But the right fielder bounced a ball to first, diminishing the Nationals’ final threat and directing attention to what’s now at hand in a tightened World Series. The Houston Astros beat the Nationals, 4-1, in Game 3 on Friday night. It pulled the series to 2-1, with the Nationals still ahead, yet it wasn’t particularly close. The Nationals went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position. They had one in each of the first six innings and scratched across a single run. They made two errors, tying their most of the postseason, and Manager Dave Martinez finally made an October decision that backfired.
The Astros, on the other hand, chipped away by getting four runs off starter Aníbal Sánchez in 51/3 innings. They benefited because what Martinez had decided, in a critical spot early on, was to keep Sánchez in despite a rare opportunity for the offense to strike. The deficit soon widened with Sánchez on the mound. The Nationals never pretended to close it. That ended their eight-game postseason winning streak — and not so suddenly because it took close to four hours for the Astros to take some momentum back.
“We’ve lost a game before. Everyone will be okay,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “Nobody thought this was going to be easy, and we have to play good baseball to win.”
Little happens quickly in baseball. Games drip by like sand through an hourglass. The season is seven months, if you count spring training, and even longer for a select few. It bends patience before breaking it. The key to winning, above all, is not to go insane.
But the Nationals had arrived back from Houston with great speed. They had turned surviving into a full-on sprint. They entered the weekend with a franchise-best 18-2 record in their past 20 games. They had bullied the Astros in Houston, outscoring them 17-7 in two games, and flipped home-field advantage in their favor. That’s how a team replaces long odds with a real, rigid title chance. And that’s why a city woke up Friday to host its first World Series game in 86 years.
But what it saw is that the Astros still have a pulse. They didn’t stumble to 107 regular season wins. They didn’t get all the way here, for the second time in three seasons, by caving when trouble hits. They knocked around Sánchez in the early innings, punching loud outs, pushing ahead with a small rally in the second. Sánchez allowed another run in the third, when Michael Brantley chopped in José Altuve with an infield single, but did keep the Nationals breathing. They just couldn’t turn base traffic into results. They wasted back-to-back singles that started the third against Astros starter Zack Greinke. Next they stranded the bases loaded in the fourth.
“This is what the World Series is about. Like we’ve talked about before, you have to make the most of opportunities,” Eaton said. “When you don’t, it’s tough sliding.”
And it was in the next half inning that a game of checkers turned into a chess match. The Nationals had another leadoff man aboard once Zimmerman worked a walk. But that meant Sánchez was now coming up in three batters. Any rally would halt with him at the plate. So the bullpen phone rang, and Tanner Rainey began to warm. It seemed that if another player reached, in any way, then Martinez would lift Sánchez for a pinch-hitter. But Victor Robles wrinkled a well-laid plan by scoring Zimmerman with a triple.
Sánchez stood between the dugout and plate, looking at Martinez, while the crowd cheered around him. Martinez had a brief discussion with his coaches and told Sánchez to hit for himself. He struck out while trying to bunt, and soon after, Turner ended the threat by rolling a dribbler in front of the plate. Robles bounced 90 feet from home but made it no closer. A pile of missed opportunities grew.
The Astros then tagged Sánchez again in the next half and lent immediate hindsight to Martinez’s choice. It kept the Nationals from increasing their scoring chances. But the calculations had to include the volatility of Washington’s bullpen. Was Sánchez a better option in the fifth than the erratic Rainey? Who would get loose once Rainey tired? Who would rush into the game if he completely erred?
The last two questions never had to be answered. The only one that mattered, once the late innings arrived, was what happened once Sánchez remained in the game: He recorded just four more outs. He gave up two more runs on a single and Robinson Chirinos’s solo homer. And that deficit, in the end, was too much for Washington to overcome.
“I seriously thought about [pinch-hitting],” Martinez said. “But you know what, I liked the way Sánchez was pitching. He only had  pitches.”
The bats never woke up after that. The Nationals put two runners on in the sixth, on back-to-back walks, but the inning ended without any noise. That was when Turner limped his way to the plate, after fouling a ball off his groin, and promptly struck out. That was when Eaton found new life, boomeranging back into his stance, before he tapped out to first. Those were subtle symbols of an effort that fell flat. They were instances that, across a game full of miscues, were easy to pass off as same old.
