-for-7 in the first two games, struck out three times on his 21st birthday. Third baseman Anthony Rendon flied out twice and popped out on the first pitch of consecutive at-bats.
“Tonight we were a little bit aggressive outside the strike zone,” Martinez said.
Hinch used five relievers the day before Houston plans to rely on its bullpen in Game 4.
After James struck out Zimmerman to finish the fifth, Brad Peacock walked two of his three batters in the sixth. Will Harris retired all five batters he faced. Joe Smith pitched a scoreless eighth, and Roberto Osuna worked the ninth and got the save.
The Nationals suffered a potentially severe injury when catcher Kurt Suzuki injured his right hip flexor in the top of the sixth.
Corbin starts against Jose Urquidy in Game 4.
“He can go as long as he’s good,” Hinch said. “I don’t have a predetermined plan on how many innings, how many pitches. It’s Game 4 of the World Series, so all things are being considered.”
The Nationals beat Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander in the first two games, and Houston will try to even the Series with Urquidy, who has pitched in just 11 major league games.
“When they come into our ballpark and beat Gerrit and Justin, that’s a big punch,” Hinch said. “They threw a big punch at the beginning of the series. We’ve got enough experience and enough feel about how series go. We knew, win today, and get a little mojo back on our side, get a little bit of momentum, start to swing the bats a little bit better.
“We’re not afraid of playing in any venues. This is a great atmosphere. The fans here were incredible, just alive how you would expect in the World Series. The players thrive on that, too … The win was huge for us tonight to sort of re-energize the fact that this series is clearly not over.”