WASHINGTON—A.J. Hinch knew coming back from a two-game deficit in the World Series wasn’t going to be easy, but the Houston Astros manager was convinced that his team could overcome the Washington Nationals on the road.
“It’s hard to pinpoint one thing, but I love our feel for the moment,” Hinch said after the Astros took a 3-2 lead in the Series with a 7-1 win over Washington in Game 5 Sunday night.
“Everybody talks about culture and chemistry, and when you have it, you love it. When you see it on the other side, you’re envious of it.”
Houston, which won a major league best 107 games this season, lost the first two games at home by a combined score of 17-7, and came into a Nationals Park whose red-clad fans were bursting with excitement.
In the three games here, the Astros outscored the Nationals, 19-3, and Washington’s monthlong joyride suddenly stopped.
As did the Nationals’ clutch hitting. They were just 1-for-21 with runners in scoring position.
“They didn’t win  games for nothing,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said about Houston.
“They’re really good. They’ve got a well-balanced lineup. Their pitching is good. Their bullpen gets outs. We knew this coming in.”
What Martinez didn’t predict was that his projected Game 5 starter Max Scherzer would be scratched, a piece of news that Martinez dropped at his pregame news conference.
Scherzer, who was suffering from back and neck spasms, was replaced by Joe Ross. As soon as Scherzer woke up, he texted Washington’s trainer and told him there was an issue.
“Kind of started a couple of days ago,” Scherzer said. “I came in, got treatment two days ago, and didn’t feel quite right.”
Scherzer tried to hit on Friday because that usually loosens him up, but it didn’t, and when he woke up on Sunday morning he had trouble getting out of bed.
“I was completely locked up,” Scherzer said. “It’s not just a muscle spasm. In talking to the doctors here, the nerve that’s in the neck is all jammed up.”
Scherzer took a cortisone shot and hopes that if the Nationals win Game 6 on Tuesday with Stephen Strasburg starting, he could be available for Game 7.
“I’ve pitched through so much crap in my career that I thought it would be easy to pitch through at this point,” Scherzer said. “This is literally impossible to do anything with.”
Ross gave up two-run home runs to Yordan Alvarez in the second and Carlos Correa in the fourth.
Houston got a strong performance from Gerrit Cole, who allowed only three hits in seven innings. Juan Soto and Howie Kendrick had consecutive singles in the second, and Soto homered in the seventh. Cole also got the benefit of a questionable third-strike call in the seventh against Victor Robles that would have put runners on first and second in a 4-1 game.
“We just take the mentality like we took during the regular season,” Cole said. “We’re just going to kind of put one foot in front of the next, respond to the challenges that come our way and you shower off the mistakes and celebrate the amazing plays.”
Correa and Jose Altuve thought the team was missing a vital ingredient after losing the first two games in Houston.
“’Jose, we need to get our swagger back,’’’ Correa told Altuve. “We’re getting hit, and we’re not even getting hyped up. We’re scoring runs, and it feels like a regular game. This is the World Series. This is the last series of the season. We need to play like it.”
The Astros’ lineup produced in Washington, the setting for World Series games for the first time since 1933. The road team has won all five games.
“If you see all the games, it seems like every day it was somebody different,” Altuve said. “Today it was Yordan and Carlos, [George] Springer. Yesterday, Michael Brantley, [Robinson] Chirinos.”
Springer added a two-run homer in the ninth against Daniel Hudson.
“I think that we didn’t give up,” Altuve said. “A lot of teams, down 0-2, losing at home, it’s not easy. We stay confident. We believe in ourselves and we’ve been playing great. What we’re doing is amazing. It’s not over, yet. We’ve got to go out there and win.”
Altuve and the Astros were preparing for Scherzer until they found out late that he would be a scratch.
“We know he’s one of the greatest pitchers ever,” Altuve said. “At the same time, we have to get ready for Ross. He was throwing the ball really good.”
Ross knew it wasn’t a regular-season game atmosphere.
“I definitely noticed when I first stepped on the field, everyone was cheering, which was pretty cool,” Ross said. “But once I get out there it’s normal routine, get going, don’t really want to change what’s going on as far as normal routine.”
The Astros and Nationals have yet to win a game at home. For Washington to come back from this 3-2 deficit, the Nationals will have to do it against Justin Verlander on Tuesday.
“I don’t think anyone would have expected to lose three, but it happens,” Ross said. “We’ve still got to fight. Stay in the fight like they say. Go down to Houston and try to take care of business.”