Turns out, not in Game 3 of the World Series. Buzz Aldrin threw one of the ceremonial first pitches. Good thing Friday night’s Nats didn’t take him to the moon all those years ago. They would have stranded him right there. Or, worse, halfway home.
The numbers from this 4-1 Astros victory are grisly, and they’re the reason Washington’s first home World Series game in 86 years became a loss: 0 for 10 with runners on second or third base on the night. In each of the first six innings, at least one Nat reached second. One scored. They didn’t go down in order until the seventh, when they might have been leading but instead trailed by three. Those are ingredients that will break an eight-game postseason winning streak. Those are ingredients that make up a loss and, in the week before Halloween, are magnified.
“It’s not easy to get those hits,” first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.
Because it’s not, what we have now is what anyone would have wanted before these teams opened in Houston: a full-on, anything-can-happen series. In that way, Friday night served as a pivot point. A Nationals win, and we’re wondering whether the clinch would be Saturday or Sunday and when Constitution Avenue should be closed for the parade. A Houston victory, and — oh, no — anything is possible.
What this guarantees is a fifth game Sunday night — at least. What it guarantees is three District World Series games — exactly the number in 1933, when the Senators couldn’t push the series back to New York and the Giants wrapped things up in five.
“Nobody thought this was going to be easy,” Zimmerman said.
What it guarantees are nerves. Everyone with a bounce in her or his step walking around, decked out in red, all day Friday strides a little more hesitantly Saturday in the long, slow hours before Game 4. Is Nats left-hander Patrick Corbin a good pitcher? Certainly. Will the Astros throw some combination of relievers together to try to cobble a win? Yes. On paper, the Nats could be favored. Your stomach doesn’t settle down because of what it says “on paper.”
Man, how things might be different — for the series, for your stress level — had one of a billion Nats delivered in the moments they have all postseason.
“We got a lot of traffic on the bases,” cleanup hitter Juan Soto said. “We just missed it when we needed it.”
Break down any of these at-bats, and there are layers. Zack Greinke’s constant change of speeds and angles and even windups mattered. The strike zone of home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom, which could generously be labeled “inconsistent,” mattered. Some instances of impatience mattered. Even an injury mattered. And the Nats flat-out missing some hittable pitches — yeah, that mattered, too.
A primary reason the Nationals arrived in Washington with a commanding lead is because their at-bats with runners on second or third were both well thought-out and productive. In Games 1 and 2, they were 7 for 21 in such instances, scoring 10 of their 15 runs.
On Friday night, that average — one hit every three times up with ducks on the pond — might have won the game. It’s not sustainable, of course, and the small-sample-size police will point out that 21 at-bats over two games prove nothing. Think of it this way: During the 162 games of the regular season — by definition, an appropriate sample size — the Nats posted an .887 on-base-plus-slugging percentage with runners in scoring position. That led the National League. Only the New York Yankees were better and only by one point (.888).
And yet in baseball, there are always nights when strengths become weaknesses, when up becomes down. So here was Friday.
Where to start? Well, it’s actually pretty easy. Because it happened over and over, why not the first inning? Anthony Rendon, two-out double. Soto, first-pitch bouncer to first. Missed chance. At that point, no big deal. There were still four hours of baseball to come.
Do you really want to relive these? Is it worth going over — with no outs and runners on first and second — Kurt Suzuki’s look at a third strike and Victor Robles’s hard grounder to third that became an inning-ending double play?
That got it started but was a mere preview.
“Today, we were a little bit aggressive outside the strike zone,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “We took some balls I think we could hit. Uncharacteristic.”
So maybe it’s a one-night thing. But on this night, yikes. They loaded the bases in the third, bringing up Asdrúbal Cabrera, inserted into the lineup in place of Howie Kendrick, the MVP of the National League Championship Series. The reason: Cabrera’s solid, if mostly long ago, history against Greinke — 16 for 37 (.432). Indeed, when Cabrera singled in the second, the move looked reasonable.
But with the bases juiced and the count full, Greinke mustered up a 3-2 curveball. Cabrera waved through it.
In his next at-bat, in the fifth, Cabrera doubled with a man on first. There’s the Nats’ night in the nutshell you’re looking for: two hits with no one in position to score sandwiched around a strikeout when a hit would have made Nationals Park lose its mind.
The struggles in this regard presented an early decision point for Martinez. In the fourth, Robles’s triple scored Zimmerman and cut Houston’s lead to 2-1. Starter Aníbal Sánchez had only thrown 65 pitches, but you might have a better chance of laying down an effective bunt or hitting a run-scoring flyball than Sánchez does. He’s that bad with the bat.
So chase the game early? Or have faith that Sánchez could hang some more zeros? Martinez went with the latter. Reasonable. Sánchez saw three pitches — a foul bunt, a swinging strike and another foul bunt — and Trea Turner then tapped back to the pitcher to leave Robles on third.
The last, best chance: two down, runners on second and third and Zimmerman up in the fifth. Astros Manager A.J. Hinch made the move to pull Greinke in favor of right-handed reliever Josh James. Zimmerman worked a spectacular at-bat, falling behind 0-2, working the count even, fouling off a pair of two-strike pitches and taking a change-up a hair inside to get it full.
“I like my at-bat right there,” Zimmerman said.
Again, reasonable. Other than the result. James came with another change-up. Zimmerman swung through it.
So, now, a series.
“Anything is possible in October,” Hinch said. “I see a lot of different ways to the finish line.”
The finish line now can’t come Saturday. It could still come Sunday. If that’s to happen, Friday night must be a blip. World Series don’t come around these parts too often. Neither do that many chances to blow a game open. Take advantage Saturday, and no one will remember this long slog Friday night.