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A Series of What-If Scenarios: Game 7, 2019 World Series

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Did you know second-guessing decisions during a baseball game can be both cathartic and depressing at the same time?

2019 World Series Game 7 - Washington Nationals v. Houston Astros Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Game 7 of the 2019 World Series will likely haunt me for the rest of my natural existence. I’ve only attended one postseason baseball game — those freaking tickets are not cheap — in my 31 years of living and I picked a doozy of one. Well, my friend who actually paid for the ticket did the choosing, but I gave my word to pay for his ticket when the next Super Bowl is reasonably close to Houston. Let’s face it that the Texans aren’t going to a Super Bowl anytime soon given their current state of affairs with a certain general manager in charge.

The Astros, for those who may not remember, were merely eight outs away from winning their second championship in three seasons. Zack Greinke actually cruised through the first six innings before Anthony Rendon hit a one-out solo home run in the seventh inning to cut the Astros lead in half to 2-1. Juan Soto then follows with a walk, which ultimately concluded Greinke’s night. Hinch brings in the following pitchers in the subsequent frames to hopefully stop the bleeding: Will Harris, Roberto Osuna, Joe Smith, and Jose Urquidy.

Spoiler alert: They did not. It was like death by a thousand cuts.

To be fair to Harris, Howie Kendrick’s two-run shot off the right field foul pole was an example of a solid swing besting a quality pitch down in the zone.

They’re now teammates with the Nationals, so good for them I guess. I am sure we won’t hear that little tidbit again this year. /sarcasm

All I know is I just reused this curse of a GIF for the second time in the last five or so months. But this screenshot cuts the deepest right now.

The real kick in the teeth that day was the teasing act known as Gerrit Cole and whether the Astros would utilize him to save the day. For the better part of three or so innings, you could see Cole warm up followed by him sitting down for a bit. Lather, rinse, and repeat. For all of us sitting in the crowd, it felt like a matter of time before he made his heroic descent from the baseball heavens to deliver us all. Alas, the moment never occurred as we saw the four previously mentioned pitchers who were not exactly bludgeoned but nonetheless bested in the final three frames.

Entering the top of the seventh inning, the Astros held an 81.5 percent win probability with Greinke cruising along like a fine Sunday drive in the Texas hill country. Little did we know at the time that Houston was at a fork in the road. Possibly a three-way fork in the road, to be honest.

  • Leave Greinke in the game for the seventh inning
  • Bring in Will Harris for the start of the seventh inning with the entire pitching staff minus Justin Verlander on standby
  • Essentially switch Harris with Cole to face the top of the Nationals lineup instead

On one hand, it felt justifiable to leave Greinke based on his performance through the first six innings and the fact that he hadn’t saw the Nationals lineup a third time through. When going through an opponents lineup a third time in 2019, the right-hander posted just a .241 wOBA. That’s not bad. Six scoreless innings and Washington’s lineup wasn’t exactly threatening to knock down the door much at all prior to the seventh inning. If there was a risky what-if at the moment, it was probably the possibility of bringing in Harris, who the Nationals had already seen four times in this series alone, to face the top of the lineup.

Cole, even on short rest, might have been the ideal pitcher of choice for the seventh inning if, and please follow me for a second, Greinke didn’t pitch as well as he did in the first six innings. Do I dare state the greatest what-if scenario of this game if Greinke still finished with the same pitching line, but he struggled a bit more to get there? I sincerely loathe myself for even thinking such a blasphemous thought as I want every player I root for to perform well all the freaking time. Nevertheless, I felt it was a thought, good or bad, that had to be shared even as I type this post at eleven o’clock on a Monday night in the middle of a pandemic shutdown.

Greinke’s performance likely altered, to some degree, the Astros approach to the later innings in Game 7. Part of that original plan may have included utilizing Cole to start one of the later innings. But once that ball ricocheted off the foul pole and that win probability plummeted to 33.4 percent in the span of three batters, manager A.J. Hinch decided to stick to his agreement with Cole. Based on his postgame comments, the plan with his former ace was not to bring him in during the middle of an inning or if Houston was trailing. Regardless of the plan, more than two runs from Houston’s lineup would’ve been a welcomed development.

To close this trip down depressing memory lane, I can now say that I was at the last Astros game of Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch’s tenure in Houston. Totally didn’t see that one coming. Something about a dark arts and trash cans if my memory is accurate. Also, I never got to see Cole pitch live in a game for the Astros. So, there’s that.