With their backs against the wall — doesn’t that seem evergreen this season? — the Washington Nationals returned to Houston, looking to prevent the Astros from doing what the Astros do: come up big in a big situation. How many times have you heard this story this season, and how many times have the Nationals come out on the losing end?
The latter number didn’t change in this series. The Cardiac Nats from 2012 — yes, it was that long ago — resurfaced, and this time it got Washington some hardware.
Things looked bleak early. The Nationals plated a run off Justin Verlander in the top of the first, but Houston clapped back with a two-run homer via Alex Bregman. After the ball came off the All Star’s bat, the drama began:
Fast forward to the top of the fifth inning, with the Astros still leading 2–1. The Nationals had been working Verlander’s pitch count a bit, and finally cashed in. With one out, Adam Eaton hit one of his more impressive home runs, and celebrated with style, per usual.
Speaking of celebrations, two batters later, Juan Soto took liftoff. He milked the moment, so naturally, I will too.
Verlander was done after that inning, putting up another relatively nondescript World Series performance.
Now it’s time to spark more controversy. After a Yan Gomes single to lead off the seventh inning, Trea Turner laid down a decent bunt. Relief pitcher (and former National) Brad Peacock fielded it, threw to first, and then all Hell broke loose:
This was called an out. The conclusion was that he was inside the baseline and obstructed Yuli Gurriel’s ability to catch the ball. It caused an extended delay, got Dave Martinez ejected, and could’ve costed Washington the game. But you know what they say: ball don’t lie!
That two-run tater from MVP candidate Anthony Rendon gave the Nationals a cozy 5–2 lead; a lead they would never relinquish — thanks in large part to the new staff ace: Stephen Strasburg.
Rendon also hit a two-run trademark double in the ninth inning, leaving Strasburg’s complete game bid as the only point of drama. He didn’t make it — he fell two outs short, throwing 104 pitches — but Sean Doolittle sealed the deal with relative ease (11 pitches), forcing a winner-take-all game.
Washington had the advantage with the starting pitching matchup — Max Scherzer vs. Zack Greinke. But that wasn’t showing itself at the start of the game. Washington couldn’t have asked for a lot more than Scherzer provided (two runs over five innings) — especially considering that’s deeper than any starter had gone in the last two Game Sevens — but Greinke topped him.
Through six innings, Greinke had surrendered a mere single. Then he gave up a one-out solo homer to Rendon, walked Soto, and immediately got himself yanked from the mound. The next batter (Howie Kendrick) slugged a ball off the foul pole, and suddenly the Nationals had a 3–2 advantage.
Of course, he also met up with Eaton in the dugout, as well.
Soto singled another run home in the eighth, Eaton drove in two more on a bases-loaded single in the top of the ninth, and Patrick Corbin threw three clean innings in relief, giving way to closer Daniel Hudson in the bottom of the ninth.
Facing the top three hitters in the Houston batting order, Hudson came into the game pumping strikes — and he was rewarded for it. George Springer hit a pop-up, Jose Altuve struck out swinging, and Michael Brantley did the same on a jam shot down and inside.
No one said this would be easy, but it was definitely going to be a fun ride. There were countless internal developments, small trades, and signings of veterans that had been cast aside — all leading to this moment.
A wise man has told me that good pitching beats good hitting. This series proves that, but I’ll add something else that this series proves: In a sport driven by data and projections, there are not analytics for chemistry and team dynamics.
Who would’ve thought that Hudson would become the All-Star level closer of a World Series champion, or that the team’s big ticket free agent signee would become the ultimate chess piece on the mound — ultimately winning Game Seven out of the bullpen? No team can navigate a postseason run while virtually only using six pitchers, can they? Could anyone have imagined that Juan Soto, who turned 21 years old during the series, could possibly have a World Series MVP performance?
Well, not exactly. The award went to Stephen Strasburg, who went 5–0 this postseason, including 2–0 with a near-complete game in Game Six. The Nationals also went 10–0 in games started by him and Scherzer.
The future still may not be clear. Anthony Rendon is officially a free agent, and Strasburg has the potential to become one, but even if it’s just for one night, none of that matters.
From 19–31 until the 27th out on Wednesday night, the team stayed in the fight. And now, the Washington Nationals are World Series champions.
I leave you with one last parting gift: