After their season appeared to be on life support in May, the Nationals completed their improbable run through October Wednesday night with a 6-2 win against the Astros in Game 7 of the World Series. It's the first championship for a Washington baseball team since the Senators beat the New York Giants in 1924.
Here are three takeaways on the fifth and final World Series Game 7 this decade.
Martinez's Faith in Scherzer Paid Off
Under normal circumstances, the decision for Dave Martinez to leave Max Scherzer in the game as long as he did would not have been as puzzling. Even coming off an injury and without his best stuff, Scherzer nearly always is the better option than anyone in the Nationals’ bullpen that would pitch the middle innings.
However, this situation, after all, was Game 7 of the World Series against the best offense in baseball. What was Davey thinking?
Whatever answer Martinez gives to justify his faith in Scherzer, there really was only one reason to leave the 35-year-old on the mound as the Astros continued to reach base: The skipper felt this version of Scherzer still gave Washington its best chance to win. Unless Scherzer’s right arm was completely detached from his shoulder, nothing was going to force Martinez to use his bullpen so long as the Nats remained within two or three runs of the lead.
The plan worked. Scherzer, three nights after waking up unable to dress himself, gutted through five innings, allowing just two runs. He yielded 11 baserunners (including a home run), the same number of swinging strikes the Astros had against him. After three innings, he threw 55 pitches, only two swinging strikes, without recording a strikeout. Scherzer wasn’t himself, but he did enough to keep the Nationals in the game before turning it over to the bullpen.
Rendon's Free-Agent Sendoff
With one out in the seventh inning of Game 7 against a brilliant Zack Greinke, Anthony Rendon drilled a 1-0 changeup into the leftfield seats. The home run cut Houston’s lead to one and was the first of three Nats runs in the inning. It was just another example that underscores how important Rendon has been for Washington in elimination games this postseason.
In Game 6, Rendon’s homer off Will Harris in the seventh inning gave the Nats a 5-2 lead and defused the blow of a controversial interference call against Trea Turner just two batters earlier.
Look back to Game 5 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, when Rendon led off the eighth inning with a homer, the first of back-to-back dingers off Clayton Kershaw to tie the game. Then, in the 10th, his ground-rule double put runners on second and third with nobody out and set up Howie Kendrick’s game-winning grand slam that sent Washington to the NLCS.
Remarkably, Rendon went 6-for-8 with three doubles, three homers and a walk in the seventh inning or later of elimination games this year.
Also, not to be forgotten, Rendon perhaps made a game-changing play on Carlos Correa’s fifth-inning single that brought home the Astros’ second run. Correa ripped the ball down the third-base line that was destined for the leftfield corner, extra bases and multiple runs scoring. But Rendon deflected it into foul territory with his glove, keeping Yordan Alvarez at third base. Scherzer struck out the next batter to end the threat.
Rendon couldn't have scripted a better sendoff as he enters free agency.
Where Was Gerrit Cole?
The Astros used seven pitchers in Game 7. Gerrit Cole was not one of them. Cole might win the American League Cy Young Award. He did not pitch in Game 7 of the World Series. What gives?
Greinke cruised through the first six innings, but manager AJ Hinch lifted him with one out in the seventh after Rendon’s homer and a walk to Juan Soto. It’s worth second-guessing Hinch’s quick hook for Greinke, who had just 80 pitches and had fooled Nats hitters completely for most of the game. Hinch called on Harris, who gave up the Rendon home run in Game 6, to face Howie Kendrick and preserve the lead. Instead, Kendrick clanked a two-run homer off the rightfield foul pole to put Washington on top, 3-2.
Cole remained in the bullpen when Hinch yanked Harris from the game and called on closer Roberto Osuna to finish the seventh inning. And in the ‘pen he stayed in the eighth when Osuna allowed another run and racked up 36 pitches. And when Ryan Pressly, Joe Smith and Jose Urquidy pitched the final inning and one-third of the World Series.
The Nationals scored five runs after Greinke was taken out of the game, and Cole didn’t even get the chance to allow any of them. This story will not go away any time soon, not for a team as heavily favored as the Astros.