HOUSTON — Anthony Rendon did not even watch the play that caused all the bedlam, the play that had his teammates screaming and fans cheering, the play that befuddled broadcasters, the play that eventually got manager Dave Martinez ejected after he nearly knocked over umpire Sam Holbrook in his fury. Rendon was down in the dugout, preparing to hit. He looked up and caught a glimpse of the replay on the jumbotron. And as chaos raged around him, Anthony Rendon had one thought: He was glad he got to sit back down and take a little break.
The home run he hit to extend the Nationals’ lead caused another burst of emotion, from everyone but Rendon, who did not crack a smile as he circled the bases.
“No big deal, right?” joked closer Sean Doolittle after it was over and Washington had won 7–2 to force Game 7.
Major League Baseball should send Rendon an Edible Arrangement. After the game’s worst month in the news since the 1994 strike, commissioner Rob Manfred faced the possibility of a World Series decided by a patently absurd call by umpires in the seventh inning of Game 6.
Instead, he got another chance for the major storyline of even one of these baseball games to be … baseball.
Until the World Series began, the major storyline of the postseason had been the baseball itself, which a Baseball Prospectus study concluded were flying less far than they had during the regular season. Fans, broadcasters and players speculated openly about how many April home runs had tumbled into outfielders’ gloves in October. As the league championship series began, ESPN reported that the Angels’ Tyler Skaggs, who had died of a fentanyl overdose in July, had bought drugs from a team media-relations staffer.
The night before Game 1, Sports Illustrated reported that Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman had taunted female reporters during the team’s pennant celebration. Houston condemned the report as an attempt “to fabricate a story where none exists.” The afternoon of Game 1, Taubman issued a statement apologizing. The next afternoon, ESPN reported that umpire Rob Drake had tweeted that he planned to buy an AR-15 rifle in preparation for a “cival war.” On the off-day before Game 3, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow fired Taubman. A few hours before Game 4, team owner Jim Crane issued a retraction of the initial statement. President Trump attended Game 5 and was booed lustily. The visiting team won each game, meaning the crowds were disappointed and then often sparse.
At last Game 6 arrived. Washington’s Stephen Strasburg outdueled Houston’s Justin Verlander through six innings and the Nats led 3–2. Planned Game 7 starter Max Scherzer, who had been scratched from Game 5 with excruciating pain in his neck, headed out to the bullpen and began warming up. Catcher Yan Gomes led off the seventh with a single off reliever Brad Peacock. Shortstop Trea Turner smashed a chopper two feet in front of the plate. Peacock’s throw missed first baseman Yuli Gurriel and hit the right leg of Turner, who was sprinting to first. The ball ricocheted into rightfield, putting runners at second and third with no one out. Then Holbrook held up his fist: out.
The teams never got a full explanation on the field, they said, but chief baseball officer Joe Torre defended the call afterward. Turner was out on batter’s interference, he said, which is a judgment call and therefore not reviewable. Torre seemed unmoved by the fact that this was bad judgment: Turner was running to first the way every batter in the history of baseball has. Martinez declared that the Nationals were playing the game under protest, which is against the rules when a judgment call has been invoked. The umpires called the review room in New York City, which confirmed that Martinez was not allowed to lodge a protest.
If that all seems confusing now, imagine the emotions in the Washington dugout, where they were imagining an Astros comeback, an early trudge into winter and three months of replaying those few seconds.
It was just their luck that Martinez had written Rendon’s name in the lineup two after Turner’s, his teammates agreed afterward. Turner, one of his closest friends on the team, could not remember ever seeing the Houston native riled up. “When the Rockets lose?” offered first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “I don’t think his heartbeat can go that high,” said Doolittle.
This is Rendon’s seventh year in the league and his first trip to the World Series. He has been doing this for long enough to understand that he might never make it back here. He will be a free agent after this season. He admits he feels pressure. “It’s the playoffs,” he said before the NLDS began. “You would be lying if you said no.” Yet cameras had the day before caught him yawning in the dugout during the NL Wild Card Game.
His break over, he took a 91-mph cutter just below the strike zone. Then he got one a few inches higher. He skied it to leftfield, one of those balls that just keeps carrying.
Scherzer sat down, preserving his availability for Game 7. The Nationals shifted instantly from horror to humor: “Make sure you stay inside the baseline!” they yelled before Turner’s next at bat. Rendon ensured that the players, not the umpires, would decide the outcome. He gave D.C., and Manfred, a good night’s sleep.
That slow heartbeat persisted into the ninth inning, when he hit a two-run double. It persisted as he gave his postgame interview. (“We try to just keep our head down and keep playing,” he said of the controversy.) And it persisted an hour and a half after the game ended, as Turner and Gomes pantomimed running to first base in the clubhouse. “I quit!” Turner sighed. Rendon quietly packed a doggie bag of dinner and slipped out into the hallway toward the team bus. Game 7 awaited. Maybe the storyline of that one would be baseball.