The Houston Astros are on the verge of their second championship in three years.
The Astros won their third straight at Nationals Park in the 2019 World Series after dropping the first two at home with a 7-1 victory over the Washington Nationals in Sunday's Game 5. They now lead 3-2 and have two chances to win one game at Minute Maid Park after Gerrit Cole spearheaded the latest effort with another postseason gem.
As for the Nationals, they were fighting an uphill battle before the first pitch. Ace Max Scherzer was scratched for Joe Ross because of spasms in his trapezius muscle, and the spot starter gave up key home runs to Carlos Correa and Yordan Alvarez.
George Springer also went deep against Washington's bullpen.
Notable Player Stats
- HOU Gerrit Cole: seven innings, one earned run, three hits, two walks and nine strikeouts
- HOU Carlos Correa: 1-for-4, one home run, two RBI and one run
- HOU Yordan Alvarez: 3-for-3, one home run, two RBI and two runs
- HOU George Springer: 2-for-3, one home run, two RBI, two runs and two walks
- WAS Joe Ross: five innings, four earned runs, five hits, two walks and one strikeout
- WAS Juan Soto: 2-for-4, one home run, one RBI and one run
Gerrit Cole Further Cements Spot in Postseason Lore
Everything was set up in the Astros' favor Sunday.
They had plenty of momentum with two straight wins, arguably faced less pressure because they already won enough to force the series back to Houston and had a motivated Cole looking to bounce back from his one poor showing in the postseason when he allowed five earned runs in Game 1.
The fireballer still had to deliver to sustain that momentum, and that is exactly what he did.
Cole looked like the version of himself who threw seven shutout innings in the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees and allowed one run in 15.2 innings in the AL Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays. It was another overpowering performance for the three-time All-Star who has anchored the staff in the playoffs with Justin Verlander dealing with inconsistency.
He was never better than in the second inning when he worked out of a jam with runners on first and third and nobody out by striking out Ryan Zimmerman and inducing a double play from Victor Robles.
That was all he needed to settle in, as Washington put a single runner on base in the next four innings before finally finding the scoreboard with Juan Soto's solo homer in the seventh.
It wasn't nearly enough against Cole, who mixed in a variety of pitches to notch critical strikeouts throughout the game. If Houston—who could still turn to its ace out of the bullpen if there's a Game 7—goes on to win the title, Cole will forever be a playoff legend for the franchise.
Nationals Lose Far More Than Just One Game
Even with two straight losses entering Sunday's contest, the Nationals had reason for optimism.
After all, they still had Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in their back pocket for the remaining best-of-three series. Washington is 5-0 when Scherzer appears in a game and 5-0 when Strasburg appears in a game in these playoffs and won the first two contests of the Fall Classic with them on the mound.
However, their plans went awry with the injury to Scherzer.
He told reporters he couldn't even get dressed without help from his wife and pointed out, "I can't pick up my arm right now, so I can't pitch." That doesn't sound encouraging for his immediate availability with Games 6 and 7 scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, meaning another pitcher will have to play hero.
Ross was unable to do that, which isn't surprising considering he finished with an ERA of 5.48 in 64 innings this year. It was the third straight season he posted an ERA north of 5.00, although he did show signs of improvement by allowing two earned runs or less in seven of his last eight regular-season appearances.
None of those showings came against Houton's formidable lineup, and it was clear the right-hander wasn't the answer when Alvarez drilled a two-run homer in the second inning.
Correa followed with a two-run blast of his own in the fourth, which created a seemingly insurmountable lead with Cole firing on the mound.
The real issue is the availability of Scherzer as the series goes back to Houston. The Nationals already won two on the road and have Strasburg, but it is difficult to envision them winning two straight without their three-time Cy Young winner as a stabilizing force and potential weapon out of the bullpen when he doesn't start.
The series shifts back to Houston for Tuesday's Game 6.