HOUSTON -- In a World Series largely devoid of drama -- there had been but a single lead change in the first five games, way back in Game 1 -- we got plenty of it in Game 6. We had dueling epic home run trots, the first manager ejection in a World Series game since 1996, a stadium-quieting home run from Anthony Rendon, a heroic Stephen Strasburg effort and a remarkable sixth straight win from the road team as the Washington Nationals beat the Houston Astros 7-2.
Oh, we also now get Game 7 on Wednesday at Minute Maid Park, a game that will feature the improbable return of Max Scherzer, three days after he was barely able to move his right arm and had to pull out of his Game 5 start. He'll face off against Zack Greinke in the first Game 7 matchup in World Series history between former Cy Young winners.
After scoring just three runs in three losses at home, the Nationals will now attempt to become the first team to win a World Series without winning a game at home.
"For the people who have followed this team the whole season, it had to be this way," Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle said. "It was gonna be this way. We've had the knack for making things a little tougher on ourselves than we needed to at times. It just feels like the most 2019 Nationals thing for this to come down to Game 7 of the World Series."
For the Astros, the exclamation point on their three-year run of excellence will have to wait one more day. They've won 100 games three seasons in a row, including a franchise-record 107 in 2019. They entered the World Series as the biggest betting favorite since 2007, and when Alex Bregman gave them an early 2-1 lead in the first inning, the explosion at Minute Maid Park could be heard in Galveston.
Instead, the game turned in the fifth inning when Adam Eaton tied it with a home run and then Juan Soto launched a mammoth shot into the upper deck in right field, both off Justin Verlander. After a controversial runner interference call in the seventh on Trea Turner led to Dave Martinez getting the first ejection for a manager since Bobby Cox, Anthony Rendon slugged a two-run home run into the Crawford Boxes to twist the momentum away from the Astros and give the Nats a 5-2 lead. Now we get one game to determine the champion of 2019.
"It's going to be great," Bregman said. "We got an incredible team, they've got an incredible team. It's winner take all, one game. It's a blast. This is why we play the game. Game 7 at home at Minute Maid Park in front of our home fans is going to be a blast. Leave it all out there."
The Nats had scored one run off Verlander in the first, and while he followed that with three scoreless innings, the fifth brought up the top of the lineup for a third time. That's not normally an issue for Verlander, as he held opponents to a .579 OPS the third time through the order in the regular season, the same as his overall season total, but in making his 40th start of the season, the tank was perhaps low on fuel and he had clearly been laboring throughout the first four innings.
Eaton fouled back a slider and then Verlander threw another one -- middle of the plate, a little up -- that Eaton crushed to right field for his second home run of the Series. If Eaton crushed his home run, then Juan Soto annihilated his just two batters later. Soto turned on a 3-1 fastball in the top of the zone and belted it deep into the second deck in right for the go-ahead home run -- officially measured at 416 feet and 111.4 mph -- his third of the World Series and fifth of the postseason. Soto, who turned 21 on Friday, is now the youngest player with three home runs in one World Series.
The Astros have been going strength against strength all series against Soto -- high fastballs against one of the best high-ball hitters in the business (Soto had the second-highest OPS in the majors on pitches in the upper half of the strike zone). Soto has won more than his share of those battles.
Soto also shoved it back in the faces of the Astros with his home run trot. He didn't drop his bat until he was nearly to first base -- copying Bregman's trot from the first inning, when Bregman drilled a 2-0 Strasburg fastball into the Crawford Boxes in left field. Bregman didn't drop his bat until after he had reached first base, his second notably emphatic home run trot of the World Series, following his grand slam off Fernando Rodney in Game 4 in which he took 28.71 seconds to round the bases. Bregman apologized after the game, saying he let his emotions get the better of him.
After the Turner controversy -- which in the end proved to be a non-factor since the Nats pulled away -- Strasburg took over, going 8 1/3 innings and throwing 104 pitches. It was a brilliant effort, especially considering his first inning -- when he was apparently tipping his pitches -- and that he didn't register a single swing and miss until his 53rd pitch of the game, other than one foul tip.
He was efficient, however, which allowed him to pitch into the ninth, and he improved to 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA this postseason. One of those wins came in relief in the wild-card game, but the Nationals have won all five of his postseason starts and he's the first pitcher to go 5-0 in a single postseason (even Madison Bumgarner lost a game during his historic run in the 2014 playoffs).
"I just gave it everything I had," Strasburg said. "I'm pretty tired."
His work this October has been Herculean, right up there with Bumgarner as the best by a starting pitcher in the wild-card era, when a starter will have to make as many as five or six starts in a postseason.
Strasburg was OK with getting removed from the game, two outs short of a complete game -- he has just two in his career. "I don't really focus too much on that out there," he said. "That's kind of a personal achievement I guess. Yeah, it's great, but you just really have to trust the guy next to you. We knew it was going to take all 25 of us. Doo came in there and got the job done."
• For Verlander, it was a crushing defeat. He now has started seven games in his World Series career without a win -- nobody else has more than five. He is 0-6 with a 5.68 ERA in the World Series. "I thought he ran out of gas at the end," manager A.J. Hinch said. "And he had a lot of hard innings, they got a couple of baserunners on virtually every inning except for the second. He had to work through 18, 19-plus pitches, 20 pitches, high-stress pitches. So it was an easy decision for me [to take him out]. I thought he left it all out on the field."
• Scherzer actually started warming up at one point when the score was 3-2 -- even though Martinez said he wouldn't pitch in the game. Scherzer had thrown on flat ground in the outfield -- when he gave a thumbs-up to Martinez that he was feeling better -- so it was a surprise to see him getting ready. Once Rendon hit the home run and the Nationals tacked on a couple of insurance runs in the ninth, Scherzer was no longer needed. His response after the game about starting Game 7: "It's what you live for."
• Great sequence in the top of the third inning. Eaton walked on a 3-2 fastball up and out of the zone, and then Rendon battled Verlander for 10 pitches, with Verlander throwing five straight fastballs, four of them fouled off, before finally throwing a slider Rendon took low and away for a walk. That set up a crucial confrontation against Soto, who fouled off a fastball, took a curveball off the plate and then hit a 95 mph pitch hard on the ground -- 103.3 mph -- but right at Jose Altuve for a 4-3 out. Good contact, unlucky placement (or more accurately, excellent positioning by the Astros, as always).
• Strasburg had his own two-on, two-out moment in the bottom of the fourth when he issued back-to-back walks to Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez -- he had only one unintentional walk the entire postseason before then -- to bring up Carlos Correa. He fell behind 2-0, but Correa swung through a fastball, took a two-seamer at the knees and then missed a curveball. He had another big strikeout of Correa in the sixth inning with two outs and a runner on first, getting Correa to chase a beautiful changeup below the knees.
• Game 7. All hands on deck, other than (most likely) Verlander and Strasburg. Martinez will have both Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez (Sanchez on full rest) in case something crops up with Scherzer. The Astros used Will Harris for just five pitches in Game 6, so Hinch will have all of his top relievers available, plus possibly Gerrit Cole on two days' rest and Jose Urquidy as a long man.
• No team has won a World Series without winning a home game, but several teams have won Games 6 and 7 on the road: the 1926 Cardinals, 1934 Cardinals, 1952 Yankees, 1958 Yankees, 1968 Tigers, 1979 Pirates and 2016 Cubs. The Nationals will look to make a unique kind of history in Game 7, while the Astros will try to cement their legacy as an all-time great team. Let's all tune in.