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October 31, 2019 / Nat Anacostia

2019 World Series: ‘The top of baseball’s highest peak’

Game 1, Tuesday October 22. As the series opened in Houston, both teams had their aces on the mound—Max Scherzer for the Nationals and Gerrit Cole for the Astros. Trea Turner opened the series with a single, then promptly stole second (thus satisfying the criteria for a free taco promotion). But Cole set down the next three in order.

The Astros opened their half of the first with a seven-pitch walk by George Springer. José Altuve followed with a single. Scherzer then struck out Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman, but Springer advanced to third on a wild pitch and Altuve stole second. Yuli Gurriel then hit a double to drive in both runners and put Houston up 2 to 0.

In the second with two outs, Ryan Zimmerman hammered a fastball over the center field fence for the first World Series home run in Nats franchise history. The Nats were now trailing 2 to 1.

In the top of the fourth, Juan Soto led off and drove a fastball at the top of the zone high above the left-field wall to land on the railroad tracks, tying the game.

Meanwhile, Scherzer was struggling with command and getting out of jams. He allowed a walk in the bottom of the second and two singles in the bottom of the third, but got out of trouble each time. In the bottom of the fourth, Yordan Álvarez led off with a single. One out later, with Josh Reddick at bat, Scherzer and the Nats caught a break when the umpire failed to call catcher’s interference on Kurt Suzuki, which would have given Reddick a free base. Instead, Reddick flied out for the second out. Scherzer then walked Springer but got the third out from a grounder by Altuve.

In the top of the fifth, Suzuki led off with a walk, followed by a single from Víctor Robles. Suzuki advanced to third on a Turner fly ball, then Adam Eaton singled to drive him in and advance Robles to second. Anthony Rendon grounded into a fielder’s choice, forcing Eaton at second while Robles advanced to third. Then Soto hit a two-out douible off the left-field wall, scoring both runners. The Nats now led 5 to 2.

Scherzer had his first one-two-three inning in the bottom of the fifth, but with his pitch count up to 112 and having battled with command all evening, his night was done. He gave up 2 runs, 5 hits, and 3 walks in 5 innings of work, with 7 strikeouts. Uncharacteristically, he threw 47 balls along with 65 strikes. It was now up to the bullpen.

Patrick Corbin pitched the sixth. It took him 21 pitches and he gave up a single but got out of the inning with the lead intact. Tanner Rainey pitched the seventh and gave up a lead-off home run, followed by two walks, while only getting one out. Daniel Hudson came in and gave up an infield single before getting out of the inning. The Nats led 5 to 3 after 7.

Meanwhile, Cole had pitched two more scoreless innings, making it to 7 innings. He ended his start having given up 5 runs on 8 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 6. Neither pitcher had a great start, but Scherzer managed to get out of all but one of his jams and avoided giving up the long ball.

Hudson went back out for the eighth and gave up a lead-off single, followed by a one-out double by Springer that drove in a run. The Nats’ lead was now 5 to 4. After getting Altuve to line out for the second out, Sean Doolittle came in for a four-out save. He retired all four batters he faced, and the Nats won Game One 5 to 4.

The press focused on Soto, who hit a home run, a double, and a single, stole a base, and drove in 3 of the Nats’ 5 runs. Joe Posnanski of The Athletic wrote that it’s time to stop saying that Soto is the future. He’s the present.

Game 2, Wednesday October 23. Both teams have three pitchers who would qualify as the aces of most MLB teams. For the second game, Stephen Strasburg was matched against Justin Verlander.

The Nationals got on the board quickly. Turner led off the game with a walk, then Eaton singled and Rendon doubled, driving both runners in. The Nats were ahead 2 to 0.

The Astros got those runs back in the bottom of the first. After a strikeout by Springer, Altuve doubled but was caught by a nice throw from Suzuki when he tried to steal third. Brantley then singled and Bregman hit a home run, tying the game at 2 runs each.

For the next five innings the game was a pitching nail biter, which you may not have guessed if you only saw the final score. The Nats got runners on base—a single by Suzuki in the second, a double by Soto in the third, an infield single by Zimmerman in the fourth, and a single by Turner and a walk by Rendon in the fifth—but were unable to drive them in. Strasburg retired the side in the second, had runners reach on an error and a single in the third, and allowed singles in both the fourth and the fifth innings.

