The Astros were the best team in baseball this year, posting a major league-high 107 victories during the regular season while wielding the best pitching, offense and defense in baseball. They may have been outplayed by the Washington Nationals in the first two games of the World Series, but the Astros possessed too much talent to be so easily brushed aside.
And after a convincing 8-1 win over the Nationals in Game 4 on Saturday, the Astros have come back from their early deficit to knot up the best-of-seven World Series at two game -apiece. The Astros, winners of the 2017 World Series, played like a team with championship experience.
Entering the game, the Nationals seemed to hold the advantage with Patrick Corbin, a stout starting pitcher, on the mound. But it was a rookie, Jose Urquidy, who emerged as an unlikely hero for the Astros. He outpitched Corbin, who coughed up four runs, and spun five scoreless innings for Houston. And when Astros relievers ran into trouble, they too were able to extinguish the Nationals’ threats.
The Astros pounced on Corbin early in the first inning for a 2-0 lead, and then put the game out of reach with a couple of home runs. Catcher Robinson Chirinos smashed a two-run blast in the fourth inning and third baseman Alex Bregman, who had been relatively quiet this series, smashed a grand slam in the seventh.
So far, only the road teams have won during this series. The Nationals won the first two games in Houston. The Astros answered with two victories in Washington. With the win on Saturday, the Astros guaranteed there would be at least one more game back home in Houston.
The Astros would have extended their lead to 9-1 if not for Juan Soto’s left arm. Robinson Chirinos doubled and tried to score on a single by Jake Marisnick. But Soto fired a strong throw home and Chirinos couldn’t beat it. In the bottom half of the inning, Chris Devenski finished the victory.
Gerrit Cole will start for the Astros while Max Scherzer will take the mound for the Nationals, a rematch of Game 1. Regardless of the outcome, there will be at least a Game 6 in Houston on Tuesday.
Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman each slapped singles off Javy Guerra, but the Astros couldn’t tack on any more runs. The Nationals threatened to mount a rally in the bottom half of the inning when Anthony Rendon reached on a throwing error by Jose Altuve and Juan Soto walked with one out. Peacock wriggled out of his own jam by striking out Howie Kendrick and getting Ryan Zimmerman to fly out to right field.
This is where the lack of a deep bullpen hurts the Nationals. A deeper relief corps could have kept the game within striking distance. But it all started to go downhill when Tanner Rainey — who, like Josh James, throws hard and strikes out many but also walks many — walked Kyle Tucker and George Springer to start the frame. He got one out before being replaced with Fernando Rodney.
Rodney coughed up a single to Michael Brantley and then threw a fastball low and in to Alex Bregman, who had been relatively quiet this World Series. Bregman kept his swing compact and direct, blistering the pitch over left field wall for a grand slam. It put the Astros ahead by 8-1 and, barring a meltdown, all but assured that the series will return to Houston for at least a Game 6.
Bregman held the bat out with his left arm extended as he started to walk out of the box, enjoying his handiwork. A small group of Astros fans in the upper right field deck chanted “M-V-P!”
The Astros used Hector Rondon and Brad Peacock in the bottom half of the inning, and pitched out of a jam with two men on base. Yuli Gurriel made a great diving play to stop a Trea Turner ground ball and he dove again to reach first base for the final out. Turner, who is exceptionally speedy, probably should have run through first base instead of diving, which slowed his momentum.
It Corbin’s last inning, but also one of his best. He retired his ninth straight batter. He recovered from his miscues to toss six innings on 96 pitches, sparing the Nationals bullpen from more heavy lifting. Gerardo Parra pinch hit for Corbin in the bottom of the frame. But will the Nationals be able to solve the Astros’ pitchers?
Astros Manager A.J. Hinch yanked Urquidy after 67 pitches. His spot was due up in the bottom half of the frame, so Urquidy could have kept pitching. The move immediately backfired for Hinch until Will Harris saved the day.
Josh James, the hard-throwing command-challenged reliever, walked Parra, struck out Trea Turner and walked Adam Eaton. Harris, a stout reliever who got five outs on 25 pitches on Friday, took over. He coughed up a single to Anthony Rendon to load the bases and then a ground out by Juan Soto scored a run to trim the Nationals’ deficit to 4-1. Harris then fired some good cutters to strike out Howie Kendrick and end the threat.
A much quieter inning all around. Corbin went 1-2-3 in the top half. Alex Bregman still isn’t swinging quite like himself. He got two balls from Corbin and then swung at a high fastball he probably should have let go by. He is 2 for 16 this postseason.
Urquidy is rolling. He fired 15 pitches to get a 1-2-3 bottom half of the inning. He has thrown just 67 pitches, continuing to spare the bullpen in the biggest game of his career.
