Despite the Astros’ supposed superiority and home-field advantage, the underdog Nationals marched into Houston and won a Game 1 nail-biter and cruised to a Game 2 blowout. Now, both teams head to D.C. for three games and the Astros face an uphill battle in pursuit of their second title in three years.
The Astros sent their ace Gerrit Cole to the mound in Game 1, and they had reason for supreme confidence, as Cole had not suffered a loss since May 22 — until Tuesday. Washington challenged Cole from the outset and scored five runs against the recently untouchable pitcher.
Washington’s offensive success in Game 1 was a story of harmony between their youngest and oldest players. Thirty five-year-old Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals’ franchise-first draft pick in 2005, finally got his moment on the big stage when he hit the franchise’s first home run in the second inning. Twenty-year-old Juan Soto added another series of moments to his postseason highlight tape, recording three hits, including a double and a mammoth opposite field shot off Cole.
The Astros mounted a comeback against the Washington bullpen in the late innings thanks to a homer and double from George Springer, but they eventually came up just short, falling 5-4.
Game 2 was a close affair for most of the evening. The Nationals opened their scoring in the first inning with a two-run Anthony Rendon double off Justin Verlander, but the Astros responded with a two-run Alex Bregman bomb that cleared the Crawford Boxes in left field. After that, both offenses went quiet, and both starting pitchers hung zeroes for five innings.
The top of the seventh inning proved to be the game’s defining frame. It started with a Kurt Suzuki solo home run off Verlander’s 100th pitch and continued when Houston went to its bullpen. The Astros walked the bases loaded to face Howie Kendrick, and a bobble by Bregman allowed another run to cross the plate. A couple hits and a Bregman throwing error later, the Nats had batted around and secured an 8-2 lead.
Washington continued to pile on with a pair of homers in the eighth and ninth innings, and eventually earned a decisive 12-3 victory.
On Friday in Washington, the Astros will turn to starting pitcher Zack Greinke — who has struggled in October — in desperate need of a Game 3 win. The Nationals will send crafty veteran Anibal Sanchez to the mound in front of what will be a sold-out, energized Washington crowd.
In World Series history, 10 of the 13 road teams to seize a 2-0 lead have gone on to win the World Series. For Washington, it would be the title first in franchise history. For Houston, the 2017 World Series champion, a World Series loss would damage their hopes of etching their names among historic MLB dynasties.
More than any team in baseball, Houston is capable of overcoming a 2-0 deficit, but their success will rely on the formula that got them to the Fall Classic in the first place: dominant starting pitching. Cole, Greinke and Verlander must step up in the coming games, as even Houston’s MLB-best offense cannot guarantee prolific run creation against Washington’s star-studded rotation.