In the sixth inning with his pitch count mounting, Strasburg got in his first real jam since the first. Gurriel hit a one-out double, and after Strasburg fell behind Álvarez 2–0, he was intentionally walked. Davey Martinez stuck with Strasburg, who got Carlos Correa to pop up and struck out Kyle Tucker to get out of the inning. Strasburg’s night was over after 6 innings and 114 pitches. He gave up 2 runs on 7 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 7.

Verlander, who was at 98 pitches, went back out for the top of the seventh. Suzuki led off and hit the second pitch into the stands, giving the Nats a 3–2 lead. (Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote a nice appreciation of Suzuki.) Verlander then walked Robles and was pulled for Ryan Pressly. Then the floodgates opened.

Turner drew a walk, and Eaton bunted to advance the runners to second and third. Rendon got the second out on a fly to short center field, not deep enough to score Robles. The Astros intentionally walked Soto, loading the bases with two outs. Howie Kendrick hit an RBI infield single off the end of Bregman’s glove. While not a routine play, the Gold Glove finalist probably would tell you he should have made it, but the Nats were now up by 2. Asdrúbal Cabrera then hit a single on a soft liner to center, driving in two more and putting the Nats up by 4. A wild pitch advanced Cabrera and Kendrick to second and third, then Zimmerman hit a dribbler toward third. Bregman shouldn’t have thrown the ball—Zimmerman was clearly going to be safe—but Bregman launched his throw and two more runs had scored. The game had turned into a laugher, with the Nats leading 8 to 2.

After that, the only question was whether the Nats bullpen would hold the lead. Fernando Rodney got through the bottom of the seventh unscathed, allowing only a walk. In the top of the eighth, Eaton hit a two-run homer, and another run scored after a walk by Soto and a pair of singles by Kendrick and Cabrera, making it 11 to 2. In the bottom of the eighth, Rainey retired the side.

In the top of the ninth, Michael A. Taylor hit a solo home run for the Nats’ 12th run. Javy Guerra finished the bottom of the ninth. With one out, he gave up a solo home run, then with two outs a pair of Astros reached on an error and a single. But he got Jake Marisnick to ground out to end the game. The Nats won 12 to 3 and were taking a two-games-to-none series lead back to Washington.

Game 3, Friday October 25. The World Series was back in Washington DC for the first time since 1933. The Nationals’ crowds were great for all three games—got to the games early, cheered loudly and enthusiastically, and mostly stayed until the end—even though the team never gave them a lead or a really pivotal play.

For Game 3, Aníbal Sánchez squared off against Zack Greinke. In the top of the first, Springer reached on an infield single. Altuve then hit a long drive into center, but Robles made a leaping catch to save a run, and Sánchez set down the next two batters to get out of the inning. In the bottom of the first, Rendon hit a two-out double, but the Nats weren’t able to score him.

The Astros went ahead in the second inning on a double by Correa followed by an RBI single by Reddick. Reddick took second when Soto air mailed the throw home. The Nats tried to get the run back when they led off the bottom of inning with a pair of singles, but Suzuki struck out and Robles hit into an inning-ending double play.

Altuve led off the third with a double, then advanced to third when Soto failed to cleanly field the ball. Brantley followed with an infield single that scored Altuve, giving the Astros a 2–0 lead. In the bottom of the third, the Nats loaded the bases on a single and two walks, but Cabrera struck out to end the threat.

Sánchez retired the side in the top of the fourth. The Nats’ got on the board in the bottom half when Zimmerman walked and Robles hit a triple. With one out and a runner on third, Sánchez came to the plate. Modern analytics said that it was time to put in a pinch hitter, but Martinez, not trusting his bullpen, left his pitcher in. Sánchez struck out on a foul bunt, and Turner grounded out, stranding Robles. Sánchez’s subsequent pitching would not live up to his manager’s expectations.

