So much for the narrative that the Nationals would be rusty, or even overmatched.
Coming off a long seven-day layoff and facing the hottest pitcher on the planet -- the one with a $300 million free agent contract said to be awaiting him this winter -- the visiting Nats set fire to all preconceived notions and expert predictions while achieving a thrilling 5-4 victory over the host Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night in Houston.
Juan Soto was the star offensively for Washington, as he belted a massive game-tying solo home run off Gerrit Cole in the top of the fourth inning before adding a two-run double off the wall in left field in the top of the fifth inning. He also singled the opposite way and stole a base in the top of the eighth inning, finishing the night 3-for-4 with three RBI and a run scored.
Soto’s dinger in the fourth sailed to the train tracks that sit high above the seating areas at Minute Maid Park and at least temporarily silenced a raucous orange-dyed crowd that was on its feet for much of the game. He became just the fourth player age 20 or younger to homer in the World Series, joining Mickey Mantle (1952), Andruw Jones (1996), and Miguel Cabrera (2003). Soto’s fifth-inning double also came against Cole and capped a three-run fifth inning for the Nats. They were up 5-3 over the Astros at that point. Cole hadn’t allowed that five or more runs in a game since back on May 22.
Soto’s stolen base in the eighth set another milestone, as he is now the youngest player in MLB history to record three RBI and swipe a bag in a postseason game. Note: his 21st birthday is Friday.
Nationals starter Max Scherzer gave up a two-out, two-strike, two-run double to Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the first inning and battled baserunners pretty much the entire time he was on the mound. He needed 48 pitches to get through the first two innings, 69 pitches to get through three innings, 96 pitches to get through four innings, and his pitch count had soared to 112 by the end of the fifth. The bottom of the fifth inning was actually the first 1-2-3 frame of the night -- for either side -- and it was against the 3-4-5 hitters in the Astros’ vaunted lineup: Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel. Scherzer wasn’t at his best, but he was better than Cole, and he ultimately picked up the win -- his first-ever in a Fall Classic.
Patrick Corbin replaced Scherzer in the bottom of the sixth inning and worked around a one-out single by Yordan Alvarez to deliver a scoreless frame on 21 total pitches. He is lined up as the Nationals’ Game 3 starter on Friday in Washington, and so manager Davey Martinez opted to turn to a bullpen that ranked 29th in team ERA during the regular season to finish the job.
George Springer greeted Tanner Rainey with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the seventh, crushing a 2-1 fastball that was clocked at 99.2 mph. It was the 14th career postseason home run for Springer, the most in Astros franchise history. He has also now gone deep in a record five consecutive World Series games dating back to Houston’s championship run in 2017. Rainey rallied to strike out Jose Altuve on a wicked slider but walked the next two batters he faced, prompting the arrival of Daniel Hudson, who put out the fire with a pop-out from Gurriel and a strikeout of Alvarez.
Kyle Tucker hit a pinch-hit single to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning and Springer drove him in with an RBI double that bounced off the side of Adam Eaton’s glove as he leaped to grab the ball along the wall in right-center field. Washington’s lead had shrunk to one, and Sean Doolittle was called upon for the four-out save. Doolittle induced a lineout from Brantley to close out the eighth before retiring Bregman, Gurriel, and Carlos Correa in order in the bottom of the ninth.
The layoff was too long, they said. Cole would be too tough. None of that stuff seems to matter to these Nationals, who took out the Brewers in the NL Wild Card Game, topped the heavily-favored Dodgers in the National League Division Series, and then swept the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. They’re now up 1-0 on the Astros in the World Series.
We’re just getting started here, people.
Quick Hits: According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Twins bench coach Derek Shelton is getting a second interview for the Mets' manager job … Luis Rojas will get a second interview for the team's managerial vacancy, per Anthony DiComo of MLB.com ... Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Angels have interest in former Mets manager Mickey Callaway to be their new pitching coach … C.J. Cron underwent a surgical debridement procedure on his right thumb last week but is expected to be recovered within 6-8 weeks … Nationals sent catcher Spencer Kieboom outright to Triple-A Fresno … David Hale elected to become a free agent … Juan Graterol elected to become a free agent … According to MLB.com's Jason Beck, the Tigers have placed left-hander Blaine Hardy on outright waivers … Evan Gattis said Tuesday that he currently has no desire to continue his playing career.