WASHINGTON — How much has changed in this World Series in just a handful of days. On Wednesday, the Houston Astros were in serious trouble, trailing the Washington Nationals two games to none in this best-of-seven series.
By Sunday night, though, the Astros had seized control of the series and and were brimming with confidence as it was set to shift back to Houston.
After three straight victories — all on the road, no less — the Astros now stand one win away from claiming their second World Series title in three years. They toppled the Nationals, 7-1, on Sunday night behind a terrific performance from ace Gerrit Cole and home runs from Yordan Alvarez, Carlos Correa and George Springer.
The Astros took advantage after Max Scherzer, the Nationals ace who was originally supposed to start, was scratched on Sunday afternoon with severe neck pain. Alvarez, Correa and Springer each blasted two-run homers. Cole did the heavy lifting for the Astros on the mound, finishing his night with three hits and one run allowed in seven innings.
Justin Verlander will take the mound in Houston for Game 6 on Tuesday in a possible World Series clincher. The Nationals are expected to counter with their other ace, Stephen Strasburg — and, if his injury has improved enough, perhaps also Scherzer in relief.
9th Inning: Astros Get a Bonus Homer
George Springer smashed a two-run homer off Daniel Hudson. It was Springer’s 15th career postseason homer, extending his Astros record. Second place in team history: Jose Altuve, with 13. Springer’s blast was measured at 435 feet. The Astros have out-homered the Nationals, nine to six, this World Series.
Ryan Pressley completed the game with a 1-2-3 ninth inning. Off to Houston.
8th Inning: Astros Restore 4-Run Lead
The Astros padded their lead with a double by George Springer off reliever Daniel Hudson and then run-scoring single by Yuli Gurriel.
Gerrit Cole’s night is done after seven terrific innings. He allowed just one run — a Juan Soto home run — on three hits with two walks and nine strikeouts. He fired 110 pitches — the fifth time this postseason he has thrown at least 104 pitches and logged at least seven innings. Joe Smith took over and spun a scoreless inning.
7th Inning: Soto Homer Gets Nationals on the Board
In the top half of the inning, Sean Doolittle pitched around a single and a walk for a scoreless frame. A double play certainly helped.
The bottom half of the frame reinforced two truths: Juan Soto and Cole are very good at baseball.
Cole threw his trademark high-90s fastball up in the strike zone and Anthony Rendon couldn’t resist, flying out to left field. (Yordan Alvarez, by the way, is out of the game, replaced by better defenders given the Astros’ lead.)
But when Cole threw a 99-mile-per-hour fastball down the middle to Soto, the young slugger didn’t miss it. He sent it over the left-center field fence to trim the Nationals’ deficit to 4-1. Soto has now homered off Cole — to the opposite field, no less — this postseason. He joined Joey Gallo as the only batters to hit multiple home runs off Cole this year.
The Nationals Park booed again in the seventh inning, this time at the home plate umpire Lance Barksdale when he rung up Victor Robles on a called third strike that was outside the strike zone. Barksdale heard more boos as the teams traded places on the field in the next frame.
6th Inning: Rainey Delivers a Clean Inning for Nats
Ross’s night is done at 78 pitches and five innings. Tanner Rainey relieved him and threw a 1-2-3 innings with fastballs as hard as 100 miles per hour. It was his third and best appearance of the World Series.
Yuli Gurriel has played phenomenal defense at third base this series. He robbed Trea Turner of a hit down the first base line with a nifty stop of a grounder and dive toward the bag. That is the second time he has done that to Turner this series. It helped Cole get through the sixth inning without any issue.
5th Inning: Cole Still Cruising
Ross hasn’t pitched all that poorly. The Astros’ lineup is simply that good, and they clobbered his mistakes. After walking George Springer for the second time this game, he got Jose Altuve to ground into his second double play of the game.
Cole, on the other hand, needed six pitches against the bottom of the Nationals’ batting order. He is at 69 pitches for the night.
4th Inning: Correa Makes It 2 Homers for Houston
The Astros silenced Nationals Park momentarily when Carlos Correa, who had been quiet at the plate this series, blistered a ball to left field for a two-run homer. Ross coughed up a single to Yordan Alvarez and then jumped ahead 0-2 on Correa. But Correa battled, taking a close slider for a ball and fouled off two pitches. It was stellar plate discipline from Correa, who crushed a 2-2 slider over the meat of the plate.
In the bottom half of the inning, Cole pitched around Anthony Rendon, who walked, for a scoreless frame. The curveball on the outer edge of the plate that froze Adam Eaton for a called third strike should be featured in a baseball instructional video.
3rd Inning: Altuve Stays Hot
Jose Altuve is now 9 for 22 (.409) this postseason. His nine hits are the most of any player in this World Series. He was the only base runner of the third inning.
In the bottom half of the inning, Cole tossed a 1-2-3 frame. He is through three scoreless innings on 42 pitches.
Once the inning ended, President Trump was shown on the scoreboard. Flanked by staff in a suite behind home plate, Trump smiled and clapped. But there was a resounding round of boos from the crowd at Nationals Park. A distinct chant of “Lock him up!” broke out in the upper deck.
2nd Inning: Alvarez Blast Puts Astros Ahead
Starting Yordan Alvarez, the Astros’ usual designated hitter, in as a left fielder proved to be a key decision by Manager A.J. Hinch. Since the series shifted to Washington, both teams lost the designated hitter. Alvarez, who struggled in the A.LC.S. but looked better at the plate this round, is known for his bat, not his nimbleness in the field.
After using Alvarez as a pinch hitter the previous two games in Washington, Hinch kept him in to face Ross on Sunday. Alvarez clobbered an opposite-field two-run homer to give the Astros a 2-0 lead. Ross threw a low sinker to the low outside corner, but Alvarez powered the ball into the left-center field seats.
Hinch said he had targeted this game for Alvarez “because Gerrit would get so many strikeouts, there’s less balls in play and less opportunity for something crazy to happen in the outfield.” Additionally, Hinch said, “I didn’t want to go three games without having his bat in the lineup for multiple at-bats.”
In the bottom half of the inning, Juan Soto and Howie Kendrick singled off Cole. But Cole used his usual magic to strike out Ryan Zimmerman and get Victor Robles to ground into a double play.
1st Inning: Ross Survives the First Frame
Given a tough assignment — filling in for three-time Cy Young Award winner Scherzer in the World Series — Ross fired a powerhouse first inning. He accomplished something that Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Scherzer struggled to do in the World Series: a scoreless first inning. Ross tossed 14 pitches. He walked George Springer, the leadoff hitter, but used his power sinking fastball in the mid 90s to get a inning-ending ground ball double play from Michael Brantley.
Cole was no slouch himself. He threw 17 pitches to get three outs. He hit 99 miles per hour with his fastball and threw a slider at 92. Good luck hitters.
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. Joe Ross P
Opting for offense over defense, the Astros started Yordan Alvarez, their usual designated hiter, in left field.
1. George Springer CF
2. Jose Altuve 2B
3. Michael Brantley RF
4. Alex Bregman 3B
5. Yuli Gurriel 1B
6. Yordan Alvarez LF
7. Carlos Correa SS
8. Martín Maldonado C
9. Gerrit Cole RHP