But the Nationals can’t afford to let this spiral. The Astros have proved, again and again, that an inch of opportunity is more like a gaping hole for them to burst through. And even if the game is slow and nothing’s ever decided in one night, a groove can disappear as soon as it arrived. Baseball has no guard against that.
by Sam Fortier
The Nationals stranded runners until they didn’t have any more runners to strand. That’s how the first World Series game in Nationals Park ended. The hope sparked by taking two in Houston had deflated, if not departed.
The Nationals left 11 runners on base on Friday, seven in scoring position, through six innings. Then they went completely cold. They managed two more runners, a Howie Kendrick single in the eighth and Adam Eaton in the ninth, but left them there. It was a disappointing end to perhaps the most energetic crowd in Nationals Park history. But, as one veteran outfielder on the team likes to say, “That’s baseball.”
Ninth inning (Astros 4, Nationals 1)
Wander Suero continued stringing together improbable innings for the bullpen Manager Dave Martinez has tried to avoid all season. Suero, Fernando Rodney and Joe Ross have combined for 3 ⅔ scoreless innings. Suero set down the heart of the Astros order, including a strike out of Yuli Gurriel. It gave the Nationals offense one last chance at a rally. It didn’t take.
Nationals Park booed the living hell out of Roberto Osuna.— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) October 26, 2019
Eighth inning (Astros 4, Nationals 1)
Joe Ross continued to stifle the Astros bats by pitching around a two-out single by George Springer. It’s one of the most surprising developments of the World Series that a fringe MLB starter, who’s struggled as a reliever before, came in for his first appearance since Sept. 29 and absolutely shut down one of the most potent lineups in the game.
The Nationals made the double-switch — Joe Ross in the seven spot, Yan Gomes in the nine hole — to avoid the exact situation that ended up happening. The Nationals wanted Howie Kendrick available off the bench earlier, in case the middle of the order jolted alive, but it didn’t. Even though Kendrick singled up the middle, Gomes came up with two outs — the last real chance to make something happen that inning. He could not. Gomes grounded out.
Seventh inning (Astros 4, Nationals 1)
Joe Ross as a reliever this season had an 11.17 ERA in 19 ⅓ innings. So, of course, in Game 3 of the World Series, against the 5-6-7 hitters on one of the deepest lineups in baseball, he retired the side in order. He was throwing to Yan Gomes, in for Kurt Suzuki.
Will Harris shut down the heart of the Nationals lineup in order. Anthony Rendon flew out, Juan Soto struck out and Asdrúbal Cabrera popped out. They have six outs left to make a difference.
Sixth inning (Astros 4, Nationals 1)
The Nationals intentionally walked Michael Brantley to have Fernando Rodney face Alex Bregman with the bases loaded. The likely American League MVP. In the World Series.
The giant gamble paid off — Bregman grounded out — but the damage was done. Earlier in the inning, Robinson Chirinos was in an 0-for-15 slump before Game 3. Then he smacked his second hit of the game off the left-field foul pole for a home run and, after pinch-hitter Kyle Tucker walked, Aníbal Sánchez’s night was over.
The Nationals called on Rodney. Tucker immediately stole second off catcher Kurt Suzuki, who struggles throwing anyone out. Suzuki’s throw sailed into center field and Tucker scooted to third. Rodney had a real jam. But he got a groundball to third, which cut down Tucker at home. Bregman bounced out. The margin was razor-thin, but the Nationals hung in the game.
Then, it finally happened. The most hyped social event on Washington’s fall calendar finally happened and Gerardo Parra pinch-hit in the World Series to the tune of 43,000 people clapping along to “Baby Shark.”
The at-bat did not match the hype. Parra ended it as the man he replaced, catcher Kurt Suzuki, ended his first two. Parra, like the rest of the game so far, was a let down. He struck out. The Nationals put two more runners on but the sixth verse was the same as the first five. They stranded their 10th and 11th runners of the game (this includes seven in scoring position).
