Soto and Zimmerman Derail the Cole Train

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  Hi all.  Here’s how I saw game 1 of the World Series last night, a 5-4 win by the Nationals over Houston.  As good as Gerrit Cole has been since May 22, (19 wins and 6 no-decisions in 25 starts, no losses) he hadn’t faced Juan Soto when Soto was on a roll–until last night.

 Before carrying on with the main theme, I thought I’d pass on something I found on another web site.  Up until this morning, I’ve been quoting the party line, that the last World Series won in Washington was in 1924, and the last one played there was in 1933.  It turns out another World Series, this one involving black players was played partially at Griffith Stadium in Washington.  The Homestead Grays and Birmingham Black Barons locked horns in that World Series which the Grays won.  In a few years they were gone as black players got their chance to play in the majors.  By the sixties, Griffith Stadium was gone.  The 1961–71 Senators played at DC Stadium which became RFK Stadium in the summer of 1969.  The Nationals played there  until Nationals Park was ready for play in 2008.  After 4 false starts in division series play, the Nationals faced the Astros in Houston in game 1 last night, and after game 2 tonight, the show moves to Nationals Park on Friday. 

  While Max Scherzer wasn’t the “Mad Max” with 2 no-hitters under his belt, he showed himself to be that bravest kind of pitcher, the kind who would grind and keep grinding when his stuff wasn’t working.  Luis Tiant threw 163 pitches winning a 1975 World Series game for Boston against the Reds.  Ron Guidry struggled mightily and successfully for the Yankees in their 1978 playoff against Boston. Scherzer’s worst inning was the first. George Springer led off with a walk, a pitching coach’s nightmare at any level.  Next up, Jose Altuve singled.  After bouncing a 55-footer that advanced both runners, Scherzer had to be glad he wasn’t being managed by Aaron Boone who would have hauled him off then and there.  Scherzer struck out the next two men, but 2 out of 3 wasn’t enough.  Houston’s fifth hitter, Yuli Gurriel let out a grunt like Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon.  Instead of tapping a tennis ball, the grunting Gurriel launched a booming double off the left field wall which caromed back toward the infield.  Both runners could have walked home.  Scherzer then struck out his third man, but 25 pitches had been thrown.  It wasn’t the last inning in which he would come under fire, but it was the only one in which he would be scored on. The closest Houston got off Max was in the third when they left men on second and third. 

  Meantime the Nationals’ bats made their reply to the Astros’ challenge. Almost before you could say “Max Scherzer,” his teammate Ryan Zimmerman had cut the Astros’ lead in half. He slugged a “no-doubter” to dead center field, the deepest part of the park. After Scherzer stymied the Astros in the third, it was Juan Soto’s turn to make Astros’ fans wish he wasn’t playing. If Zimmerman hit a shot, Soto’s blast onto the train track above the left field wall flew like it was fired out of a cannon. The Houston radio crew who have been calling games there for years said you normally don’t see lefty hitters (which Soto is) hit home runs onto the train track.  They said normally your large righty power hitters take aim at the commemorative train, a decoration in homage to Houston’s Union Station which spent some 70 years in the territory where the park is now.

  That turned out to be only the opening salvo of the night for Soto.  An inning later, in the visitors’ half of the fifth, Gerrit Cole made the kind of mistake you rarely see from one of the elite pitchers in the game. He walked Washington’s 8-hitting catcher Kurt Suzuki and gave up a single to the 9th-place hitter Victor Robles. If he wasn’t Gerrit Cole, he might have gotten an unprintable earful from his pitching coach.  Even with the DH, neither Suzuki nor Robles strike terrific terror in the hearts of pitchers everywhere.  Victor Robles comes a lot closer to Victor Borge than to Victor Martinez who was a legit hitter some years back. Now Cole was up against the top of the order.  He got Trea Turner to fly to right, sending Suzuki to third.  Adam Eaton then singled Suzuki home, giving the Nats the lead for the first time.  After Anthony Rendon reached on a fielder’s choice, Soto doubled both runners home, making it a 5–2 game.  

  Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez took out Scherzer after 5 innings and 112 pitches.  Ironically, the fifth inning was his only 1-2-3 inning of the evening.  Using his playbook from game 5 of the Dodgers series, Martinez called on Patrick Corbin from the bull pen. He had a smooth 1-2-3 inning in the 6th, making it possible for him to start in game 4 if called on.  Martinez went to his regular relievers in the home 7th with mixed results. Tanner Raney was the first on the mound, and George Springer greeted him with a home run, something he did all too often when Houston won the 2017 World Series.  Raney got Jose Altuve but walked both Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman.  His manager then came to the hill and Raney had to take a walk. Daniel Hudson took the next turn in the barrel.  Gurriel popped up to Asdrubal Cabrera at second, after which Alex Correa beat out an infield hit to load the bases.  Yordan Alvarez was next.  After a horrific 1-for-22 ALCS, in this game he had drawn a walk and put up two singles.  This time though, he struck out, doing a good impression of his ALCS performance. 

  With the score 5-3, Cole was through after 7 innings.  He had given up 8 hits and 5 runs, striking out 6 to Scherzer’s 7 strikeouts.  Houston’s last gasp came in the 8th.  Still facing Daniel Hudson, Kyle Tucker registered a pinch-hit single as he batted for Cole’s catcher Martin Maldonado. He took second on a fly out, then came home on a double by Springer.  He had 2 of Houston’s 4 RBIS, one on a home run, one on a double.  Hudson was able to get Altuve, then left in favor of their closer Sean Doolittle. While he can’t talk to the animals like Rex Harrison in the 1960’s Dr. Doolittle movie, this Doolittle tamed the savage bats of the Astros.  He retired Michael Brantley to end the 8th, then got the middle of their order-Bregman, Gurriel and Correa, 1-2-3 to end the game. 

  Some 43,000 were at last night’s game in a park that officially holds just over 41,000.  There should be as large and loud a throng again tonight, as the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg and the Astros’ Justin Verlander take to the hill.  Neither have the fast ball they once had.  Verlander has never had to deal with a serious elbow injury as Strasburg had, but Father Time has caused him to learn to be a pitcher rather than a thrower.  Strasburg’s injury has, at least to some degree made that necessary for him.  In his case the result is a simply nasty change-up, something the players call “filthy.”  (Actually that word can apply to any pitch they can’t hit.)  If there was any effect from the Nats’ long layoff it wasn’t obvious. They have an advantage against an Astros’ team that rarely loses in their ball park.  From here, Washington knows they’ve done what they absolutely had to do, win one in Houston and maximize their chances once they get back to Washington.                    

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