Tucker struck out, and backup catcher Martin Maldonado entered Game 2 of the World Series in the seventh, with Verlander still on the mound. In his five previous World Series starts, Verlander had never gotten past the sixth inning, but with his pitch count just shy of 100, Hinch stayed with him.
Verlander’s second pitch with Maldonado catching, a 94-mph fastball he left up over the plate, was crushed over the left field wall by Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki, lifting Washington in front for the first time since the first inning. Verlander walked Victor Robles next, and just like that, the brief, nine-pitch partnership between Verlander and Maldonado was promptly dissolved.
It was the first of many things that went wrong for the heavily favored Astros in the seventh inning as the game spiraled out of reach. Including Suzuki’s home run, the Nationals posted six runs in the frame en route to a 12-3 win and a 2-0 series lead.
Asked what happened on the pitch to Suzuki, Verlander curtly responded, “He hit a home run.” Is that where he wanted the pitch? “No,” he said, later adding, “It was a fastball that was right there for him.”
As Verlander exited the game in the seventh, he directed a glare at home plate umpire Doug Eddings, presumably displeased with Eddings’s strike zone Wednesday night. Verlander is arguably the most dominant pitcher of his generation — a former MVP, Cy Young Award winner and eight-time all-star — and this was another elite regular season for him, ending with him near the front of the AL Cy Young race after striking out a career-high 300 batters and finishing with a 0.803 walks and hits per inning pitched that was the third lowest in the modern era.
But his postseason appearances haven’t measured up to that. He has pitched in six World Series games, and in the five for which he received the decision, he earned the loss, making him the first pitcher to fall to 0-5 in World Series history. He has a 5.73 ERA in those starts.
In Game 2, Verlander’s preference for a personal catcher might have cost him in the seventh, when he was forced to work with Maldonado. Verlander said the change in catchers didn’t have any effect on him, especially because the two had worked together for a stint last year.
“It was more like wow than frustrating, especially since I haven’t caught Verlander all year, and then the second pitch I call is a homer,” Maldonado said. “At the same time, we talked before I came out there and we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do.”
Verlander also could just be gassed. Since the Astros pitched him on short rest against the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series, he is 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA in four starts, including the one on short rest. The 36-year-old has thrown 253 1/3
innings this year, regular season and playoffs combined, his most since 2012.
To start the game, Verlander walked Nationals shortstop Trea Turner on four pitches, then surrendered a single to Adam Eaton, putting runners on first and second for Anthony Rendon, who drove both home with a double for an early 2-0 lead. The Astros recovered to tie the score in the bottom of the inning, but they could never claim a lead.
Reliever Ryan Pressly followed Verlander in the seventh, and after he walked Turner, he recorded the Astros’ first two outs of the inning. But an intentional walk to Juan Soto loaded the bases, and Washington got hits in each of its next three at-bats to drive in five more runs and break open what had been a tie game until Verlander allowed Suzuki’s home run. The Astros haven’t been in a jam like this one all postseason, down 2-0 in a series with the next three games in Washington.
“Clearly, Game 3 becomes critical for us,” Hinch said. “We’re going to get on a plane. We’re going to go to Washington. I doubt the Nats are going to feel too confident that they have this sewed up and they can start planning the parade. We’re going to give them a fight for it.”