October 30, 2019

WS7: Nationals 6, Astros 2

Nationals - 000 000 312 - 6  9  0
Astros    - 010 010 000 - 2  9  1

The Washington Nationals are the new champions of baseball, winning the 2019 World Series by outlasting the Houston Astros in seven games.

Washington's winding road to the title took them through unprecedented terrain: past a 106-win team (Dodgers) and a 107-win team (Astros). The Nationals played five elimination games, trailed in all of them, and came back and won them all. No previous team in baseball history had trailed and then won even four elimination games in a single postseason.

As they had done in the previous six games, the Nats waited until the late innings to score their runs. Washington scored 12 runs in innings 1-6, but put 21 runs on the board in innings 7-9, including all six of their runs on Wednesday night. The Nationals joined the 1914 Boston Braves as the only teams to win the World Series in a season in which they were at least 12 games under .500 at any point. Washington was 19-31 on May 23, which is also the worst 50-game start of any World Series winner.

The Nationals are the seventh Wild Card team to win the World Series in the 20 years since the bullshit concept of the wild card began polluting baseball. (I know, 2004, but I still hate the wild card.) The last six World Series winners have clinched on the road (2014-19), which ties the 1954-59 winners for the longest streak in postseason history.

The Nationals prevailed despite being utterly silenced by Zack Greinke (6.1-2-2-2-3, 80), who allowed only two Nats on base over the first six innings, throwing only 67 pitches. But after Anthony Rendon homered in the seventh and Greinke walked Juan Soto, Astros manager A.J. Hinch went to his bullpen. Hinch eventually called on five pitchers - none of whom were named Gerrit Cole - over the night's final 2.2 innings. The Nats went nuts.

Howie Kendrick's home run off Will Harris obliterated Houston's lead and put Washington ahead to stay. By one measure, Kendrick's dong was the 10th biggest hit in all of baseball history. (Harris had a supremely shitty 24 hours. He also allowed the go-ahead home run in Game 6, and became the first pitcher since Pittsburgh's Ray Kremer in 1925 to allow home runs in Games 6 and 7. However, Kremer was on the winning team, as the Pirates beat the Senators.)

Kendrick joined Hal Smith of the 1960 Pirates as the only players to belt a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning or later with their team trailing in a World Series Game 7. Smith's dong came one inning before Bill Mazeroski drove a dagger into the hearts of Yankee fans. Kendrick is also the fourth-oldest player to homer in a Game 7 and the fourth player to homer in multiple elimination games in the same postseason.

Juan Soto added a key RBI-single in the eighth, and Adam Eaton singled in two more runs in the ninth. ... And, according to Ryan Spaeder: "Patrick Corbin is the first pitcher to toss at least three innings of shutout baseball in relief with at least a strikeout per inning, winning Game 7 of the World Series since Walter Johnson on Oct. 10, 1924. It is a reach, but I had to find a unique way to tie it to the 1924 Senators."

Stephen Strasburg was named the Most Valuable Player. He started and won two games in Houston (Games 2 and 6), pitching 14.1 innings and allowing four runs, while striking out 14. ... The Nationals went 10-0 in postseason games started by Strasburg and Max Scherzer.

Scherzer (5-7-2-4-3, 103) gutted through five innings, dealing with at least two Houston baserunners in four of his five innings. He got only four swings and misses over the first four innings, and 11 total. But he kept the Nationals close and the Astros underwent a serious LOB-otomy, leaving nine men on base in Scherzer's five innings.

Yuri Gurriel led off the second with a solo shot. Yordan Alvarez and Caros Correa followed with singles and Scherzer was quickly in trouble. But Robinson Chirinos (who had homered twice in the series) tried to bunt (what?) and fouled to the catcher, Josh Reddick grounded to first, and George Springer lined out to left. (Teams that scored first in the previous Game 7s were 25-14.)

The Astros had runners at first and second with one out in the third, but Gurriel popped to right and Alvarez flied to center. In the fourth, another single and walk with two outs left things up to Jose Altuve, who lined out to center. The Astros scored in the fifth on two singles and a walk (Correa knocked in Gurriel), but they also stranded two men for the fourth consecutive inning.

While Scherzer was labouring through 103 pitches (15-18-22 21-27), Greinke covered the same ground (plus one additional inning) with only 67 (8-12-8 13-18-8). When Greinke pitched in Game 3, he threw 65 pitched through three innings, Tonight, he needed only 28 over the first three innings. Greinke also fielded his position brilliantly, starting a double play in the second, fielding two come-backers in the fourth and a bunt in the fifth.

