HOUSTON–Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander faced off Wednesday night in a pivotal Game 2 matchup of respective league Wins leaders. Both pitchers were hunting the W, for obvious but different reasons. Strasburg, the first #1 overall draft pick to ever start a World Series game for the team that drafted him, was looking to give his Nationals a commanding 2-0 series lead heading home to Washington. Verlander was looking to play the role of stopper and make sure his Astros did not face a 2-0 hole while hitting the road. The Nationals had beaten Gerrit Cole Tuesday night and only twice all season had the Astros lost 2 games in a row when Cole and Verlander were starting and Houston was 6-1 in Game 2s since 2017.
For the second night in a row, Trea Turner reached base to start the game, tonight it was by drawing a leadoff walk. This was just the 3rd time in Verlander’s career that he walked the leadoff man on four pitches and the first time in 11 years. Adam Eaton followed with a slap opposite-field single past third baseman Alex Bregman and the Nationals were in business against Justin Verlander just 6 pitches into the 1st inning. They had runners at 1st and 2nd with no one out and the heart of their lineup due up. Anthony Rendon did not disappoint, recording his first World Series hit, an RBI double off the wall in left field and just like that it was 2-0 Washington and still no one was out. Up stepped the 20-year old slugger, Juan Soto, fresh off his 3 RBI performance in Game 1. Verlander recovered from the rough start to the game to strike out Soto and finally record an out in Game 2. Verlander got out of the 1st inning but the Nationals had gotten to him early, as has been the trend with him this postseason.
Strasburg picked up right where he left of in the NLCS, striking out George Springer on 3 pitches to start the bottom of the 1st. Diminutive Jose Altuve worked a 2-1 count before doubling and extending his postseason hitting streak to 22 games. Unfortunately for Houston, Altuve got greedy and Kurt Suzuki caught him stealing 3rd base for the 2nd out of the inning. That caught stealing proved costly for Houston because Brantley singled off Strasburg which would have most likely scored Altuve, but minimum, given the Astros runners at 1st and 3rd and only 1-out. It was even more costly when Alex Bregman homered off Strasburg with 2-outs to tie the game at 2-2 when it would have given the Astros the lead. Either way the game was tied again and Strasburg got out of the inning without any further damage.
In the 2nd inning, Verlander struck out Victor Robles breaking a tie at 199 with John Smoltz for most career postseason strikeouts. His strikeout of Robles gave him the distinction of becoming the first pitcher to ever reach the 200 K milestone in the playoffs. Strasburg settled down for the 2nd inning as well, striking out 2 more Astros and working a 1-2-3 inning.
Juan Soto doubled in the 3rd inning but that was all the Nationals could muster against Verlander. JV however, failed to record a strikeout that inning but he had definitely settled in after a rough first, as has also been his M.O. this postseason. Strasburg had seemed to have settled in as well, striking out Josh Reddick to start the inning. After Turner allowed Altuve to reach on a throwing error with 2-outs, Brantley followed with a base hit to make it 1st and 3rd with 2-outs. Then the Astros historically bad RISP numbers continued as Bregman grounded out to Turner to end the 3rd and Game 2 remained tied 2-2.
Strasburg wrung up two more Astros, Yuli Gurriel and Robinson Chirinos, giving him 6 strikeouts through only 4 innings. His pitch count was up to 72 but he had managed to keep Houston in check since Bregman’s 2 RBIs in the 1st inning. After both teams scored 2 runs in the first, the two righties were giving the fans in attendance at Minute Maid Park the pitchers’ duel they had expected.
The 5th inning was more of the same as both pitchers worked around a baserunner or two but ultimately got out of the inning without much trouble. Both Strasburg and Verlander were in the mid-80s in terms of pitch counts through five innings, yet neither pitcher was showing signs of slowing down.
Verlander worked a 1-2-3 6th inning, striking out Cabrera for his 6th K of the night. He was at 98 pitches through 6 innings and was cruising despite the high total. He had not allowed a National to reach 2nd base since Soto’s 2-out double in the 3rd inning. Strasburg came out for the home half of the 6th trying to continue to match Verlander inning for inning. After getting the first out, Gurriel doubled down the left-field line and Stras intentionally walked Yordan Alvarez after falling behind him 2-0. This set up a 2-on, 1-out situation for the Astros and Strasburg was at 100 pitches. After Carlos Correa worked a 3-2 count, Strasburg came at him with one of his patented changeups and broke his bat when he popped out to Cabrera behind the bag at 2nd base. There was now 2-outs and Strasburg was sitting at 106 pitches. Preston Tucker also worked a full count but Stras caught him looking with a nasty 81mph curve for his 7th strikeout. It was Strasburg’s 114th pitch of the night and through 6 full innings in Houston, Game 2 remained tied at 2-2.
