HOUSTON — It was a day that cemented a pitcher’s legacy forever in Washington, D.C., as one of the toughest, baddest dudes in Washington Nationals history.
A game that guaranteed we’ll see the ultimate drama, a pitcher who couldn’t even get out of bed two days ago, now being asked Wednesday to win the first World Series in the nation’s capital since 1924.
A game that made a critical interference call nothing more than a footnote.
A series that will be remembered for more than an executive’s expletive tirade that got him fired.
Finally, the World Series theater everyone craved.
The Nationals made it possible by winning 7-2, over the Houston Astros in a game that was upstaged by controversy, Nats manager Dave Martinez being ejected, and resurrected memories of first-base umpire Don Denkinger’s blown call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series.
It was all forgotten by the time the Nats walked off the field, with all of the attention immediately turning to Max Scherzer, their three-time Cy Young winner, who’s scheduled to start Game 7.
Scherzer, scratched from his Game 5 start on Sunday when he couldn’t even raise his right arm, and traveled to Houston in a neck brace, threw on the side Tuesday afternoon, warmed up during the game, and was ready to go.
Scherzer won’t be pitching with a bloody sock, but it will bring back memories of Curt Schilling pitching for the Boston Red Sox in the 2004 World Series with blood dripping from the stitches in his ankle.
“He’s good, he felt good, so yeah, as of right now,’’ Martinez said, “he’ll definitely start Game 7. Max will pitch until his neck decides he can’t pitch anymore.’’
And there will be no pitch count or limitations.
“I can’t see myself telling Max, you’re only going to go 75 pitches. He’s going to want to go out there and go as long as he can.’’
The moment was made possible by the brilliance of Stephen Strasburg, who is turning into Bob Gibson this postseason.
Strasburg became the first pitcher in baseball history to go 5-0 in the postseason, and nearly became the first pitcher since Johnny Cueto of the San Francisco Giants to pitch a complete game in the World Series, Game 2 of 2015, against the Kansas City Royals. He was pulled after 8 ⅓ innings.
His ERA now 1.98.
And now, for the first time in World Series history, we have a series in which the visiting team has won every game.
The Astros, who had bludgeoned the Nationals in Washington, sweeping all three games by a combined score of 19-3, scored two runs in the first inning off Strasburg, and then went silent.
The only time Strasburg got into the slightest bit of trouble was in the middle innings. In the fourth, he walked Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez on nine pitches, but then came back and struck out Carlos Correa.
In the fifth, he gave up a one-out single to Josh Reddick and a double into the left-field corner by George Springer. No sweat. He got Jose Altuve to flail away on a curveball in the dirt, and Michael Brantley hit into a sharp groundout.
He cruised the rest of the way, making the Nationals 9-0 this postseason on games started by Strasburg and Scherzer.
The Astros, who have wanted to be remembered for having one of the greatest teams of all time, have been outscored 24-9 in their three games at Minute Maid Park.
They have one last chance.
If nothing else, the Nats’ victory at least took the focus off the umpiring crew. Yan Gomes hit a leadoff single in the seventh, and Trea Turner hit a slow roller to the right side of the mound. Astros pitcher Brad Peacock fielded it, and threw it off the back of Turner touching first base. Yet, home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook called Turner out for running inside the first-base line, and the Nats went ballistic.
One batter later, Anthony Rendon hit a two-run homer. But, in between innings Martinez was so incensed that he charged Holbrook and was ejected.
It should be magical.
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