Nationals find way to beat Cole en route to series lead
Tonight: Washington at Houston, 8:07 p.m.
Pitching matchup: Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg (18-6) vs. Astros RHP Justin Verlander (21-6)
Best-of-7 series: Nationals lead 1-0
The Associated Press
HOUSTON — Juan Soto and the Washington Nationals quickly derailed the Cole Express.
A 20-year-old prodigy with a passion for the big moment, Soto homered onto the train tracks high above the left field wall and hit a two-run double as the Nationals tagged Gerrit Cole and the Houston Astros 5-4 Tuesday night in the World Series opener.
Not even a history-making home run by postseason star George Springer — and another drive that nearly tied it in the eighth inning — could deter Washington.
Ryan Zimmerman, still full of sock at 35, also homered to back a resourceful Max Scherzer and boost the wild-card Nationals in their first World Series appearance — tres bien for a franchise that began as the Montreal Expos in 1969.
Otherworldly almost all season, Cole looked downright ordinary. Trea Turner singled on the second pitch of the game and the Nationals were off and running, ending Cole’s 19-game winning streak that stretched back 25 starts to May.
Not what Cole or anyone at Minute Maid Park expected, especially after he led the majors in strikeouts, topped the AL in ERA and finished second in the big leagues in wins to teammate Justin Verlander.
Cole had dominated in the AL playoffs, too.
Yet it was a further testament to an eternal truth about baseball: It doesn’t matter what you do the whole season if you don’t get it done in October.
Soto finished with three hits and a stolen base. Three days shy of his 21st birthday, the wunderkind left fielder also snared Michael Brantley’s try for late, tying hit.
The MVP when Houston won its first crown in 2017, Springer set a record by connecting in his fifth straight Series game to make it 5-3 in the seventh. But reliever Daniel Hudson threw a fastball past rookie Yordan Alvarez with the bases loaded to end the inning.
In the eighth, Springer put a charge into a drive to deep right-center field, and it appeared as though he might’ve hit a tying, two-run homer. Springer took a couple hops out of the batter’s box to watch, and had to settle for an RBI double when the ball hit off the glove of a leaping Adam Eaton.
Heavily favored at the start, the 107-win Astros will try to get even tonight when Verlander faces Stephen Strasburg.
Scherzer slipped in and out of trouble for five innings. But every time the stadium got rollicking, he found a way to get out of trouble. There’s a reason ol’ Max has won three Cy Young Awards.
Projected Game 4 starter Patrick Corbin threw a scoreless sixth for the Nationals. Springer connected off Tanner Rainey for his 14th career postseason home run before Hudson fanned Alvarez on three pitches.
Sean Doolittle retired Jose Altuve and Brantley to strand Springer at second in the eighth, then closed to give the Nationals their seventh straight playoff win.
The Nats had a week off after sweeping St. Louis in the NL Championship Series, and easily answered any worries about whether the layoff would result in rest or rust.
Leading the way was Soto, whose eighth-inning hit in the wild-card win over Milwaukee sent the Nationals on their path.
Fearless at the plate, he’s already become one of those rare players — like Springer — who seems to turn pressure into production.
Soto seemed overmatched when he fanned on Cole’s 99 mph heater in the first inning. Turned out Soto — the third-youngest player to bat cleanup in a World Series game after Ty Cobb (1907) and Miguel Cabrera (2003) — was just getting warmed up.
Soto justified his place in the 4-spot, launching a leadoff drive in the fourth onto the train tracks to make it 2-all.
A while later, the ball was still resting there when the Nationals rallied. Eaton hit a tiebreaking double in the fifth and one batter later, Soto doubled with two outs for a 5-2 lead.
Zimmerman’s long wait in Washington paid off when he hit the first World Series homer in Nationals history, connecting in the second. He was the first player drafted by the team, shortly after it moved from Montreal for the 2005 season.
Cole instantly tossed his right arm in the air as the ball took off, knowing he wanted that pitch back.
Early on, something else stopped Cole: the big World Series logo painted on the field in foul territory. He steadfastly refused to step on it, taking a detour each time he traveled between the dugout and mound.
Yuli Gurriel ended a string of narrow escapes for Scherzer this month. Opponents had been 0 for 17 against him with runners in scoring position in the postseason before Gurriel’s two-run double in the first.
Nationals: Strasburg was 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA in the NL playoffs. He went 18-6 and set a career high for wins during the regular season. He’s pitched once in Houston, throwing six scoreless innings in 2017.
Astros: Verlander is 0-4 with a 5.67 ERA in five World Series starts. He got this far with Detroit in 2006 and 2012 and the Astros in 2017. Verlander led the majors with 21 wins this year and struck out 300.