Nationals 5 Astros 4
HOUSTON —The first game of any World Series is bound to be overblown in the reaction it engenders.
The winning team is well on its way to a title and the losing team might as well pack it in.
Seldom does Game 1 — with rare exceptions over the years — have that kind of impact.
But when the Nationals built a three-run lead midgame Tuesday night against Astros uber-stud Gerrit Cole, a pitcher who hadn’t lost since May 22, it suddenly became a game they absolutely had to get.
And, though it was a walk through fire, get it they did, edging the Astros, 5-4, in a dramatic Game 1 in front of 43,339 at Minute Maid Park.
Cole, 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA this season, allowed five runs and eight hits in seven innings. The righthander, a free agent at season’s end, departed with the Astros, trailing 5-2.
Juan Soto, who debuted last season and doesn’t turn 21 until Friday was not intimidated by Cole or the biggest stage the sport has to offer. The smooth-swinging lefty-hitting leftfielder, went 3-for-4, including a solo homer and two-run double, the latter of which made it 5-2 in the fifth.
But George Springer, whose homer off Tanner Rainey in the seventh made it 5-3, hit a one-out, RBI double in the eighth off Daniel Hudson to make it 5-4. Hudson retired Jose Altuve, who beat the Yankees with a walk-off two-run homer against Aroldis Chapman in Game 6 of the ALCS, and lefthander Sean Doolittle got the lefty-swinging Michael Brantley to line to left.
Doolittle worked a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out Alex Bregman, getting Yuli Gurriel to fly to center and Carlos Correa to fly to center to end it
The game was billed, and not without cause, as an old-school duel between aces, and why not?
Cole went 11-0 with a 1.51 ERA in his last 13 regular-season starts, striking out 143 and walking 16 in 89 2/3 innings in that stretch, and had not lost a game since May 22.
The 35-year-old Scherzer, though not quite at the standard of some of his best seasons, three of which resulted in Cy Young Awards, still went 11-7 with a 2.92 ERA, striking out 243 batters in 172 1/3 innings.
Tuesday was a grind for the veteran, though he still departed with the lead after allowing two runs and five hits over five innings. Scherzer, who threw 112 pitches, walked three and struck out seven.
The Astros took an early lead. Springer, who worked a critical two-out walk in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS preceding the Altuve walk-off homer, drew a walk in the bottom of the first. Altuve then lined a first-pitch fastball up in the zone to left for a single. Scherzer then struck out Brantley on three pitches. A wild pitch with Bregman at the plate put Springer on third but Scherzer struck out the AL MVP candidate. But Gurriel, who tagged Chad Green with a three-run homer in the first inning of Game 6 of the ALCS, roped a 1-and-2 fastball off the top of the wall in left, the two-run double making it 2-0. Opponents had been 0-for-17 against Scherzer with runners in scoring position to that point of the postseason. Scherzer struck out Correa to end the 26-pitch inning.
The Nationals got one back with two outs in the second when Ryan Zimmerman, taking the first World Series swing of his 15-year career with Washington, hammered a 1-and-0 fastball, which came in 97 mph, and launched it to left-center.
After Scherzer stranded two in scoring position in the bottom of the third with a strikeout of Correa, Soto, the third youngest player to ever bat cleanup in a World Series game, obliterated a 1-and-0 fastball to the opposite field, putting it on the train tracks in left-center. At 20 years, 362 days old, Soto became the fourth-youngest player to homer in a Word Series game.
Yordan Alvarez, coming off an ALCS in which he went 1-for-22 with 12 strikeouts, laced a single back up the middle to start the bottom half. Martin Maldonado flied to left and Springer, with Scherzer reaching the 85-pitch mark during the at-bat, worked his second walk. Scherzer got out of it when Altuve grounded to first, which left the Astros 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and six stranded four innings in.