Fifth inning (Astros 3, Nationals 1)
José Altuve smacked a one-out double into left and, when Michael Brantley poked a single through the right side, Altuve sprinted home. One inning after the Nationals had a chance to tie, the Astros moved the goal posts.
Aníbal Sánchez eventually got out of a two-on, two-out jam, but he continued to feud with home-plate umpire Gary Cederstrom. The ump is not giving him the low strike call to a pitcher who lives at the knees. You can blame poor framing by catcher Kurt Suzuki, but the results have hampered Sánchez from getting ahead in counts and, particularly against Brantley, hurt. Two missed strike calls gave Brantley a 3-1 count before his run-scoring single.
The Nationals had a golden opportunity, again, and they missed it. Ryan Zimmerman’s battle with Josh James got heated — James buzzed him up-and-in with a 98-mph fastball early in the at-bat — but James won. The Astros right-handed reliever had appeared with two on and two out and battled Zimmerman to a full count until he got the Nationals veteran first baseman to swing at a change-up inside and off the plate.
The one heartening detail: the Nationals finally forced Zack Greinke out of the game with two outs. There was hints he might be tiring as, to lead off the inning, Adam Eaton singled on his 83rd pitch. Greinke hadn’t gone further than 83 pitches in his previous three postseason starts. He’s not hurt. It’s just that, in general, the veteran right-hander doesn’t really go beyond 90-95 pitches. So, when Asdrúbal Cabrera again validated Dave Martinez’s lineup decision with a two-out double, Greinke got the hook.
Fourth inning (Astros 2, Nationals 1)
Aníbal Sánchez navigated the fourth without a problem, retiring the 7-8-9 hitters in order. But he’s undoubtedly looked shakier than normal, and there might be an explanation.
Manager Dave Martinez says Sánchez needs to stay down in the strike zone to succeed, he attributed the starter’s post-May resurgence this season to an ability to stay down. But the veteran right-hander has stayed up in the zone all Friday night against the Astros.
Ryan Zimmerman walked and, for the first time, the Nationals came through. Victor Robles tripled down the left field line to trim the deficit to 2-1.
Then it got interesting. With one out and a runner on third, Manager Dave Martinez let Aníbal Sánchez bat for himself. The situation normally might have called for a pinch-hitter — maximize the chance to score — but Martinez let his pitcher hit, possibly because his already-thin bullpen would have had to cover five innings. Sánchez was providing serviceable work from the mound and, at 65 pitches, still has at least a couple innings left in him. The gamble didn’t pay off.
Sánchez struck out on a bunt and Trea Turner tapped a dribbler in front of the mound that Zack Greinke tossed to first. The Nationals needed a run, but the manager took a big-picture view. He couldn’t risk exposing his bullpen to get back one run. It might have cost him.
Third inning (Astros 2, Nationals 0)
Juan Soto, 21, has struggled more than Juan Soto, 20, so far. The left fielder misplayed his second ball in three innings and allowed José Altuve, who had doubled, to scamper to third. The miscue proved significant one batter later when Michael Brantley smacked an infield single off the mound to stretch the Astros lead to 2-0.
Aníbal Sánchez retired the next three hitters — two fly outs and a strikeout — to polish off the inning. The aggressive Astros flashed again, though, and base-running could become a problem. Michael Brantley stole second — only his fourth swiped bag of the year — and the Astros tried a few hit-and-runs before that. This seems as though it’ll be a theme all night.
The Nationals, for the second inning in a row, put runners on first and second with one or fewer outs. They, for the second inning a row, could not score. Asdrúbal Cabrera struck out on a Zack Greinke slow curve to end the inning.
The Nationals managed no damage but perhaps the most notable thing that happened was Juan Soto’s at-bat. The Soto Shuffle went into full effect as the 21-year-old tried to intimidate the 36-year-old. He swiped the dirt, took powerful practice cuts, shimmed his shoulders. He crowded the plate until it looked like his hands might be over it. Zack Greinke responded, throwing inside twice, once so Soto had to duck out of the way, but Soto won. He walked.
