Considering the post-season dominance of Gerrit Cole, heck considering his second half dominance, this was one game you thought you could chalk up in the win column for the Astros going in. Gerrit Cole hadn’t lost a game since May 22. He had only allowed one run in three post-season games this year.
Yes, the Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer is an ace, but the Astros should outhit the Nats, and when you get to their bullpen, you should be able to expand your lead. And it’s in Minute Maid Park.
But tonight regression struck Gerrit Cole, who gave up more than four runs for the first time since that May 22nd game.
And yet again, as has been the case since late September, the bats were cold, particularly with runners in scoring position. The team was 3-12 with RISP, one of those hits did not produce a run, and the Astros left 11 runners on base.
Although Yordan Alvarez showed signs of breaking out of his slump with two singles, he also struck out with the bases loaded. Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman each struck out three times as well. I have never seen Alex Bregman play with such a downtrodden appearance as I saw last night.
One of the most egregious and costly mental errors I have ever seen by the present Astros team was committed by George Springer. With Kyle Tucker on second base in the eighth inning and one out, Springer hit a long fly ball to right center. He walked down the first base line, admiring it’s long impressive arc as it hit the fence. Oh no, better run. Tucker scored, but Springer only got to second on what clearly should have been a triple.
The next batter, Jose Altuve, hit a fly to right that would have scored Springer if he had been on third, which would have tied the score. Michael Brantley made the third out to squelch the rally on a line drive to left.
Point is, the Astros seem to lack the energy, the fire, the confidence that has been so characteristic of this team during the years of championship runs. They have been able to get to the World Series this year almost entirely on the strength of pitching and two walk-off homers. But on this night when the pitching failed, it is clear that if they don’t find their spark soon, they may not be as lucky in this series as they were in the last two.
The Astros started with a spark, and seemed to have broken the BABIP curse, when Yuli Gurriel drove in two Astros in the first inning with a double with two outs.
But in the second inning Ryan Zimmerman cut the lead to one with a homer to deep center field. In the fourth inning Juan Soto tied the score with an opposite field homer to the train tracks in left center field.
Here’s Coles reaction to the Zimmerman blast.
Gerrit Cole, HR reaction. pic.twitter.com/NHKRZKhOVg— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 23, 2019
Painful as it may be, let me recount the milestones achieved by the 20 year-old Soto. He is the fourth youngest player to hit a World Series home run, behind only Andruw Jones, Miguel Cabrera, and Mickey Mantle. He is one of only three players under 21 to have three RBI in a World Series game, and with his stolen base, the only one to have 3 RBI and a stolen base.
The killer inning was the fifth. Gerrit Cole gave up a lead-off walk to Kurt Suzuki, followed by a Victor Robles single, and with one out a run scoring single to Adam Eaton. Juan Soto again wielded the killer blow, a two-run double, to put the Nationals up 5-2.
The Astros would nibble away. In the seventh inning George Springer led off with a monster homer to left center to bring the team within two of the Nats.
Next, two walks and a Carlos Correa infield single brought Yordan Alvarez to the plate with the bases loaded. He had gotten on in every previous at bat but struck out to end the inning.
Daniel Hudson, Big 3 Pitch K. pic.twitter.com/wie9mxjtgd— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 23, 2019
George Springer broke a record by getting a home run in his fifth consecutive World Series game.
The eighth inning saw rookie Kyle Tucker lead off with a pinch hit single, and score on the Springer double that should-have-been-a-triple. Springer was stranded, and the Astros would go down quietly in the ninth.
One umpire missed call might have had an influence on the outcome of the game. In the fourth inning video replay indicated that the catcher interfered with a Josh Reddick swing. If called, this would have put runners on first and second with one out and George Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman coming to bat. Instead Reddick flied out, and after a Springer walk, Altuve grounded into out three.
Here is another defensive gem by Carlos Correa
The Astros failed to score enough runs despite succeeding in their tactical goal of getting to the vulnerable Nationals bullpen early. Max Scherzer only went 5 innings, which should have given the Astros four shots at the Nats’ pen. But instead of a standard issue Federal reliever, the Nats sent out another ace starter, Patrick Corbin in the sixth. He held the Astros scoreless with only one hit allowed to Yordan Alvarez.
I expect that Martin will still start for the Nationals on Friday.
Besides giving up the most runs he has surrendered in a game since May, Cole showed other signs of not having his sharpest stuff. He only had six strikeouts, allowed eight hits, and out of 104 pitches, had only 13 swinging strikes, a very low number for him.
In both of their last playoff starts, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole have had sub-par outings by their standards. Are the 200+ innings each have pitched this season taking their toll now? Just a question but certainly a possibility.
Will Harris and Joe Smith came into the game in the eighth and ninth innings respectively to relieve Gerrit Cole, each throwing scoreless innings.
According to MLB stats, 18 of the last 22 teams to win Game 1 of the World Series went on to win it all. Of course, one of the exceptions was the 2017 Astros, although their win came on the road.
Of course with six games left anything can happen. The Astros lost Game 1 to the Yankees too. But the Nationals now hold home field advantage, and for the next three games may well hold an advantage in starting pitching.
There is no way around it. The Astros bats need to wake up, especially with runners in scoring position.
One wonders. Did all the media controversy surrounding the Astros due to the statements by Asst. GM Taubman distract the Astros last night?
Game 2 is today, 7:07 CDT.
Justin Verlander faces Stephen Strasburg
Box score and videos here