Kurt Suzuki stunned Verlander and Houston crows by taking his 100th pitch off the night out to deep left field. The 381 footer gave the Nationals a 3-2 lead and a nervous murmur came over Minute Maid Park. Suzuki had seen Verlander many times before after both spent years together in the AL Central but this was the Cal State-Fullerton product’s first career homer off Old Dominion’s finest. The 36-year old catcher became the first 36+-year-old to hit a go-ahead home run in the 7th inning or later of a World Series game. The home run also not only gave the Nationals the lead, but it also put Strasburg in line for the win after his gutsy 6 innings. Victor Robles followed Suzuki’s homer with a walk and after 107 pitches, Justin Verlander’s night was over, and he was in line for his 3rd loss of the postseason and his 5th career World Series loss. For the record, no one had ever lost their first 5 World Series decisions.
Ryan Pressly relieved Verlander but didn’t help much, walking the first batter he faced, Turner. Eaton sacrificed the runners to 2nd and 3rd and Rendon walked to the plate. He flew out to centerfield but it was too shallow and Robles couldn’t even try to score. Soto was intentionally walked to load the bases for NLDS hero Howie Kendrick. He came through again with an infield single that Bregman couldn’t corral at 3rd base and Robles came in to score. It was now 4-2 Nationals in the 7th inning and the bases were still loaded for Asdrubal Cabrera. The 2nd baseman was 0-3 against Verlander with 3 strikeouts. That all changed in the 7th as he singled up the middle to drive in two more Washington runs, making it 6-2 Nationals. Two more runs came in to score when Bregman made a throwing error on Zimmerman’s second infield single of the night and it was 8-2 Nationals in a game that was 2-2 at the start of the inning. It was also looking a lot more likely that Verlander was going to become the first player to ever lose their first 5 World Series decisions.
Fernando Rodney came in to pitch the 7th for Washington and promptly walked Reddick. He recovered by forcing a fielder’s choice and a pop up to Turner before Zimmerman made a nice backhanded stop to end the inning. The Nationals were headed to the 8th with an 8-2 lead in Game 2.
Robles made it 1st base on a strike three, passed ball and two batters later, Adam Eaton’s 2-run home run made it 10-2 Nationals and the fans started to squirt out of the Juice Box. Rendon would follow with an RBI single a few batters later and it was 11-2. That hit gave him 31 postseason runs this year with 2-outs, more than 50 % of their runs and that’s the stuff that wins titles and is the exact opposite of the Astros.
Tanner Rainey worked a 1-2-3 8th inning the night after his mini-meltdown in Game 1. This brought the Nationals the only 3-outs away from a Game 2 victory. “Mr. Nice Guy” himself, Michael A. Taylor, joined in the fun in the 9th after entering as a defensive replacement by hitting his 2nd homer of the postseason to make it a 12-2 lead.
Javy Guerra served up a 1-out solo home run to Martin Maldonado in the 9th, giving the Astros their first run since the 1st inning. and it was 12-3. Despite the home run, a tough Rendon “error” and a base hit, Guerra got through the 9th and Game 2 was over. The Washington Nationals had shellacked the Astros, 12-3, in front of an absolutely stunned Houston crowd. They were headed home to Washington with an unthinkable (outside of the Beltway) 2-0 World Series lead and were two wins away from their first-ever World Series title.
Only three home teams have lost the first two games of the World Series and come back to win the series; the 1985 Royals, the 1986 Mets and most recently the 1996 Yankees. Those were some historic World Series teams, naturally, and the Astros must look to emulate the very team they took down in the ALCS if they hope to bring home their 2nd title.
Game 3 will be Anibal Sanchez vs Zack Greinke at Nationals Park. 8:08pm first pitch.
Will there be another champagne shower celebration at Nationals Park this weekend? Let’s hope so.