HOUSTON – They toppled the invincible, and took a massive step toward doing the impossible.
Yes, the Washington Nationals’ first World Series victory in their franchise’s history wasn’t just any old Game 1 win.
They felled the unbeatable Gerrit Cole, breaking the Houston Astros ace’s 19-game winning streak, and showcased for the world their superstar slugger who, for at least a few more days, is still too young to drink.
In this startling, World Series-turning 5-4 victory, the Nationals got a game-tying solo home run from Juan Soto, who turns 21 on Friday. He followed four innings later with a ringing two-run double that provided the eventual winning runs.
Both drives soared to the opposite field, the home run reaching the train tracks of Minute Maid Park, the double ringing hard off the left field fence.
Both stunned the overflow crowd of 43,339 and Cole, whose postseason to date was as rhythmic and reliable as a metronome.
- Fifteen strikeouts in 7 ⅔ innings against Tampa Bay.
- Ten strikeouts in eight innings against Tampa Bay.
- Seven strikeouts in seven innings against the New York Yankees.
And just one earned run given up, a playoff 0.40 ERA and an umblemished record since his last defeat, on May 22.
That same day, the Nationals, already left for dead, lost to the Mets at Citi Field to fall to 19-30. A day later, their bullpen would blow another lead and fall to 19-31, a record now burned in the memory of their most devoted fans.
Since then, the Nationals have posted an 83-39 record, a .680 win percentage that includes a startling 8-1 record in the postseason.
And while the world now knows not to take them lightly, no win was perhaps as stunning as Game 1.
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State of the series
The Astros will send Justin Verlander – who will finish first or second ahead of or behind Cole in the AL Cy Young race – to the mound for Game 2 at Minute Maid Park, with Stephen Strasburg (1.10 career ERA) going for the Nationals.
Dave Martinez got aggressive and then got greedy – and it nearly cost him Game 1. With starter Max Scherzer gutting through five innings on 112 pitches, Martinez went to lefty starter Patrick Corbin for his fourth relief appearance and it went splendidly, as he struck out Carlos Correa and Martin Maldonado in a scoreless sixth.
But instead of riding Corbin as long as needed – Corbin hadn’t pitched since Oct. 15 – Martinez lifted him, perhaps with an eye toward keeping him in line for a Game 3 start. Tanner Rainey, who recorded several big outs in the NL Division Series and NLCS, was summoned instead.
George Springer greeted him with a booming home run to make it 5-2 and Rainey followed with one-out walks to Altuve and Michael Brantley. That forced the emergency activation of closer Daniel Hudson, who got the innings final two outs and left the bases loaded by striking out Yordan Alvarez.
It was white-knuckle time from there – Hudson gave up an eighth-inning run on Springer’s double to the fence, but lefty Sean Doolittle escaped by getting Michael Brantley on a fly to left.
There are postseason records – and then there are postseason records. Springer homered for the fifth consecutive World Series game, breaking a tie with Reggie Jackson and Lou Gehrig. He entered Game 1 with an .894 career OPS in 43 postseason games.
“I told them in the dugout we need to play in the World Series more often because he hits homers every single time it feels like,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. “He’s off to a really good start. His first game in the last World Series maybe not so much but he’s picking up right where he left off.”
The Astros stranded 11 runners and were 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position, bringing their postseason mark to 15 for 89 (.169).