The Washington Nationals picked right back up from where they left off the last time they were in Houston and won Game 6 of the World Series, 7-2, to even the series and once again eliminate home-field advantage.
Each of the first six games of this year’s Fall Classic has ended with the road team coming away victorious with the seventh and final opportunity coming Wednesday night back at Minute Maid Park.
A quick first inning put the visitors on the scoreboard first, staking claim to their first lead since last Wednesday’s Game 2 with a single, sacrifice bunt and another single from Houston native Anthony Rendon off Astros starter Justin Verlander.
The Houston bats similarly started early with Alex Bregman lifting a two-run home run to take back the lead and liven the Minute Maid crowd although there was little to cheer about moving forward with Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg spinning another dominant performance akin to his Game 2 start.
“He has an uncanny ability to slow the game down when he’s under any duress,” said Astros manager AJ Hinch. “We didn’t put a lot of stress on him but the times that we did, he kind of backs it down a little bit, throws the secondary pitches for strikes and he locates pitches. He didn’t make a lot of mistakes.
“Credit to him bouncing back from the first inning,” Hinch continued. “It was almost exactly how the last game went where they score, we score and all of a sudden he settled in and he was very dominant.”
Bregman agreed that after the opening inning, Strasburg was lights out.
“I think he can mix three really good pitches; his fastball’s really good, his changeup’s really good and his breaking ball varied in speeds today from about 84 to 80 so he was dominant,” Bregman said of what made Strasburg so good on a night where he pitched 8.1 innings and allowed just two earned runs on five hits while striking out seven.
On the other side, Washington used the long ball to extend its lead with Adam Eaton and Juan Soto registering solo blasts in the fifth and Rendon providing a two-run shot in the seventh. On top of that, Rendon hit the two-run double in the ninth that rounded the score out to 7-2, making his 5-RBI performance a postseason franchise record.
All of that sets up a do-or-die Game 7 with all the marbles on the line, an aspect that excited Bregman.
“It’s going to be great; we’ve got a great team, they’ve got an incredible team. It’s winner take all, it’s a blast and it’s why we play the game,” he said. “Game 7 here at Minute Maid Park in front of our home fans is going to be a blast and we’ll leave it all out there.”
Houston will hand the ball off to Zack Greinke to start the game in what will be the second time he sees this Nationals lineup in the World Series which he briefly talked about following Tuesday’s loss.
“They have some good hitters. Not a lot of holes, not a lot of strikeouts. That’s probably the toughest part,” he said. “They had a lot of good at-bats (in Game 3). They pitched pretty good and they got a good amount of hits. I felt all right and they made it tougher than it would ideally be.”
Verlander added it was less than ideal to come away from Tuesday night without the win but he knows this group has been there before.
“We don’t have another option, obviously we would have liked to win tonight but there’s no time to dwell about it. We have to turn the page and show up tomorrow and win a baseball game,” he said. “You hope (being in a similar situation in 2017) helps, these guys will know what to expect with their backs against the wall already in this postseason as well as the team across the way. I don’t know if there are any parallels we can draw from that particular Game 7 except hopefully we jump out to an early lead.”
That will be a tough task to do in it of itself with Max Scherzer getting the start for Washington after he was scratched from his previous start with neck spasms.
“We don’t know if he’s healthy or not but we’ll find out in the first inning,” said Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. “He’s a great pitcher, they’ve got a great lineup but we’ve got to score early.”
Game 7 will be played at Minute Maid Park with another 7:08 p.m. start time which will signal the end of the baseball season once a champion is crowned at the end of the night.