Second inning (Astros 1, Nationals 0)
Left field in Nationals Park serenaded Juan Soto with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” as the newly 21-year-old took his defensive spot before the inning. The crowd quieted when, three batters later, Soto airmailed a ball home trying to throw out Carlos Correa. The Astros got a ball to drop in — arguably their first bit of luck this series — and took a 1-0 lead. Aníbal Sánchez allowed another single but escaped with no further damage.
For the Nationals, the move seemed curious at first. Why sit Howie Kendrick when he’s been your third-best hitter all season? Especially when he’s come up in the clutch throughout the postseason. But Manager Dave Martinez stuck by replacing Kendrick with Asdrúbal Cabrera at second base.
Cabrera had the highest on-base percentage of anyone who’s faced Zack Greinker 35 or more times (. 512) and, even though most of those stats came six or more years ago, the manager stayed put. He reviewed the tape and liked the switch anyway; Cabrera hit the ball in the air more against Greinke.
Cabrera rewarded Martinez right away, slapping Greinke’s slow curve into right for a single. Ryan Zimmerman followed with another single, but the Nationals could do nothing with it. Victor Robles later grounded into an inning-ending double play.
First inning (Astros 0, Nationals 0)
The first World Series inning in Nationals Park started with a worry. George Springer hit a 30-foot dribbler back at Aníbal Sánchez that he couldn’t handle. But Victor Robles made sure it didn’t matter. The rookie center fielder, a Gold Glove finalist, made a tremendous catch with his back to the wall and Sánchez struck out Alex Bregman to escape.
Zack Greinke mirrors Sánchez in that he throws something off-speed or breaking — change-up, slider or curveball — about 50 percent of the time. The right-hander tops out around 92 mph on his four-seam fastball. The matchup of the mid-30s veterans remains deadlocked, even after Anthony Rendon’s two-out double.
The World Series is back in Washington after 86 years, and the fans let it all out.
Brian Schneider didn’t have his original Washington Nationals jersey. All of Chad Cordero’s were framed. But Cordero had an idea, so he called his dad. The former Nationals closer was right, and Cordero suggested his old catcher try the same. Schneider’s dad still had an old jersey from the original 2005 Nationals, too, and he sent it over.
“It’s special,” said Schneider, who added, “And to be here next to Chief means a lot to me, too.”
“When they gave myself a call, I told them I’d drop everything to be able to come out here,” Cordero said. “I don’t want to miss this opportunity because who knows when you’re going to be able to do this type of thing ever again.”
So here they were, the first pair to ever close out a Washington Nationals game, sitting together in Nationals Park before the franchise’s first World Series game at home. They called it surreal to be back in the jerseys. The memories rushed back. They remembered the way utility player Carlos Baerga slicked his hair with so much gel it looked like a helmet. They remembered Cordero once slipping off the mound and bouncing a pitch against Vladimir Guerrero. They remembered fiery Manager Frank Robinson and wanting to play hard for him every night. They remembered the way RFK Stadium, where the Nationals began their time in this city, and the way the seats bounced.
“Ever since I got that call I’ve been very nervous, my hands are all sweaty,” Cordero said. “I’m just hoping I don’t bounce it right now.
“So do I,” Schneider said.
Then they both laughed, teammates reunited and time, for just a moment, turned back.
No ‘Calma’ singer
Washington fans are pumped, showing up early (some in costume).
Also, the Nats did a cool thing.
Nats have brought everyone from baseball operations — more than 200 scouts, coaches, clubbies, etc. — from all over the country to tonight’s game. They’ll be shown on the giant scoreboard early in the game.— Barry Svrluga (@barrysvrluga) October 25, 2019
Bill Nye sighting.
And here are some Nats babies.
Game 3 reading
World Series overview
All games on Fox
· Game 1 at Houston — Nationals 5, Astros 4
· Game 2 at Houston — Nationals 12, Astros 3
· Game 3 at Washington — Astros 4, Nationals 1
· Game 4 at Washington — Saturday, 8:07 p.m.
· Game 5 at Washington — Sunday, 8:07 p.m.
· Game 6 at Houston — Tuesday, 8:07 p.m. (if necessary)
· Game 7 at Houston — Wednesday, Oct. 30, 8:08 p.m. (if necessary)