When the Washington Nationals are seemingly down and out, backed into a corner and covering up, they have the opposition right where they want them.
Once again displaying the resilience of a rubber band, the Nationals arose from smoldering ashes Wednesday night to beat the Houston Astros, 6-2, to win the 2019 World Series.
For 6 1/3 innings, they couldn’t find first base against Zack Greinke. They had no runs and two hits. And they trailed, 2-0, only because of some high pressure, high leverage pitching by starter Max Scherzer.
Greinke retired the first batter in the seventh, then Houston native Anthony Rendon finally put the Nationals on the board with a home run into the cozy left field Crawford boxes.
When Greinke walked the next hitter, Houston manager A.J. Hinch went to Will Harris.
The next sound anybody in Minute Maid Park heard was the loud clank of Howie Kendrick’s home run down the right field line that crashed into the foul pole with a ping that completely stunned and silenced most of the 44,000 fans.
The two-run home run was the game-winner, as it turned out.
The Nationals added a big — no huge — run in the eighth. Springfield’s Adam Eaton walked and stole second. With two outs, 21-year-old Juan Soto singled him home as the Astros found out the best way to pitch Soto is to throw it behind him.
Washington added two more in the ninth to screw down the lid, both charged to Wright State University’s Joe Smith. He filled the bases on two hits and a walk. He was replaced by Jose Urquidy and Eaton ripped a two-run single to take it to 6-2.
And the Washington Nationals captured their first World Series championship after facing elimination games in all four rounds of the playoffs. And they survived two elimination games in the World Series.
They were down three games to two when the Series returned to Houston on Tuesday and the Nationals won 7-2.
And for the first time in any sport, the visiting team won every game of the seven-game series — Washington winning four in Houston and Houston winning three in Washington.
Washington manager Dave Martinez sent pitcher Max Scherzer on what seemed like a fool’s mission.
Scherzer missed his scheduled start Sunday when his neck and back were so stiff his wife had to dress him.
He took a cortisone shot in his neck and slept with a brace on his neck, then walked to the mound Wednesday.
It was evident, though, that Scherzer wouldn’t back down from a chain saw. Houston had him in more hot water than a boiling lobster, but he kept the Nationals close for his five innings — seven hits and four walks, but only two runs.
Left hander Patrick Corbin replaced Scherzer and he tightened the spigot on the Astros offense — three innings, no runs, two hits, three strikeouts. And Daniel Hudson put the finishing touches on this masterpiece with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Early on, it was Houston littering the bases with stranded runners against Scherzer while Greinke mowed down Washington hitters like a marksman downing ducks at a carnival shooting gallery.
The Astros took a 1-0 lead when Yuri Gurriel led the second inning by drilling a Scherzer slider into the Crawford boxes in left field.
But, through four innings the Astros stranded seven runners and were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position. They were hitting the ball hard and often, but always at an awaiting Nationals glove.
And it was a recipe for destruction. The Astros stranded 10 runners and were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
They stranded one in the first, two in the second, two in the third, two in the fourth, two in the fifth and one in the seventh.
Meanwhile, Greinke was like a James Bond villain, Goldfinger. Through four innings the Nationals had one base runner. Juan Soto led the second with a single, but was wiped out on a double play. Greinke had the Nats in a constant state of flummox.
After Soto’s double play, Greinke retired the next eight until he issued a full count one-out walk in the fifth to Howie Kendrick.
Asdrubel Cabrera bunted, putting the a National on second base for the first time. No problem, no sweat. Ryan Zimmerman popped out.
Houston broke through for another run in the fifth, finally producing with runners on base. With two on and two out, Carlos Correa pulled one over the third base bag, a run-scoring single to make it 2-0.
Then Robinson Chirinos struck out, leaving two more on and through five the Astros had stranded nine and were 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
Washington played for one run in the fifth when Greinke walked Howie Kendrick with one out. Asdrubel Cabrera bunted him to second, but Ryan Zimmerman popped out.
The Nationals finally reached Greinke for a run in the sixth on Rendon’s home run. Then came Kendrick’s dagger home run. And he hit a pitcher’s pitch, a slider down-and-away.
The Nationals more than earned this one. To win their rings, they beat three Cy Young winners — Greinke, Justin Verlander and this season’s likely winner, Gerrit Cole.
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