The Washington Post - 24.10.2019

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

T H U R S D A Y , O C T O B E R  2 4,  2 0 1 9 .  T H E  W A S H I N G T O N  P O S T EZ SU K D11

world series


One big inning blows up the game — and the Astros — as the Nationals close in

inning, then kept the game tied
at 2-2 into the seventh inning,
giving the Nats the chance to
finally wear down Verlander.
Kurt Suzuki delivered the
blow, leading off the seventh
inning. The catcher blasted
Verlander’s second offering deep
to left for the go-ahead homer.
Verlander walked the next
batter, Victor Robles, and then
left the game as the Astros
bullpen imploded.
Bregman, perhaps the Astros
most praised and poised young
star, had a horror of an inning at
third base, failing to field a
potential inning-ending
grounder that could have kept
the game 3-2. Instead, the ball
trickled off Bregman’s glove for
an infield hit. The inning
unraveled from there, and now
the favored Astros, winners of
107 games in the regular season,
are in a deep hole.
Houston is now the latest
team to grossly underestimate
these Nationals, totally healthy
and suddenly a steamroller with
sublime timing. And they’ve
been this way for five full
months, taking off in their run
May 24, posting an 84-40 mark
since that fateful sweep in New
York before Memorial Day.
They’ve won 18 of their past 20
and are now 10-2 in this
The core insight of Game 1
was that the Nationals have a
lineup that can cope with the
four-seam rising fastballs of
Gerrit Cole better than perhaps
any team in baseball. No one had
beaten him, or scored more than
four runs off him, since May 22.
The Nats scored five and hung
an “L” on him.
However, the one huge
question, and hurdle for the Nats
to have a chance to win this
World Series, was whether
Strasburg, the true ace of the
2019 Nats staff, could use his
fabulous curveball and change-
up to dominate, not merely
survive, the Astros attack and
give promise that, if he was
needed twice in this Series, he
could provide the Nats with a
total of at least 12 innings and
perhaps more.
The Nats needed Strasburg to
go deep. And he did just that.
This powerful, dogged and
typical Strasburg outing in Game
2 flipped the script of this Series.
In a blink, Houston’s weaknesses
— flaws that so many experts
have been able to ignore in their
silly lopsided-Series predictions
— now jump up in the Astros


The Astros don’t have a fifth
starter. No problem. But they
also don’t have a fourth starter

  • big problem! Lefty Wade Miley
    was so awful in September with
    a 16.67 ERA in five starts that
    he’s not even on the World Series
    roster. Houston is committed to
    a “bullpen game” in Washington
    in Game 4.
    Not only is Game 4 a potential
    problem for the Astros, but
    Game 3 starter Zack Greinke,
    who doesn’t enjoy the spotlight
    if he’s in an empty room, has a
    3-6, 4.44 ERA postseason record.
    He can be good (or lucky). Or
    bad (or unlucky). But starting
    him is not like starting
    Cole, Verlander, Scherzer or
    The Nats are 91-35 in
    Strasburg’s last 125 games, an
    astronomical .722 percentage.
    Part of that is run support or
    randomness. But give credit
    where due: the Dodgers winning

percentage in Sandy Koufax’
final five immortal seasons was
.743. So, Strasburg’s in the
adjoining ritzy neighborhood.
After Game 1, a disgusted
Bregman said, “I’ve been terrible
this postseason. I need to get in
that video room, get in the cage
and figure it out.... Better take
my bat home, sleep with it and
figure it out.”
Whatever pillow talk Bregman
tried on his bat certainly worked.
Also, a fairly-fat 2-2 change-up,
which caught too many inches of
the plate, down-and-in, helped
Bergman’s leverage. His 411-foot
rising rocket of a home run has
hit so hard that the ball
appeared to be interested in
drilling for natural gas by the
time it landed –at least the blast
almost put a hole in the
Cheniere Energy sign above the
Crawford Boxes in leftfield.
As Bregman rounded the
bases, before he could reach the
plate, pumping both his arms

