There should be angst on South Capitol Street, what with the previous 48 hours including two World Series-evening victories by the Houston Astros, including Saturday night’s 8-1 drubbing of Patrick Corbin, Fernando Rodney and the Nationals’ suddenly vulnerable offense. They arrived home Friday for the District’s first World Series game in 86 years, up 2-0 in the series. Two days later, they’re still looking for the first Fall Classic win at home in those same 86 years.
So what’s left is this: a best-of-three series, with Sunday night’s Game 5 the last at Nationals Park before at least one more and potentially two in Houston.
“We’re tied after four games,” Washington shortstop Trea Turner said. “It’s all about perspective and how you perceive it.”
How’s your glass this morning? Half-full? Half-empty? Either is valid. One will prevail.
Momentum could be the two games the Astros won here, for sure, particularly because the Nats squeezed across all of two runs combined. The Astros, too, have a way of creating their own momentum, because they treat each game against an opponent as a class, an opportunity to learn so the next time they’re tested on the material, they’re better prepared. That’s more frightening going forward than anything Houston did to the Nats here.
But momentum could also be the right hand into which the Nats will place the ball Sunday night. It belongs to Scherzer.
“At this point in time,” Scherzer said, “you literally just live and breathe each and every day.”
The Astros have lived and breathed here this weekend. But the Nats know they live and breathe at least till Tuesday. That counts.
“We’re going to play Game 5,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “Who would have thought that in the beginning?”
The beginning of the season and all those struggles seem distant given all the recent success. The last time the Nationals lost back-to-back games before Friday and Saturday nights was — get this — Sept. 13 and 14 against Atlanta. This feels like foreign territory. What it is, is baseball.
Baseball, over the course of the season, is broken into little three-game series such as this. Win those series, and you invariably advance in the standings. The Nats’ record in their past 24 three-game series: 16-8.
Who would be lined up to pitch this three-game series against the Astros? That would not only be Scherzer but Strasburg in Game 6 and, if necessary, Aníbal Sánchez in a winner-take-all Game 7. Their ERAs this postseason: 2.16, 1.93 and 2.50, respectively. Their batting averages against this postseason: .161, .234 and .221, respectively.
Yes, the Astros counter, in Games 5 and 6, with Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, who will finish first and second — in some order — in the American League Cy Young Award voting. Let’s think. The Nats’ past two postseason victories were against — checks notes — Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. There’s nothing ahead of them they haven’t already done.
“I’ll take it,” right fielder Adam Eaton said. “We don’t mind where we’re at — a best-of-three with Scherzer and Stras going the next two days.”
In a world in which momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, the Nats are just fine. The problem: That’s not the only world in which they live.
When the Nationals left Houston, they did it by kicking through the saloon door, rattling Cole and Verlander for nine runs in 13 innings. They got massive home runs from Ryan Zimmerman, Juan Soto, Kurt Suzuki, Eaton and even Michael A. Taylor. When runners reached base, they put bat to ball. In two nights, they scored 17 runs.
The most meaningful chance came in the sixth, with Urquidy out of the game. With one out and two on, trailing 4-0, here came Anthony Rendon and Soto, the Nats’ most dangerous hitters. The box score would tell you Rendon got a hit and Soto drove in a run. The replay would show you Rendon hit a grounder off the body of reliever Will Harris for a single that loaded the bases and Soto rolled over a pitch for a grounder that plated the Nats’ lone run.
That was an opportunity for damage. It was but a flesh wound. In these two home World Series games, the Nats are 1 for 19 with runners in scoring position.
We’ll skip what Rodney did in relief in the seventh (single, grand slam, walk, walk, groundout, walk), because repeated exposure to such toxic material can cause permanent damage. What matters going forward: If Rodney or Wander Suero or Javy Guerra appears in a World Series game, bad things are happening to the Nationals.
Saturday night, they all pitched. Saturday night, bad things happened to the Nationals.
“I think it’s easy to erase the last two days,” Eaton said.
“We’re excited to tackle Game 5,” Turner said.
So concentrate on what’s still to happen, rather than what already did. The home team has yet to win a game in this World Series. Since the advent of the two-three-two home-road format in 1924 — yes, the year of Washington’s only championship — the first four games have been won by the road team only two previous times. Those were in 1996, when the Braves took a 2-0 lead in New York but the Yankees came back to take the first two in Atlanta — and won the series. And in 1986, when the Red Sox won the first two in New York but the Mets came back to take the first two in Boston — and won the series.
Look away from that, Nats fans, because it gives you the feeling that the series flipped here. The Nationals’ job: Learn about the Astros like the Astros have learned about them. Relax in their approach at the plate, because their underdog status is suddenly restored, and that’s a role they have excelled at since May.
“We’ve been here pretty much all year,” Martinez said.
And above all else, give the ball to Scherzer on Sunday at Nationals Park, then Strasburg on Tuesday night in Houston. It’s what you would have signed up for in spring. It’s what you have now. Two nights are lost. But it’s not all bad.