The Washington Nationals struck first in the 2019 World Series.
Washington defeated the Houston Astros 5-4 in Game 1 at Minute Maid Park and is now only three wins away from its first championship in franchise history. Tuesday's contest was billed as a high-profile pitching showdown, and Juan Soto provided Max Scherzer with key run support by coming a triple short of the cycle.
While Houston was unable to take advantage of Gerrit Cole's start, it will have Justin Verlander on the hill in Game 2 with a chance to even the series before hitting the road.
Notable Player Stats
- Max Scherzer: five innings, two earned runs, five hits, three walks and seven strikeouts
- Juan Soto: 3-for-4, one home run, three RBI and one run
- Ryan Zimmerman: 1-for-4, one home run, one RBI and one run
- Adam Eaton: 2-for-4 and one RBI
- Gerrit Cole: seven innings, five earned runs, eight hits, one walk and six strikeouts
- George Springer: 2-for-3, one home run, two RBI, two runs and two walks
Juan Soto and Nationals Offense Too Much for Even Postseason's Best Pitcher
Verlander may be the bigger name who helped lead the Astros to the 2017 World Series title, but Cole has been the anchor of Houston's staff this playoffs.
He allowed a single run in 22.2 innings during three appearances against the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees and appeared well on his way to another dominant outing when he struck out Anthony Rendon and Soto to escape a first-inning jam without breaking a sweat.
That was the last time the three-time All-Star got the best of the 20-year-old.
Soto launched a towering solo homer in the fourth inning to tie the game at two and helped break things open with a two-RBI double in the top of the fifth. It wasn't just the blossoming star, as Adam Eaton started the scoring in that fifth inning with an RBI single after Ryan Zimmerman got the visitors on the board with a solo blast in the second.
Regardless of who is on the mound for the Nationals, the Astros are supposed to take care of business at home when Cole is on the mound. Given the way he has pitched all postseason and the fact that he was in front of the home fans, Houston had a golden opportunity to seize control of the series.
Soto wasn't in the mood for the pitcher's duel many anticipated and accelerated his path to superstardom with a monster performance on the sport's biggest stage.
The result is a lead in the World Series, home-field advantage in Washington's back pocket and a memorable showing for the youngster in the biggest game of his life to this point.
Astros Fail to Fully Capitalize on Nationals' Biggest Weakness
It was almost a given Scherzer was going to pitch well seeing how he allowed one run in 15 innings during three appearances in the last two series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals.
Houston still had a solid approach against the three-time Cy Young winner and took a lead in the first with a two-RBI double from Yuli Gurriel while driving Scherzer's pitch count up with patient at-bats. While he escaped jams in the third and fourth innings, that patient approach drove him from the game after just five frames.
Even with Soto mashing on the other side, such an early call to the bullpen theoretically set the Astros up for the win. Washington finished last in the league in bullpen ERA during the regular season and was tasked with getting through four innings against a battle-tested lineup filled with superstars.
The Nationals turned to normal starter Patrick Corbin, who has helped solidify the bullpen in the playoffs while also spot-starting, for a shutout inning, but Tanner Rainey allowed a solo homer to George Springer and put two runners on with walks.
Daniel Hudson bailed him out with a bases-loaded strikeout of Yordan Alvarez in the seventh but gave up an RBI double to Springer in the eighth. Fortunately for Washington, Sean Doolittle retired Michael Brantley with the tying run in scoring position and then locked down the gusty save in the ninth.
If there is a silver lining for the Astros, it is the realization they can get to Washington's suspect bullpen when Doolittle isn't in the game.
Springer's RBI double was almost a game-tying home run, Hudson didn't look unhittable like he was in the National League playoffs and Rainey couldn't find his control. Houston failed to fully take advantage Tuesday, but the blueprint is in place for some late wins in this series.
Game 2 is back in Houston on Wednesday.