The double play in the second inning erased Washington's first baserunner, Soto, who had singled. He was the Nats' only man to reach on base until the fifth, when Kendrick walked with one out. He gotno father than second.

Greinke may have been tiring slightly in the seventh. Or maybe it was the Curse of the Third Time Through the Order. After he got Eaton on a grounder to shortstop, the Astros' win probability was at 88%. But then Rendon crushed a 1-0 changeup to deep left. With that home run, Rendon was 6-for-6 in the seventh inning or later of an elimination game this postseason (three doubles, three home runs and one walk).

Greinke walked Soto on five pitches and got the hook. Except Greinke did not actually walk Soto. Ball 4 was in the strike zone, but plate umpire Jim Wolf blew the call (one of many). Who knows how Game 7 would have played out if the plate umpire had not made numerous incorrect calls?

Hinch's decision to pull Greinke will be long debated in Houston (initial opinions on the internet are not kind, running the gamut: from "idiot" to "moron"). Greinke's sterling performance was only the third time a pitcher went 6+ innings and allowed two hits or fewer in a World Series Game 7. He joins Bob Turley (1958) and Jaret Wright (1997) on that short list.

Cole had been warming up earlier, but it was Harris who got the call. Hinch followed traditional bullpen usage, by-the-numbers, straight from the manual instead of looking at what was in front of his eyes and thinking on his feet and going for the fucking throat. It's the 7th inning of Game 7! If you can't be a Playoff Assassin in that situation, you never will be.

Kendrick knocked Harris's second offering (actually a good pitch, a cutter at 91, down and away) down the right field line. It crashed against the metal "netting" on the foul pole for a two-run home run. (Or should I say it "bellhorned" off the metal netting?)

Three batters earlier, the Astros were up by two runs and eight outs from a championship, with Greinke barely breaking a sweat and giving a performance for the ages. In the span of only eight pitches (and one pitching change), the landscape of Game 7 underwent a seismic transformation. Kendrick's home run increased the probability of the Nationals winning from 29.5% to 64.2%. That increase of 34.7% is more than three times as much as any hit by anyone else in the entire 2019 postseason.

I've seen [Harris] a few times. He's gotten me out every time. I think he struck me out every time I faced him. At our place, he threw me a cutter away like that, I took it, and I was just looking for something out over the plate I could hammer, and he made that mistake -- and man, that was probably one of the best swings of my career, just like that grand slam. Moments like that, you can't make those up.
Before that at-bat, Kendrick had faced Harris only twice, both in this World Series. Kendrick flied to right in Game 1 and struck out in Game 4.

Harris then gave up a single to Asdrubal Cabrera and he was replaced by Roberto Osuna, who walked Ryan Zimmerman on only five pitches. Five consecutive Nationals had reached base, after only two had reached in the previous six innings. Osuna got a couple of pop-ups and the inning was over.

Patrick Corbin relieved Scherzer in the sixth and allowed a leadoff single, before striking out Springer and getting Altuve to ground into a 4U-3 double play. Now he was pitching with a lead. Michael Brantley flied to left-center, where Victor Robles easily tracked the ball down. Alex Bregman grounded to second. Gurriel singled. Alvarez fell behind 0-2 and grounded to the third base side of the mound. Corbin threw him out.

As the eighth inning began, Osuna got ahead of Trea Turner 0-2 and then threw three balls, Cole started warming up again in the Astros bullpen. Turner grounded out. Osuna walked Eaton. With Rendon batting, Eaton stole second. Rendon flied to center and the Astros held a meeting on the mound. Osuna stayed in and Soto lined a single to right, scoring Rendon. 4-2. Osuna also stuck around to give up a single to Kendrick. Ryan Pressly got the third out on a line drive to left.

Corbin struck out Carlos Correa to start the bottom of the eighth. But strikes 1 and 3 were nowhere near the strike zone. Plate umpire Jim Wolf was praised by Joe Buck and John Smoltz earlier in the night as the best pitch-calling umpire in the majors this year. I don't know if that's true, but he was horrible in Game 7.

The calls against Correa, whose team was down by two runs in the eighth inning of Game 7, were so bad, Wolf should lose his job. Correa could have had a meltdown so epic it would have made Nats manager Dave Martinez's blow-up last night look like a disinterested shrug of the shoulders, and he would have been fully justified. ... Pitch #1 is strike 1 and pitch #6 is strike 3.

Correa also got screwed over by Wolf in the fifth (pitch #1 was strike 1), but he ended up hitting a single.

After Correa went back to the dugout, Corbin got a groundout to short and a swinging strikeout.

