HOUSTON–Tuesday night marked the Nationals’ first World Series appearance in franchise history. On the other side of the diamond, tonight marked the 2nd World Series appearance in 3 years for the Astros and their 3rd trip since 2005, the year the Nationals came into existence. It was a tale of two teams with very different paths to the World Series, but both looking to hoist that shiny pennant covered beauty that is the World Series trophy.
Trea Turner singled off Gerrit Cole and then subsequently stole second base to leadoff Game 1 in Houston. Unfortunately for the Nationals, that was all Cole would allow in the 1st. Eight pitches later, the flame throwing lefty was out the inning, after retiring Adam Eaton on 2 pitches and striking Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto on 3 pitches each. Both struck out on high 98 mph heat. Cole finished the 1st inning on a mere 10 pitches and it was on to the Astros half of the opening inning.
Max Scherzer got into his usual 1st inning trouble, issuing a leadoff walk to George Springer and then allowing a single to ALCS walkoff hero, Jose Altuve. Scherzer seemed to settle in striking out Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman and then got 2 strikes on Yuli Gurriel before surrendering a 2-run, 2-out double off the wall to give the Astros an early 2-0 lead. Max recovered to strike out Carlos Correa and end the 1st inning but the damage had been done and he had thrown 26 pitches to get out of the inning, giving Cole the early lead both on the scoreboard and in pitch economics.
Ryan Zimmerman, the very first Washington draft choice and “Original National”, batted second in the 2nd inning, coming to the plate for the first time in a World Series. He proceeded to take the second pitch he ever saw in the World Series, a 96 mph fastball, 413 feet deep to dead center for a solo home run to get one back for the Nationals and cut the Astro lead to 2-1. Zimmerman became the first player 35 years old or older to hit a home run in his first World Series since Barry Bonds in 2002.
Scherzer worked around another leadoff walk in the 2nd inning, this time to Yordan Alvarez but was able to work around it, striking out Springer to end the inning but he once again went over 20 pitches in the inning and his high early pitch count was up to 48 after two innings. Max again got in trouble in the 3rd, including a 2nd and 3rd, 2-out pickle after the umpires failed to see Michael Brantley make contact with 3rd base coach, Gary Pettis, in what should have resulted in Brantley being called out and the end of the 3rd inning. Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez came out from the visitors dugout to protest the play, the umpires conferred, but still refused to make a call and the inning continued. Scherzer went on to strike out Correa for a second time to end the 3rd but he had to throw five more pitches than he should have and his pitch count was up to 69 through 3 innings…not ideal, but Mad Max had kept his team in the game.
Juan Soto rewarded his pitcher in the top of the 4th inning by blasting a 417 foot, opposite field home run off the train tracks, to tie Game 1 at 2-2. Soto became the 4th youngest player to homer in the World Series joining a short list that includes Andruw Jones, Miguel Cabrera and Mickey Mantle, not bad company to be in as a youngster. Soto’s blast quieted the crowd to a level that hadn’t been reached since DJ LeMahieu’s 2-run homer off Roberto Osuna in the ALCS.
Max once again worked out of a jam in the 4th and raised his ever growing pitch count to 96 through 4 innings. However, he had done his job and kept his team in the game, not allowing the Astros to score since Gurriel’s hit in the 1st, and gave his teammates another chance to get to Cole, who was beginning to look somewhat human. The Nationals did not disappoint.
In Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger says “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”
(Predator (1987), Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)
The Nationals took this attitude about Cole into the 5th inning thanks to the blood drawn from the Zimmerman and Soto solo shots, but they knew it was going to take more to kill the ace who again, had not suffered a loss in 153 days. Kurt Suzuki led off the inning by drawing Cole’s first walk of the night and Victor Robles follows with a single after two failed bunt attempts. Suzuki advanced to 3rd on a Turner fly out before Adam Eaton hit a broken bat RBI single to give the Nationals their first lead of the night, 3-2. Eaton’s bat died a hero and Cole trailed for the first time since September 2. The Nationals didn’t stop there, as Juan Soto nailed an opposite field wall banger to drive Robles and Eaton and make it 5-2 Nationals. It could have been worse too, and only a diving catch by Correa saved another Nationals run.
Scherzer came back out for the 5th inning and retired the Astros in order on just 16 pitches, his most efficient inning of the night and the first 1-2-3 inning by either pitcher. Scherzer finished the night throwing 112 pitches to get through 5 innings but he left everything he had on the field and kept his team in the game long enough to get Cole. He had done his job and turned the ball over to Patrick Corbin in the 6th to try and hold onto the 5-2 lead. Corbin struck out Correa and Martin Maldonado around a 1-out Alvarez single and worked a scoreless 6th to get the Nationals to the 7th with a 3-run lead.
Cole got through 7 innings but gave up 5 earned runs. For context, Gerrit Cole had only allowed 30 earned runs combined in his last 25 starts.
Tanner Rainey came out pumping gas in the 7th, hitting 100 mph right out for the gate. However, when you throw that hard, you supply the batter a lot of power if they make solid contact and big home runs are an occupational hazard. This was the case in Game 1 as George Springer was able to get around on a 99 mph fastball and took it 428 deep to center field for a solo home run. It was his 14th career postseason home run and it pulled the Astros within 2 runs of Washington, 5-3. Rainey retired Altuve before issuing a 4-pitch walk to Brantley and the tying run was at the plate in the form of Alex Bregman. Rainey got into another full count, despite falling behind 3-0, but ended up walking Bregman and Martinez had seen enough and Rainey’s night was over after just 4 batters. He had surrendered a solo home run and walked back to back Astros.
Enter Daniel Hudson, the Nationals’ closer, who was tasked with putting out the biggest fire of his career; 2-on, 1-out, his team leading by 2 in the 7th inning. Hudson induced a pop up to 2nd base from Gurriel. Trea Turner got to a ball in the hole off the bat of Correa and almost got Bregman at 2nd but it ended up an infield single to load the bases for Yordan Alvarez. The Astro was 2 for 2 with a walk on the night, but Hudson buckled down and struck him out on 3 pitches to successfully put out the fire in the 7th and preserve the Nationals’ 5-3 lead.
Hudson came back out to start the 8th inning and Preston Tucker greeted him with a leadoff single. He retired Aledmys Diaz but George Springer hit a drive to deep right field that appeared to be headed for the stands. The ball stayed in the park and Adam Eaton nearly made the play but the ball ricocheted off his glove allowing Preston Tucker to score from 2nd to pull the Astros within a run, 5-4, in the 8th. Hudson then got Altuve to fly out before Martinez made the call to the bullpen for Sean Doolittle. The lefty made quick work of Brantley as he got him to fly out to Soto in left and the Nationals were 3-outs away from a Game 1 victory.
Doolittle made even quicker work of the Astros in the 9th, where only 9 pitches he struck out Bregman and then retired Gurriel and Correa to finish off the save.
Despite falling behind 2-0 early, when the dust settled the Washington Nationals emerged victorious in Game 1 and handed Gerrit Cole his first loss since May 22 and had taken a surprising 1-0 lead in the World Series. Good news for the Nationals, the last ten teams to come from behind to win Game 1 have gone on to win the World Series.
Game 2 is Wednesday night and features Stephen Strasburg against Justin Verlander. Strasburg looks to continue his success this postseason and take his team back to Washington with a 2-0 lead. First pitch set for 8:08pm eastern.