The Astros extended their lead to 3 to 1 in the fifth on an Altuve double followed by a Brantley single. In the bottom of the inning, Eaton led off with a single and Cabrera advanced him to third with a two-out double. Astros manager A.J. Hinch pulled Greinke for Josh James, who struck out Zimmerman to end the threat.

In the top of the sixth, Eaton made a spectacular catch to get the first out. Robinson Chirinos hit a one-out solo homer, and then Sánchez walked Tucker. Martinez brought in Rodney. Sánchez had gone 5-1/3 innings and had given up 4 runs on 10 hits and 1 walk, getting 4 strikeouts. Rodney walked Springer, the first batter he faced, but managed to get out of the inning after Tucker got caught in a run-down between second and third, and Bregman grounded into a fielder’s choice.

In the bottom of the sixth, Parra pinch hit for Suzuki, giving the national tv audience a chance to see Nats fans celebrate “Baby Shark.” We later learned that Suzuki had suffered a right hip flexor injury while catching a Rodney pitch, and Suzuki would be out the rest of the series (though he was not dropped from the roster). Parra struck out, but Robles and Matt Adams drew one-out walks. Then Will Harris came in and set down Turner and Eaton.

Joe Ross pitched a one-two-three top of the seventh, and Harris retired the side in the bottom of the inning. Ross got three more outs in the eighth, allowing only an infield single. The Astros brought in Joe Smith for the eighth, and he got three outs while giving up a single by Kendrick.

For the top of the ninth, Wander Suero pitched and retired the side. Roberto Osuna closed the game for the Astros. Eaton got a one-out single, but Rendon fouled out and Soto struck out to end the game. The Nats fell 4 to 1.

I don’t especially like talking about the strike zone, but it became an issue in game 3 and remained one for the rest of the series. (Fortunately, I don’t think it was ever decisive for a game, though it did affect several important plays.)

Gary Cederstrom was behind the plate in Game 3. He was giving pitches on the outside corner to Greinke, but giving the Astros batters the benefit on low pitches by Sánchez. It was most egregious in the fifth inning, when the Astros were leading 2 to 1. Brantley came to bat with one out and Altuve on second. With a 1–1 count, Sánchez fired a pitch into the bottom of the zone, but it was called a ball. He threw another pitch, and it again hit the bottom of the zone, but it was called ball 3. The next pitch was up, and Brantley singled to make it 3 to 1.

But Cederstrom was unfair to Sánchez the entire game. This image from a story by CBS Sports shows the strikes zones called for Sánchez versus Greinke. Greinke got several strikes called outside the zone, whereas Sánchez had balls called for pitches inside the zone.

We know that Suzuki is not good at pitch framing, but these differences are so extreme it almost leads me to wonder if someone in MLB might have hinted to Sederstrom that they’d prefer not to have the series turn into a sweep.

The Nats’ offense had opportunities. They had 14 batters reach base (on 9 hits and 5 walks), but went 0–10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 runners. This was a game that should have been much closer than it was.

Game 4, Saturday October 26. The Nationals were starting Corbin, whose 3.25 ERA and 238 strikeouts in the regular season made him the team’s third ace, though his 6.91 ERA in 6 previous post-season appearances was a cause for concern. The Astros countered with José Urquidy, a rookie whose entire major league experience consisted of 41 innings in 9 regular season games and 4 innings in relief in 2 post-season games.

Corbin quickly got into trouble in the first. After striking out Springer, he gave up four consecutive singles, putting the Astros ahead 2 to 0. After another walk to load the bases, he finally got out of the jam when Chirinos grounded into a double play.

In the bottom half of the first, Rendon hit a two out single, but Soto lined out to end the inning. Corbin and Urquidy each retired the side in the second. In the third, Corbin got the first out thanks to a tremendous diving stop by Rendon. He then gave up a single to Brantley but got Bregman to pop up and struck out Gurriel. In the bottom half, Yan Gomes led off with a double, but the Nats were unable to bring him in.

In the fourth, Corbin walked the lead-off hitter. Then with a 1–0  count, he served up a belt-high change-up to Chirinos who hit it into the stands. The Astros now led 4 to 0. Urquidy retired the side in both the fourth and fifth, as did Corbin in the fifth and sixth. Corbin was helped with the first out in the top of the fifth by an amazing diving play by Robles to catch a line drive off the bat of Brantley.

