Nationals explode late for huge win over Astros

Nationals 12 Astros 3

(Washington leads series 2-0)

HOUSTON —So, about that narrative that the “real” World Series took place in the American League Championship Series between the Astros and Yankees?

The Nationals, behind five laborious innings by ace Max Scherzer, gutted out a one-run victory in Game 1 as a somewhat emphatic rejoinder.

Then they completely annihilated the Astros in Game 2, a 12-3 victory in front of a stunned sellout crowd of 43,357 at Minute Maid Park that suddenly has the Nationals two wins away from a title no one saw coming.

The Nationals, playing in the franchise’s first World Series, took a two-games-to-none lead, with Games 3-5, starting Friday night, in D.C.

Stephen Strasburg, though his pitch count soared relatively early, still grinded his way through six innings and 114 pitches. The righthander allowed two runs, both coming on an Alex Bregman two-run homer in the first that tied it at 2-2, seven hits and a walk. Strasburg struck out seven.

Verlander, who allowed four first-inning runs in a loss to the Yankees in Game 5 of the ALCS at the Stadium, allowed four runs — two in the first inning — and seven hits over six innings.

The Astros, who won an MLB-best 107 games and were 61-20 at home, also tops in the majors, saw the game come apart in a six-run seventh by the Nationals, with Kurt Suzuki untying it with a leadoff homer off Verlander to make it 3-2. A hailstorm of hits, walks and misplays helped the Nationals push five more across, making it 8-2 by inning’s end and sending many of the fans streaming quietly out. The Nationals got a two-run homer by Adam Eaton in the eighth and an RBI single by Asdrubal Cabrera, who drove in two in the seventh, in the eighth made it 11-2. Washington had 14 hits overall compared with nine for Houston.

Nine pitches into the game, the Nationals had the lead. Leadoff man Trea Turner walked on four pitches and Eaton, who drove in a run off Gerrit Cole with a single in Game 1, lashed a 0-and-1 fastball opposite-field to left. Anthony Rendon, a Houston native, fell behind 0-and-2 but sent a changeup opposite-field off the wall in left-center, the two-run double making it 2-0. Verlander retired three straight to end the 20-pitch inning.

Strasburg struck out George Springer on three pitches to start the bottom half, but Jose Altuve looped a double down the leftfield line. With Michael Brantley at the plate, Altuve took off for third and was thrown out by Suzuki, with Rendon, the third baseman, applying a perfect swipe tag for the second out. Suzuki was 5-for-50 during the regular season throwing out those attempting to steal. Brantley did single, which allowed Bregman to step to the plate. The third baseman and AL MVP candidate, 9-for-39 with one homer to that point of the postseason, hammered a 2-and-2 changeup to left, tying it at 2-2.

After Verlander stranded a runner at first in the fourth, the Astros stranded one at second in the bottom half. Yordan Alvarez, who went 1-for-22 with 12 strikeouts in the ALCS, lined a single to right, improving the rookie to 3-for-5 in the series. He went to second on Correa’s groundout but Strasburg struck out Robinson Chirinos on a changeup, the righthander’s sixth strikeout of the game.

Houston put another runner in scoring position an inning later when Yuli Gurriel, who helped end the Yankees’ hopes in Game 6 with a three-run homer in the first off Chad Green, ripped a double into the corner in left. Alvarez got ahead 2-and-0 — giving Strasburg his 100th pitch of the night — and the Nationals chose to intentionally walk the first baseman. Up stepped Carlos Correa, who popped a full-count changeup to second. Lefty-swinging Kyle Tucker pinch hit and, after getting ahead 2-and-0, struck out looking at a curveball on what was Strasburg’s 114th and final pitch. Through six the Astros were 0-for-4 with RISP and had stranded six.

One of the best offenses in the sport this season, they came into the night slashing .185/.248/.348 with RISP this postseason.

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