WASHINGTON—Suddenly, it’s the Washington Nationals’ time to question themselves. In the first two World Series games against the Houston Astros, the Nationals beat 20-game winners Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, setting themselves up for a possible clinching victory at home.
After two games at Nationals Park, the Series is even at two games each, and Washington is faced with a formidable task.
In order to win the World Series, the Nationals must beat the Astros in two of the next three games with Cole, Verlander and Zack Greinke starting. The Nationals will counter with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Anibal Sanchez.
The difference for the Nationals is that they’re just 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position in their two home games.
“We haven’t changed a bit,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “This is the same team that won 100-plus games. This is the same team that the won the [AL West], won two playoff series. There was a lot of noise around losing the first two games, and rightfully so because the Nats had outplayed us.
“I think we turned it around and now we’ve outplayed them for a couple of games.”
The Astros scored early and late and beat the Nationals, 8-1, on Saturday night, ensuring that there will be a sixth game in Houston on Tuesday night.
“We’ve got two of our big horses going in the next two games,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said about Scherzer and Strasburg. “We haven’t hit in the last couple of days. I’ve got confidence we’ll bounce back and be ready to play tomorrow.”
The fourth game was incorrectly labeled a bullpen game for the Astros because Houston manager A. J. Hinch decided to start Jose Urquidy, who pitched in just 11 games in his first major league season.
Urquidy shut down the Nationals with a five-inning, two-hit performance. Hinch took him out so he wouldn’t face the heart of Washington’s lineup a third time.
Before the game, Hinch said in his best-case scenario, Urquidy could give the Astros five or six innings, and he more than met that expectation, allowing only a first-inning single to Anthony Rendon and third-inning double to Yan Gomes. Urquidy didn’t walk a batter.
“I didn’t want to get too greedy with him,” Hinch said. “He was incredible from the very beginning. I thought he was calm and in control of his stuff.”
For the second straight game, Hinch used five relievers. Josh James, Will Harris, Hector Rondon, Brad Peacock and Chris Devenski combined to throw four shutout innings, allowing two hits, although they walked five.
Houston scored two runs against Nationals starter Patrick Corbin in the first on four consecutive singles by Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel.
Robinson Chirinos, who homered in Game 3 for the Astros’ final run, hit a two-run shot to left in the fourth against Corbin, who allowed the four runs on seven hits in six innings.
Tanner Rainey relieved Corbin to start the seventh, and he walked pinch-hitter Kyle Tucker and George Springer. With one out, Martinez brought in Fernando Rodney to face Brantley, who singled to load the bases.
In Game 3, Martinez ordered Rodney to walk Brantley intentionally so he could face Bregman, who grounded out. On Saturday night, the Astros’ third baseman, a leading contender for American League Most Valuable Player, launched a grand slam to left to expand Houston’s lead to 8-1.
It was the first grand slam by an American League player in a World Series since the Chicago White Sox’s Paul Konerko hit one in Game 2 of the 2005 Series against the Astros.
“On that at-bat, I was just trying to hit something in the air, in the middle of the field,” Bregman said. “When I hit that, I was pretty fired up.”
Scherzer, who won Game 1, will again match up against Cole, and he could have his preferred catcher, Kurt Suzuki, working with him. Suzuki injured a hip flexor and left Game 3, but Martinez said he hoped Suzuki could play in Game 5.
Gomes caught Corbin, which he normally does. With Suzuki catching Scherzer, his ERA is nearly half as low (2.08 to 4.09) as when Gomes does.
Scherzer said that he feels comfortable throwing to Gomes, too.
“We’ve just got to get back to playing our kind of game,” Gomes said. “Put these last couple games behind us and go back out there.”
This is the first time the road team has won the first four games of a World Series since 1996. That year, the Atlanta Braves won the first two games against the New York Yankees, and the Yankees won the last four.
“We’re better when we have fun, and we had fun the last two days,” Bregman said. “Playing well is fun.”
Hinch, whose team won the World Series in 2017, projects an air of assurance. He says being around Urquidy, who doesn’t have much major league experience, convinced him he was ready to pitch in meaningful games.
“We trust our players here,” Hinch said. “You know a lot of people like me sit up here and say that. We trust our players and give them the opportunity.
“Our team believes in anybody that we have active … can help us win the World Series, including Jose Urquidy. If you didn’t know who he was, I think this stage will make sure everybody knows who he is now.”