Urquidy was taken out after 5, but he had dominated the Nats’ lineup, allowing no runs on 2 hits and no walks, while striking out 4. Corbin, in contrast, went 6 but gave up 4 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 5. As Andy McCullough of The Athletic reported, “The Astros weren’t fooled by Corbin’s slider.”

In the bottom of the sixth, the Nationals finally got on the board when Parra and Eaton drew walks and Rendon hit a one-out infield single. Soto grounded out to first, scoring a run. But then Kendrick struck out to end the inning. The Astros led 4 to 1.

Rainey got the call in the seventh. After giving up a walk to Tucker, he had Springer facing a 3–2 count. Tucker took off and Gomes came up on what could have been a strike ’em out/throw ’em out play, but the umpire incorrectly called it ball 4 and gave the Astros another base runner. Rainey got Altuve to fly out, but then Martinez inexplicably brought in Rodney. Despite past glories, Rodney is not a pitcher you should turn to in a high leverage situation, especially when he pitched the previous day. (With 0 days rest, his opponents’ OPS this season was .865.) Rodney gave up a single to Brantley, followed by a grand slam home run to Bregman. The Astros were now up 8 to 1. Then Martinez let him load the bases with three more walks (with a fielder’s choice mixed in) before Martinez finally pulled him for Suero.

After that, the game was pretty uninteresting. The Nats had two runners reach in both the seventh (on a single and a walk) and the eighth (on an Astros throwing error and a walk) but didn’t score them. Guerra pitched the eighth and ninth and gave up two hits in each inning, but no runs. In the ninth, Soto gunned down Chirinos trying to score (in contrast to his bad throw home in the second inning of Game 3).

The Nats were retired in the bottom of the ninth, with only Dozier reaching on a two-out walk. The Astros won Game 4 decisively, 8 to 1. The Nats stranded 9 runners and were 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. The home town team left the stadium disappointed for the fourth consecutive night.

Joe Posnanski of The Athletic wrote about how the Nats were old-fashioned and not aggressive enough.

Game 5, Sunday October 27. We were expecting a rematch between Scherzer and Cole, so Nats fans were shocked in late afternoon to learn that Scherzer would not be able to start due to neck spasms. Ross would would get the start—the Nats’ fifth starter facing perhaps the best pitcher in baseball. Scherzer would get cortisone shots and was hopeful to return later in the series.

Springer drew a walk from Ross to lead off the game, but Altuve grounded into a double play and Brantley grounded out. Cole retired the side in the bottom of the first.

In the second, Ross gave up a one-out walk to Gurriel, then Álvarez drilled a home run to left center field. When the ball hit a fan in the chest who was holding onto two beers, the video went viral. The Astros were ahead 2 to 0.

In the bottom of the second, Soto and Kendrick led off the inning with a pair of singles and the Nats had runners on first and third with no outs. But Cole struck out Zimmerman and Robles grounded into a double play, ending the Nats’ opportunity.

In the third, Ross worked around a two-out single, while Cole retired the side. Trouble came in the fourth, when Álvarez hit a two-out single. Ross got ahead 0–2, then hit the corner for what should have been called strike 3, ending the inning. But Lance Barksdale called it a ball, and four pitches later Ross hung a slider over the center of the plate and Correa hit it over the fence. Astros were up 4 to 0, and Barksdale’s mistakes were just beginning.

In the bottom of the fourth, Cole worked around a one-out walk to Rendon, and both pitchers retired the side in the fifth. Ross was finished after five, and actually had pitched pretty well. He really only made one bad pitch, the home run to Correa. The sinker that Álvarez hit out was a good pitch on the outer corner that the hitter managed to drive. Ross gave up 4 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks, striking out 1. Unfortunately, he was no match for Cole.

In the sixth, Rainey came in and faced Brantley. Brantley a 2–2 pitch that caught the strike zone and Gomes stood up to throw the ball around. But Barksdale called it a ball and told Gomes he was taking off on him. Gomes responded, “Oh it’s my fault?” and Martinez was going crazy. This mistake was obvious but didn’t affect the game, as Rainey retired all three Astros that inning. In the bottom of the inning, Cole also retired the side. In the seventh, Doolittle gave up a lead-off single, but the runner was erased on a double play. After a walk, Doolittle struck out Cole to end the inning.