over his head to excite the crowd
and tie the score 2-2, Strasburg
had already walked off the
mound and tugged his hat down
lower over his eyes.
In his early years, Strasburg
might have been upset, for an
inning, or the rest of a game, by
leaving a changeup –his best
pitch—well into the strike zone
on a 2-2 pitch when he still had a
ball to play with. Wih only a man
on first base and two outs, never
“give in” to the hitter. The
perfectionist in him would have
said, “Put that change-up on the
bottom edge or miss OFF the
plate. Never miss OVER the
But the mature Strasburg, like
every pitcher who learns and
improves, is a much different
creature now. The day before his
start, Strasburg said, “You just
learn over the years that you go
out there and compete with
what you have.”
Doesn’t matter how the

pregame bullpen session goes,
whether you have your best stuff
in the first inning or not,
whether you start the game with
butterflies and nerves.
“You’re going to get the
butterflies. Done it enough times
that the more you try and settle
in, the more it gets,” Strasburg
said. “I think it’s beneficial to
just play wherever you’re at
(emotionally or in terms of good
pitching stuff ).
“You know it’s going to be a
storm out there. You’re going to
weather it.”
Those 15 words epitomized
Strasburg’s night –the Astros
tried to start a storm but, just as
Verlsander found his form and
started putting up zeroes,
Strasburg matched him and
weathered both the Astro hitter
and their crowd. After Bergman’s
home run, he allowed only three
singles to the next 17 Astro
batters. And the score stayed 2-2.
Entering the sixth inning, and

more storms, he still had enough
ammunition to compete — and
just as important to keep the
game close without bringing the
Nats toxic middle relievers into a
close game.
After a double by Yuli Gurriel
into the leftfield corner and an
intentional walk, Strasburg
thought he’d gotten star Astro
shortstop Carlos Correa on a
called third-strike fastball and
let out a scream on the mound
when home plate umpire Doug
Eddings said, “Ball three.”
Strasburg composed himself
and, with his 107th pitch,
popped up Correa with a change-
up on his fists. To end his night,
Strasburg dialed up a rainbow
curveball on a full-count pitch
–his 114th-- to fan catcher
Robinson Chirinos for the third
time of the night.
An animated Strasburg
bounced off the mound, rushed
into the dugout to exchange
fired up high fives with
teammates. After a stunningly
bad first inning, he’d put up five
straight zeroes and to put the
Nats in position to make a push
against the great Verlander as he
edged toward 100 pitches.
No sooner had Strasburg
taken his seat in the dugout than
Suzuki, who’d had menacing
swings against Verlander all
night, crushed a 1-0 Verlander
fastball high and deep to left
field. Suzuki’s blow cleared the
Crawford Boxes, home to cheap
homers, and smashed against off
a sign high above the bleacher
In that lizard-quick snap of
Suzuki’s bat, on Verlander’s
100th pitch, the Nats not only
took a 3-2 lead, but Strasburg
had officially outdueled the
future Hall of Famer Verlander.
Rattled, Verlander walked Victor
Robles and left after 107 pitches,
having allowed seven hits,
including homer and walked
three more Nats.
World Series pivot on duels
like this. In two days, Scherzer
has bested Cole, although
straining to do it, and Strasburg,
in an almost-absolute Must Win
for Houston, stood to his full 6-
foot-5 all night.
In the end, it was Strasburg,
the symbol of Washington
promise for 10 years, and now
the emblem of this team’s
polished maturity, who was still
standing. And, at least for now,
the flattened Astros who must
search for a way to stand.

For more by Thomas Boswell, visit

Designated hitter Howie Kendrick is just one of a parade of Nationals who scored in Washington’s six-run seventh inning Wednesday.


This position essentially sums up the night of Game 2 for Astros starter Justin Verlander, who gave up four runs and seven hits in six innings Wednesday night, then watched his team’s bullpen implode further.

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