Kurt Suzuki launched a tiebreaking solo homer off Justin Verlander in the seventh inning and the Nationals’ offense exploded for 10 runs over the final three frames in a 12-3 blowout victory over the Astros in Game 2 of the World Series in Minute Maid Park on Wednesday night. The best-of-seven Fall Classic shifts back to Washington for three consecutive games -- starting with Game 3 on Friday night -- and the Nationals holding a commanding two-game series lead after their eighth straight postseason victory. According to MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince, teams that have taken a 2-0 playoff series lead have got on to win 71 of 84 times.
Don’t be fooled by the final score and the margin of victory. Granted, the Nationals ended up winning by more than a touchdown, but the outcome remained very much in doubt until a series Astros’ miscues were compounded by the relentless onslaught of timely hits from the Nationals during a disastrous seventh inning. There were plenty of fireworks early on as Anthony Rendon kicked off the scoring with a line-drive two-run double and Alex Bregman snapped out of his extended postseason slump with a titanic two-run homer in the first inning. However, offensive production evaporated shortly thereafter. After ostensibly getting punched in the mouth in the opening frame, Verlander and Stephen Strasburg managed to regain their footing and locked horns in an epic pitcher’s duel, trading zeroes for five consecutive frames before Suzuki connected on a go-ahead blast on Verlander’s 100th pitch of the evening, leading off the seventh inning.
It wasn’t his most dominant performance, but Strasburg managed to author yet another chapter in his legendary playoff resume, yielding two runs on seven hits and recording seven batters over six innings to record his fourth victory in five starts this October. The 31-year-old right-hander owns a sublime 1.34 ERA -- a mark which ranks only behind Mariano Rivera (0.70) and Sandy Koufax (0.90) in the live-ball era for pitchers who have thrown 40 or more innings in the playoffs -- and a preposterous 64/6 K/BB ratio across 47 innings of work in seven career postseason starts (eight appearances). Meanwhile, Verlander was ultimately charged with four runs on seven hits and three walks in the losing effort. He managed to record six strikeouts, surpassing Hall of Famer John Smoltz (199 strikeouts over 41 career postseason appearances) and becoming the first pitcher in major-league history to record 200 career postseason strikeouts.
After Suzuki put the Nationals ahead with his first career postseason home run, the Astros still had a chance to escape the seventh inning with just a one-run deficit. After intentionally walking 20-year-old superstar Juan Soto to load the bases with two outs in the frame, ace reliever Ryan Pressly managed to coax a ground ball off the bat of Howie Kendrick. However, Bregman was unable to field the ball cleanly while moving to his left, allowing a run to cross the plate and the inning to continue. The floodgates opened up shortly after when veteran infielder Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a two-run single and Bregman failed to handle a slow roller up the third base line off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman, which led to a pair of additional runs crossing the plate. The Nationals tacked on three more runs, including a two-run blast by Adam Eaton in the eighth inning and a solo shot by Michael Taylor in the ninth inning, plating an eye-popping 10 unanswered runs before the Astros finally managed to respond with a solo homer by Martin Maldonado.
The central question for the Astros is whether they can get the series back to Houston for Game 6, especially after suffering a pair of losses with their co-aces Verlander and Gerrit Cole on the mound at home. They’ll send veteran right-hander Zack Greinke, who battled control issues but still managed to gut out 4 1/3 frames against the Yankees in his last start, to the mound in a virtual must-win Game 3 on Friday. The Nationals will counter with righty Anibal Sanchez instead of lefty Patrick Corbin, who threw 21 pitches in a scoreless relief appearance during Game 1 on Tuesday.
AL Quick Hits: Mike Trout was awarded the American League’s Hank Aaron Award on Wednesday … According to Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com, the Royals interviewed bullpen coach Vance Wilson this week for their managerial vacancy … Greg Bird (foot) will play for Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Winter League.
NL Quick Hits: Christian Yelich was awarded the National League’s Hank Aaron Award on Wednesday … According to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pirates have parted ways with team president Frank Coonelly … David Kaplan of NBC Sports Chicago reported Wednesday that David Ross is expected to be named the Cubs’ next manager … Kaplan also reported Wednesday that Kris Bryant’s grievance over his delayed callup in 2015 will be heard sometime this week … Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported Wednesday that the Padres “very recently interviewed” Mark Loretta for their managerial opening … MLB.com’s Adam Berry reported Wednesday that he hears from “people within the industry” that Starling Marte will begin the 2020 season with the Pirates … Rockies released RHP DJ Johnson.