With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Soto took Cole deep to left-center. The Nats now trailed 4 to 1. Kendrick struck out for the second out, but Zimmerman drew a walk on a 3–2 pitch on the corner. Cole hollered a Barksdale—it was a pitch he had been getting the call on earlier (though we’ve seen that Ross hadn’t gotten a similar call earlier). Then Robles worked the count to 3–2 and took a pitch clearly out of the zone, a couple of inches farther outside than Zimmerman’s pitch had been. He started toward first thinking he’d brought the tying run to the plate, but was called out by Barksdale. I hate it when umpires try to make up for previous bad calls by making a bad call in the opposite direction, but I think that’s exactly what happened there. Overall, Barksdale’s strike zone was extremely erratic, and there were a number of articles calling for robo-umps.

Hudson came in for the eighth and gave up a lead-off double to Springer. Altuve grounded out but advanced the runner. After an intentional walk and a fly-ball out, Gurriel singled to drive in Springer and give the Astros their four-run lead back. It was 5 to 1.

Smith pitched the bottom of the eighth and gave up a lead-off single to Gomes, but he retired the next three in order. Hudson stayed on for the ninth and gave up a one-out single. Then Springer hit a two-out homer, putting the Astros up 7 to 1. Suero came in to get the final out.

Pressly pitched a one-two-three inning in the bottom of the ninth, and the Nats’ home stand was over. They lost the game 7 to 1 and trailed in the series, 3 games to 2. In contrast to the first two games, where the Nats had plenty of batters reach but failed to drive them in, this time they stranded only 4 runners and were 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position. In contrast to Game 1, this time Cole had simply dominated them.

The other notable event in Game 5 was that President Trump attended the game. His presence went largely unnoticed until it was time for the regular 3rd inning salute to the troops when the scoreboard switched to show the President. The crowd immediately switched from cheering the troops to booing the president. A little later there were chants of “lock him up.”

Game 6, Tuesday October 29. Back in Houston, the Nats would now need two consecutive wins. Replaying the match-up in Game 2, Strasburg squared off against Verlander.

Turner led off the first with an infield single. Eaton bunted him to second, and Rendon drove him home on a single to center. The Nats were up 1 to 0.

The lead was quickly reversed, though, when Springer hit a lead-off double, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and was driven in by a sacrifice fly from Altuve. One out later, Bregman hit a home run to left. In celebration, he carried the bat all the way to first base and tried to drop it off in the coach’s unwilling hands—an act that did not go unnoticed by the Nationals players. The Astros led 2 to 1. After the game, we learned that the Nats’ coordinator of advanced scouting realized that Strasburg had been tipping his pitches and had Paul Menhart correct the problem between innings

Both pitchers retired the side in the second. In the top of the third, Eaton and Rendon each drew two-out walks, but Soto grounded out to end the inning. Strasburg again retired the side.

In the fourth, Kendrick led off with a single, then Zimmerman drew a one-out walk. But the runners were stranded after a strikeout and a fly-out. In the bottom half, Strasburg surrendered two two-out walks on 9 pitches, but managed to strike out Correa to get out of the inning.

In the fifth, the Nats finally got to Verlander. With one out, Eaton drove a slider over the right field fence. With two outs, Soto launched a mammoth home run into the second deck. Trolling Bregman, Soto also carried his bat down to first. The Nats were now leading 3 to 2.

In the bottom of the fifth, Strasburg gave up a one-out single to Reddick followed by a double to Springer. But he struck out Altuve and got Brantley to ground out to get out of the jam. In the sixth, Peacock came in and retired the Nats in order. Strasburg gave up a lead-off single but retired the next three.

