Nats Bring D.C. First Title in 95 Years
Too matchy matchy? Nats go gray on gray for victory celebration in Houston.
I‘ve been sick for the last few days so never got around to writing about the 2019 World Series and/or Game 7. Main thought about the latter: It turned on three 7th-inning bads for the Astros:
- Bad pitch: by Zack Greinke to Anthony Rendon with one out in the top of the 7th; found too much of the plate, and he smashed it into the left-field seats to put the Nats on the board
- Bad call: on the fourth pitch to Juan Soto; it was clearly a strike, the ump called it a ball, and the count went to 3-1 rather than 2-2; Greinke walked him on the next pitch, which lead to...
- Bad move: by manager A.J. Hinch, who pulled Greinke after that pitch—only his 80th
We’ll never know what would‘ve happened if the ump had made the right call and/or Hinch had shown more faith in Greinke. We do know what happened when Hinch brought in set-up man Will Harris, who’d had a great year (60 IP, 1.50 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 60-14 K/BB), but who'd faced the Nats four times already, and who, the day before, had given up a 2-run homer to Rendon—turning a slight 3-2 Astros deficit into a more problematic 5-2 hole. This time, he turned a 2-1 Astros lead into a 3-2 lead for the Nats when Howie Kendrick opposite-fielded his second pitch, an outside cutter, and the ball banged off the foul pole for a 2-run homer. Harris then gave up a single to Asdrubal Cabrera and was done for the night, the series, the season. Cameras caught him, head down, pained, in the dugout as the Nats built their lead out with a run in the 8th and two more in the 9th—but all that can be on Hinch, too. He'd had Gerrit Cole, one of the best starters in baseball, warming up but he never went to him. Later, he said he was saving him for a closer role that never came. That's about one of the dumbest things a manager can do in a regular season game, let alone Game 7 of the World Series. When there's no tomorrow, you save nothing.
Nats didn't even have to go to their sometime closer, Sean Doolittle, opting instead for starter Patrick Corbin in the 6th (he got the win) and Daniel Hudson in the 9th, and the vaunted Astros, who won 107 games this season, went gently into that good night. As they saw their deficit grow from one run in the 7th, to two in the 8th, to four in the 9th, they stopped hitting. Their last baserunner was Yuri Gurriel's two-out single in the 7th. After that, they didn't even get the ball out of the infield: 1-3, K, 6-3, K, 5, K, K. The last three were their top-of-the-order guys: Springer, Altuve, Brantley.
If I sound less than enthusiastic about all this it's because I was oddly rooting for the Astros. I know. I should‘ve been rooting for the Nationals, who had never been to the Series, let alone won, while the Astros had been twice before and won it all just two years ago. Nats were the underdogs, the miracle team who had come back late against the Brewers in the Wild Card matchup, and then the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLDS, and who kept coming back against the ’Stros. They were the story of the postseason, and their victory meant spreading the wealth, and I'm a MLB socialist: spread those rings around. But for some reason, ‘Stros. Maybe because I like Altuve, Springer, et al. Maybe I’m just an AL booster. Maybe it's because the Astros knocked out the Yankees, and whoever beats the Yankees, God bless. For whatever reason, I found myself rooting on the doomed team.
An unsung hero of Game 7, by the way, was Max Scherzer, who was scratched from a Game 5 start due to back and neck spasms that made it difficult to dress himself, let alone throw 90-100 pitches to professional baseball players. That set up Game 7, where he wasn't his usual dominating self: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 BB, 3 K. But all that led to only 2 runs. He gritted and gutted his way through. The Astros kept threatening and he kept holding back the tide. In his five innings of work, they stranded seven.
Series MVP went rightly to Stephen Strasburg, who was 2-0 against the ‘Stros and 5-0 overall in the postseason: 36.1 IP, with a 1.98 ERA, a 0.94 WHIP, and a phenomenal 47-4 K/BB. I watched Game 5 with my friend Jeff and predicted it would go to seven. “No one’s going to beat Strasburg right now,” I said. After the Nats Game 6 victory, he texted: “You called it on Strasburg.” Me: “Not exactly Nostradamus.” Strasburg's now a free agent, as is Rendon, which should be worrisome for Nats fans hoping for a repeat. But they got this moment—the first championship in franchise history (b. 1969), and the first championship in Washington, D.C. since 1924.
For the curious, the only teams who have never hold aloft a World Series trophy are: Rangers (b. 1961), Padres (1969), Brewers (1969), Mariners (1977), Rockies (1993) and Rays (1998). Of those, only the Mariners have never gone.
See you next year.