Ruh-roh. Nationals Park got a quieter when Robinson Chirinos smashed a no-doubt two-run blast off Corbin to left field to give the Astros a 4-0 lead. Corbin has not been particularly sharp. He walked Carlos Correa to lead off the frame. Then he threw a change-up right down the middle to Chirinos, who blasted it. He stood near home plate admiring his work for a bit, too.
Only three of Chirinos’ 17 home runs during the regular season were against left-handed pitchers. This was his second home run of the World Series.
Corbin is at 67 pitches and the Nationals will need him to still eat innings and keep the score close.
Urquidy is making good pitches around the edges of the strike zone to neutralize the Nationals lineup. He pitched Anthony Rendon away, Juan Soto in and Howie Kendrick up and down. He through four scoreless innings on 52 pitches, a big lift so far for the Astros.
Michael Brantley continues to power the Astros offense. He and Jose Altuve lead the team with seven hits each this World Series. Brantley singled with one out in the top of the frame. But Corbin got Alex Bregman, who is struggling, to chase a change-up and struck out Yuli Gurriel with some good sliders.
Yan Gomes got the first extra-base hit of the game: a double to lead off the bottom of the frame. Urquidy escaped when Corbin put down a sacrifice bunt and Gomes couldn’t advance, Trea Turner grounded out and shortstop Carlos Correa made a nice play to nab a pop-up off Adam Eaton’s bat into shallow left field.
A much cleaner effort from Corbin. After needing 26 pitches in the first inning, he fired only 9 to get through the bottom of the Astros lineup.
Urquidy is attacking the Nationals with a lot of 95-mile per hour fastballs and sliders. He has used just 24 pitches to get six outs. Even though it is a bullpen game for the Astros, Manager A.J. Hinch said this before the game: “I would love for Urquidy to go five, six innings, whatever he can do. And maybe we don’t have to use as many pitchers.”
The Astros’ plan against Corbin was clear from the start: Swing early in the count. They did so successfully in the first inning. Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel all notched singles within the first three pitches of their at-bats. The result: two runs, driven in by Bregman and Gurriel. Robinson Chirinos could have made it worse for the Nationals, but he grounded into an inning-ending double play started by third baseman Anthony Rendon.
Urquidy made quick work of the Nationals in the bottom half on 11 pitches. Rendon singled, but Urquidy got two pop-outs and a lineout.
1. George Springer, RF
2. Jose Altuve, 2B
3. Michael Brantley, LF
4. Alex Bregman, 3B
5. Yuli Gurriel, 1B
6. Carlos Correa, SS
7. Robinson Chirinos, C
8. Jake Marisnick, CF
9. Jose Urquidy, P
1. Trea Turner, SS
2. Adam Eaton, RF
3. Anthony Rendon, 3B
4. Juan Soto, LF
5. Howie Kendrick, 2B
6. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
7. Victor Robles, CF
8. Yan Gomes, C
9. Patrick Corbin, P
The Houston Astros gave themselves a fighting chance with their 4-1 win over the Washington Nationals in Game 3 on Friday. Even though the Nationals still lead the series, two games to one, the Astros made a dent in the odds.
Teams that hold a two-games-to-one advantage in the World Series have gone on to win the series nearly 66 percent of the time (59 of the past 90 instances). The most recent examples of teams that held such an edge that went on to lose the World Series: the 2014 Kansas City Royals (falling to the San Francisco Giants in seven games) and the 2016 Cleveland Indians (falling to the Chicago Cubs in seven games).
Jose Urquidy, the Astros rookie, will start Game 4. It will be a bullpen game for the Astros, so expect many pitching changes. He will be the third Mexico-born pitcher to start a World Series game, and the second rookie to do so. The first rookie was the former Los Angeles Dodgers star Fernando Valenzuela in 1981.
Even though the Astros are starting a rookie and plan to lean heavily on their bullpen for the second straight game, they may hold one advantage with their offense. Patrick Corbin is a strong left-handed pitcher; he went 14-7 with a 3.25 earned run average over 202 innings in the regular season. He has been less stellar during the postseason: 12 runs over 14 1/3 innings.
The Astros were the best at making contact in the major leagues during the regular season, and they led in many offensive categories. Their lineup full of right-handers clobbered left-handed pitching: They were second in the major leagues with a .868 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage. Right-handed batters during the regular season versus Corbin: .704 O.P.S.
The Nationals avoided using their best relievers in Fridays’ game, such as Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson, which will allow Manager Dave Martinez to be more aggressive with them on Saturday. Catcher Kurt Suzuki left Friday’s game with a hip injury, but he was never expected to start on Saturday anyway, since Yan Gomes is often paired with Corbin.
Key hitters who have been mostly cold at the plate this postseason: the Astros’ star third baseman Alex Bregman is 1 for 13 and shortstop Carlos Correa is 2 for 13, while the Nationals’ star third baseman Anthony Rendon is 2 for 13.