The top of the seventh would be the turning point of the game, but first it featured the most controversial call of the series. After Gomes hit a lead-off single, Turner hit a dribbler in front of the mound and raced toward first. Peacock fielded it and rushed his throw toward first, pulling Gurriel’s glove into Turner. The ball got away, and the runners advanced, but home plate umpire Sam Holbrook called Turner out for interference. I’ll talk more about the rule below, but it led to a heated argument and an 8-minute delay while the called New York to clarify if the rule had been applied appropriately. (The play could not actually be reviewed, as it was a judgment call.) Later, between innings and presumably after Martinez had seen some video, he came out to argue the Turner interference call again and was ejected from the game.

After the long interruption, Harris replaced Peacock and got Eaton to pop out. Then Rendon caught a cutter in the middle of the plate and hit it into the left-field stands. The Nats were up 5 to 2, and the interference call on Turner had been rendered moot.

Strasburg, who seemed to only be getting better as the night went on, retired the Astros in order in the seventh and the eighth. Pressly set down the Nats in order in the top of the eighth.

The Astros brought in Chris Devenski for the top of the ninth, and he got two outs. Then Turner doubled, Eaton was hit by a pitch, and Rendon hit a doujble off the wall in deep right, driving in both runners. He had 3 hits and 5 RBIs that night, and the Nats now led 7 to 2.

In the bottom of the ninth, Strasburg came back out to face one more hitter. He got Gurriel to line out, then Doolittle came out for the final two outs. Álvarez lined out for the second out, then Correa hit a double. But Chirinos popped out to end the game. The Nats won 7 to 2 and the series was tied at three games apiece. We were going to have a Game 7.

Strasburg’s game was amazing. He threw 104 pitches and 65 strikes. In 8-1/3 innings, he gave up 2 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks, and struck out 7. (His game score was 70.) His game, along with Cole’s Game 5, were the best starts of the series.

The interference call on Turner.

The relevant part of the rule in question [5.09(a)(11)] is:

A batter is out when:

(11) In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead; …

Rule 5.09(a)(11) Comment: The lines marking the three-foot lane are a part of that lane and a batter-runner is required to have both feet within the three-foot lane or on the lines marking the lane. The batter-runner is permitted to exit the three-foot lane by means of a step, stride, reach or slide in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base

A few comments:

  1. After the game, Joe Torre made clear that according to the rules Turner was called out for interfering with the play, not for running outside the 3-foot running lane.
  2. Did Turner actually “interfere with the fielder taking the throw at first base”? It didn’t look like he was “running into Gurriel’s mitt as the ball was arriving.” Rather, it looked to me like Gurriel was moving his glove into Turner while attempting to catch an off-line throw. The rule says the batter is out if he “interferes with the fielder taking the throw,” which I interpret as taking action that interferes, not just being there when a throw goes off course.
  3. If Turner was called out for interfering with the fielder, why would Sam Holbrook, the home plate umpire, be the one to make the call? He’s in position to see the running lane, but that only becomes relevant if it’s established that the batter has interfered with the fielder taking the throw. I’d think the first base umpire would be the one best positioned to see and judge if interference took place. After interference is established, then I’d think the first-base umpire would consult with the home-plate umpire about the running lane, if that turns out even to be relevant.
  4. According to the rule’s “Comment”, the batter has the right to be outside the 3-foot lane while taking  his last step toward the bag. Turner was clearly taking that last step when the alleged interference took place. The path Turner had previously taken doesn’t seem relevant to what was happening when the alleged interference took place.
  5. The purpose of the rule establishing the 3-foot running lane is to allow the catcher a clear throw to the base for a ball fielded directly in front of the plate. But Turner’s hit was fielded near the pitcher’s mound. Peacock’s throwing line was not obstructed by Turner’s running path. He just made a bad throw that veered Turner rather than going directly to Gurriel.
  6. For a right-handed batter, getting into the 3-foot running lane and then making a final step from foul territory to the base in fair territory would be an unnatural path, maybe even dangerous. As Turner said, the batter’s box is in fair territory and the base is in fair territory, so the most direct path is along the fair side of the line. (Interestingly, when this rule was first written, first base was apparently placed in the middle of the foul line rather than on the fair side, allowing players to step on first without veering into fair territory.) If baseball rules are designed to get players to follow them, this rule seems like a non-starter as few right-handed batters follow this running path and enforcement of this rarely applied rule seems unlikely to get them to change their path. Furthermore, it’s not clear that getting them to do so would improve the game in any meaningful way.
  7. The rule is not consistently applied. Craig Edwards of FanGraphs notes calls on several similar plays that went the other way and were even protested and upheld. I’m sure I’ve seen a number of similar plays over the years where interference wasn’t called. An erratically enforced rule that suddenly is applied in the biggest games of the year is a recipe for disaster.
  8. The rule, as applied in this case as well as similar cases, rewards bad fielding. That’s not good for baseball.

