It took seven games and some late-game heroics, but for the first time in franchise history, the Washington Nationals are World Series champions.
Describing their road to the title as “bumpy” or “unorthodox” would be an understatement. After a 19-31 start to the season, a postseason appearance seemed like a pipe dream, and Manager Dave Martinez’s future with the club seemed uncertain. From then on, the Nationals played liked one of the best teams in baseball, and they managed to clinch a Wild Card spot.
After a come-back win in the Wild Card game, an upset of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals and a seven-game series victory against the Houston Astros, Washington’s early-season woes feel like part of an alternate reality.
In some ways, their World Series performance is a microcosm of the 2019 Nationals. When the club returned to Houston in a 3-2 series hole after dropping all three of their home games, Washington’s hopes of winning the series were fading fast. Thanks to contributions from stars and role players alike, though, the Nats stunned the juggernaut Astros in Houston.
In Game 7, Astros’ starter Zack Greinke looked to be at the peak of his powers, and Nats hitters looked off-balance and overmatched. Once the Astros managed a Yuri Gurriel home run and a Carlos Correa RBI single off Max Scherzer to earn a 2-0 lead — not to mention Gerrit Cole lurking in the bullpen — everything was in place for Houston to capture their second title in three years.
Then, in the seventh inning, an Anthony Rendon solo shot made it a one-run game, Juan Soto drew a walk and Astros Manager AJ Hinch made the controversial decision to pull Greinke and replace him with Will Harris to face Howie Kendrick. Kendrick, who made himself a Nats hero after a 10th-inning grand slam in Game 5 of the NLDS, sliced a lazy fly ball the other way that bounced off the foul pole for a two-run, go-ahead homer.
After Kendrick gave them a 3-2 lead, the Nationals never looked back, tacking on several insurance runs and getting three scoreless innings from left-hander Patrick Corbin on the way to a decisive 6-2 victory.
For MLB, this World Series will ignited increased pressure to consider the institution of an automated strike zone. The series was marred by controversial home-plate umpiring throughout, as the strike zone seemed to change from pitch to pitch, and a rarely enforced runner’s interference call on Trea Turner in Game 6 nearly changed the outcome of the series. Fortunately for MLB, no call had an especially drastic effect on the outcome of any game, though the umpires were essentially bailed out by a Rendon homer in Game 6.
This series also marks the first time in MLB history that the road team won every game, an unfortunate series oddity for World Series ticket holders, though, one would be hard-pressed to find a Nationals fan willing to complain about such a footnote.
The 2019 Nationals team is also the first Wild Card team to win the World Series since 2014, when the San Francisco Giants accomplished the same feat, and they are the first NL East team to win a title since the Phillies did so in 2008.