HOUSTON -- Once again, the Washington Nationals live to play another game. The Nationals are a perfect 4-0 in elimination games in the 2019 postseason after beating the Houston Astros in Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday night (WAS 7, HOU 2). The winner-take-all Game 7 is Wednesday night.
"It's weird, really," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said about the road team being 6-0 in the World Series. "I mean, we can't explain it. I know we were trying to win games at home and just couldn't do it. We came here today and, like I say, behind Stephen Strasburg we played really well."
Game 6 started about as well as the Nationals could've hoped before quickly turning south. Anthony Rendon gave his team a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, but the Astros answered with two runs in the bottom half, and Washington proceeded to strand two runners in the third and fourth inning. They had Justin Verlander on the ropes but couldn't deliver the knockout blow.
It wasn't until the fifth inning that the Nationals punched back. They turned the 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead with solo home runs from Adam Eaton and Juan Soto. The third trip through the lineup did not treat Verlander well. Soto's homer was rather impressive:
"Right away I was looking for fastball," Soto said about the home run following Game 6. "The pitches before, it was two balls up. I was just looking for that fastball."
Two innings later home plate umpire Sam Holbrook and first base umpire Jim Wolf dually managed to screw up an Trea Turner hit an infield grounder and Brad Peacock's throw to first sailed into the runner, causing Turner to run into Yuli Gurriel's glove. Turner was ruled out and Yan Gomes, who had advanced to third on the play, was sent back to first..
Where was Turner supposed to go on that play? I'm not sure. He ran a straight line to first base and ran right through the bag. It was all set to be a costly and egregious umpiring mistake -- the Nationals played the game under protest andafter that -- but Rendon rendered it moot with a two-run home run two batters later. That took the heat off the umpires.
"I think he's the perfect hitter to hit whenever," Turner said about Rendon. "In any situation, we'll take our chances with him. As far as momentum, I think it was huge. We knew he had to move on from that play. That made it obviously a lot easier."
With Strasburg turning in 8 1/3 gritty innings on the mound -- Strasburg's effort should go down as an all-time great postseason performance given the stakes -- and the bullpen getting the final two outs without incident, the Nationals rallied for another season-saving win. The 2019 season will end Wednesday night.
"After losing three at home to come back here and get this win, it's huge for us," Howie Kendrick said. "Stras did a heck of job going out and almost went nine. That's what he's been doing all year. It was special tonight. Gave us an opportunity to win the ballgame."
Turner added: "For him to go out there and throw eight innings, eight-plus innings, dominate and really give us a chance. We're excited to do it all over again tomorrow."
For the Nationals, the resiliency started to show way back in May. Washington's record sat at 19-31 through 50 games, third-worst in baseball behind only the ain't even tryin' Marlins and Orioles. At that point the Nationals had a mere 13.0 percent to reach the postseason according to SportsLine. FanGraphs was a bit more optimistic at 22.2 percent. Point is, the situation was dire.
From that point on the Nationals had the best record in the National League and the third best record in baseball at 74-48. They of course qualified for the postseason, and, in the Wild Card Game, they rallied for three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to beat Josh Hader and the Brewers. , but Washington was rallying well before that.
The Nationals fell behind 2-1 in the NLDS to the Dodgers, then Max Scherzer turned in a gem in Game 4 to keep the season alive, and Rendon and Soto cranked back-to-back home runs against Clayton Kershaw to tie Game 5 in the eighth inning. Kendrick provided the go-ahead grand slam in the tenth. Washington's win probability was 14 percent going into the eighth inning.
"Everything happens for a reason," Strasburg said. "The ups, the downs. It only makes you stronger mentally. Without those things, it would've been a lot harder to focus."
In the early innings of Game 6, it was easy to count the Nationals out yet again. Strasburg had just coughed up a first inning lead and the offense was wasting opportunities against Verlander. It was also easy to count the Nationals out in May -- remember those Scherzer trade rumors as we wondered whether the Nationals would sell? -- and again in the Wild Card Game, and yet again against the Dodgers. Their season was supposed to be over several times already.
Despite all their talent -- and they have lots of it -- the defining characteristic of the 2019 Nationals is resiliency. They rallied from an early season hole to make the postseason. They rallied to beat the Brewers in the Wild Card Game and the Dodgers in the NLDS, and in Game 6 on Tuesday night they overcame an early deficit and an umpiring mistake to push the Astros to Game 7.
"Why do we keep winning with our backs against the wall? I think it's just the fire and the want, and the love for one another," Eaton said. "Davey goes out there and puts his heart out there for us."
"We love playing together. We love competing together," Strasburg added. "I think we've been groomed for elimination games because we've played quite a few of them. Probably some regular season games there too that you can say are elimination games."
The Nationals were never supposed to be here, playing deep into October. Not after their slow start and not after everything that's happened in the postseason. No matter the outcome in Game 7, this Nationals team has shown they are not like the Nationals teams of years past. They find ways to win rather than find ways to lose, and now they're one win away from the franchise's first ever championship.
"It just feels like it's the most 2019 Nats thing for this to come down to Game 7 of the World Series," Sean Doolittle said following Game 6. "I think we're not surprised."