It’s a bad rule and needs to be changed. Get rid of the 3-foot lane and just tell batters they have to follow a direct running lane toward the base, the same as with any other base. If there’s purposeful interference such as knocking the ball out of a glove, call it, but don’t call out the runner just for being in the path of a bad throw.

Game 7, Wednesday October 30. Three days after missing a start in excruciating pain, Scherzer was feeling good and would get the start. How well would he pitch and how long could he go? Facing him would be Greinke, who had been hittable in Game 3, though he limited the Nats to 1 run in 4-2/3 innings. Cole, with two days rest, lurked in the Astros bullpen.

In the top of the first, Greinke set down the Nats in order. Scherzer got through the bottom half, only giving up a two-out walk to Brantley. In the top of the second, Soto led off with a single but was quickly erased when Kendrick hit into a double play.

Leading off the bottom of the second, Gurriel took a slider low in the zone into the Crawford Boxes, putting the Astros up 1 to 0. Álvarez and Correa followed with a pair of singles, but Scherzer got the next three outs to avoid further damage.

Scherzer continued to allow base runners—a single and a walk in the third, a single and a walk again in the fourth, but kept them from scoring. Meanwhile Greinke set down the Nats in order in the third and fourth and worked around a walk in the fifth.

In the bottom of the fifth, Brantley led off the inning with a single. Scherzer struck out Bregman, and Gurriel grounded into a fielder’s choice. But Álvarez drew a walk, and Correa singled, scoring Gurriel. The Astros now led 2 to 0. After 103 pitches, Scherzer’s night was done. In 5 innings he had given up 2 runs on 7 hits and 4 walks, with only 3 strikeouts. It wasn’t a characteristically great Scherzer performance, but he had made it through 5 innings and the Nats were still in the game.

In the sixth, Greinke again set the Nats down in order. Through 6 innings, he had held the Nats scoreless while allowing only 1 hit and 1 walk. Furthermore, when the Nats put the ball in play, many of them were weakly hit. Greinke fielded 5 come-backers to the mound (including one that started a double play). He seemed to be baffling the Nats batters.

Martinez called on Corbin to pitch the sixth. He gave up a lead-off single, but got a strike out and a double play to retire the side.

Hinch stuck with Greinke in the top of the seventh, and he got Eaton to ground out to start the inning. Then Rendon caught a change-up near the middle of the zone and hit a home run. The Nats exhaled as they realized they could get to Greinke.

Soto drew a walk, catching a break on a 2–1 pitch that was called a ball but should have been a strike. Hinch decided it was time to go to his bullpen and brought in Harris. (He would never call on Cole.) On an 0–1 count, Kendrick caught a cutter on the bottom, outside corner of the plate and sliced it into the right field corner. It hit the foul pole screen and the Nats were suddenly ahead 3 to 2.

The Nats extended their lead in the eighth when Eaton drew a one-out walk, stole second, and was driven home on a two-out single by Soto. They were ahead 4 to 2.

Meanwhile, Corbin had things under control. He worked around a two-out single in the seventh and retired the side in the eighth. He pitched 3 scoreless innings, giving up only 2 hits and striking out 3.

In the top of the ninth, the Nats added on. After two singles and a walk, the bases were loaded for Eaton with one out. He singled to center, driving in two, and the lead was 6 to 2.

Finally, it was the bottom of the ninth, and Hudson came in to finish the game. Long-time Nats fans were trying not to remember Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS or Game 2 of 2014. But Hudson needed only 12 pitches to get a pop-up from Springer followed by strikeouts by Altuve and Brantley. The Nationals were champions! And for the first time ever, the road team had won every game of a seven-game series.



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