Six-run inning sends Nats home with 2-0 World Series edge
Emblematic of most everything that has unfolded thus far this postseason, light-hitting Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki proved ready when his time in the spotlight came. Suzuki smacked a tiebreaking home run leading off the seventh inning, and the Nationals took complete advantage of the subsequent collapse by the Houston Astros to post a 12-3 victory in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday.
The Nationals swept the first two games of the best-of-seven set and now head home for Game 3 on Friday, Game 4 on Saturday and (if necessary) Game 5 on Sunday. Suzuki, 1-for-23 with nine strikeouts this postseason entering Wednesday, homered to left field off Astros starter Justin Verlander to ignite a six-run frame. His blast broke a 2-2 tie that existed since the first inning and keyed a Nationals eruption that yielded 10 runs over the final three innings.
"I can't remember the last time I barreled a ball up like that," Suzuki said of his 381-foot shot. "It felt great. It felt like months ago. Probably was months ago. It felt great." Houston fell apart soon thereafter, with Verlander issuing a walk to No. 9 hitter Victor Robles before third baseman Alex Bregman failed to make two plays behind reliever Ryan Pressly.
With the bases loaded following a two-out intentional walk to Juan Soto, Bregman muffed a ground ball off the bat of Howie Kendrick. Robles scored to stretch the Washington lead to 4-2 on a play that was ruled a single. Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a two-run single before Bregman added a throwing error when Ryan Zimmerman rolled an infield single up the third base line. Kendrick and Cabrera scored to boost the lead to 8-2.
Before the Nationals seized control, it was more of the same offensively for Houston. Bregman slugged a two-run, game-tying homer with two outs in the bottom of the first, but that proved to be the lone damaging blow off Stephen Strasburg (1-0). The Nationals right-hander needed 114 pitches to complete six innings yet allowed just two runs on seven hits and one walk with seven strikeouts. After finishing 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position in Game 1, the Astros managed just five such at-bats in Game 2. They came up empty in each and stranded nine baserunners total.
"Making pitches," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of the key to holding down the Houston lineup. "We talked about coming into this series knowing that these guys don't chase. They see a lot of pitches. But we have to continue to pound the strike zone, and (we're) doing that." Verlander settled in after a rocky first inning of his own, a frame that included a two-run double by Anthony Rendon. Verlander allowed just one additional baserunner to reach scoring position prior to the seventh, and he had 98 pitches on his ledger entering that fateful frame. When Suzuki recorded his second hit of the night, momentum swung decidedly in favor of Washington.
Game 2 marked the third time this postseason that Verlander (0-1) endured a bumpy start to an outing. He surrendered three runs in the first inning in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays and four runs in the first in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series with a shot to close out the New York Yankees. "Maybe the walk, just being a little out of sync to the first batter," Verlander said, attempting to spot a trend. "Didn't really happen much all year so I'm not going to panic about it. It's just an anomaly."
What wasn't aberrant was another gritty performance by the Nationals, who stretched their postseason winning streak to eight games and seized a stranglehold of the World Series against the heavily favored Astros. Verlander, who allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks with six strikeouts over six-plus innings, and co-ace Gerrit Cole dropped consecutive starts for the first time this year, a gut punch no one anticipated, especially the Astros.
"I remember when we lost three in New York and the world was coming to an end," Bregman said, referencing the 2017 ALCS, in which the Yankees grabbed a 3-2 series lead on the Astros. "The next thing you know, we're in the World Series in '17. So we've been here before."
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