Joe Smith began the ninth of the Astros. Zimmerman singled. Yan Gomes forced him at second. Robles singled. Turner walked. The bases were loaded and Jose Urquidy came in from the pen. Eaton looked at ball 1 and lined a single to center. One run scored and when Jake Marisnick booted the ball, another run scored.

Corbin handed the ball to Daniel Hudson for the ninth, and Hudson started by pumping in strikes. Springer took a strike and popped to second. Altuve took two strikes and then swung and missed a third. Brantley crushed a 2-1 pitch deep down the right field line that hooked foul. He took ball 3, fouled another pitch off, then swung over the top of an low, inside slider.

And at 11:51 pm, Washington, DC time, the Nationals began their celebration.

Here are a few of Wolf's blown calls (though by no means all of them) that MLB hopes you either (a) don't remember or (b) quickly forget:

Bottom of 3rd, Jose Altuve (#1 is strike 1, #3 is strike 2)

Bottom of the 4th, Jose Altuve (#2 is strike 1)

Bottom of the 5th, Robinson Chirinos (#1 is ball 1, #4 is ball 2)

Top of the 6th, Victor Robles (#1 is strike 1)

Top of the 6th, Trea Turner (#3 is strike 3)

Top of the 7th, Adam Eaton (#1 is strike 1, #2 is strike 2)

Top of the 9th, Ryan Zimmerman (#1 is strike 1)

All Right-Handed Batters

Max Scherzer / Zack Greinke

Tonight will be the 40th Game 7 in World Series history.

Nationals manager Dave Martinez was forced to scratch Max Scherzer from Game 5 because of spasms in the pitcher's neck and right trapezius muscle, which Scherzer had begun feeling a couple of days earlier. Whenhe woke up on Sunday morning, he was nearly immobile. (Washington GM Mike Rizzo described the pain as "ungodly".)

Scherzer, wearing a neck brace, flew with the team to Houston on Monday afternoon and he threw off flat ground for about 10 minutes yesterday. He also warmed up a bit in the bullpen during Game 6, a "dry run" for tonight. Martinez:
If Max tells me tonight that he's good, then Max will pitch until his neck decides he can't pitch anymore. I can't see myself telling Max, "You're only going to go 75 pitches." He's going to want to go out there and go as long as he can. ... [Tuesday] he looked normal, just like any other day he throws [on] flat ground. He looked really good. ... My guess is he comes out tomorrow and he's going to get prepared like he prepares any other game and he's ready to go. You're going to see Max be Max.
The Nats also have Aníbal Sánchez available on regular rest tonight.
            May 23   May 24-Sept. 29   Postseason   May 24-Now     Total
Nationals    19-31       74-38           11-5         85-43       104-74
Astros       33-18       74-37           10-7         84-44       117-62
When the Nationals were 19-31 on May 23, they had a 0.1% chance of winning the World Series, according to Baseball-Reference.com. They were one inning away from being eliminated by the Brewers in the Wild Card game and they were six outs away from elimination in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Dodgers. So Sean Doolittle is not surprised the season has come down to one game:
For the people that followed this team the whole season, it had to be this way. ... We had a knack for making things a little tougher on ourselves than we needed at times, and drawing things out. It just feels like it's the most 2019 Nats thing for this to come down to Game 7 of the World Series.
Scherzer: "Game 7. Let's go."

Here is a brief look at the previous 39 Game 7s, including the Astros' win over the Dodgers two years ago and a Game 8 played by the Red Sox and New York Giants in 1912. The home team is 19-20 in these do-or-die games.

Nine of the last 12 World Series Game 7s have been won by the home team. ... The Nationals are trying to become the 21st team down 2-3 to win the World Series. ... The Astros and Nationals have scored 11 first-inning runs, tying the 1909 and 1912 World Series for the most in history.

1 comment:

allan said...

Early in the game, Joe Buck said the Nationals were playing in their 5th elimination game this postseason. And then he helpfully added: "They have won the previous four". ... I really appreciated that, because I wasn't sure.

Throughout Games 6 and 7, Smoltz was amazed by the fact that the Houston crowds were up and standing at the beginning of the game and were cheering loudly. People paid for WS tickets and their team could clinch that night. Of course they are excited. ... I guess crowds in Atlanta really sucked.

Also, Smoltz made a few offensive allusions to Greinke's past struggles with anxiety. In the open, he said something like Greinke doesn't care about the fact that it is Game 7. Later, he started a sentence with "Because he thinks differently". Smoltz seemed to think anxiety is a mental illness or contagious or something. But since Smoltz once compared same-sex marriage to beastiality, maybe I should not be surprised. Or I expect too much.