The Washington Nationals prevailed over the favored Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night (WAS 5, HOU 4). Thanks to some uncharacteristic struggles from Gerrit Cole, the Nationals were able to overcome a first-inning deficit and then fend off a Houston comeback attempt in the late innings. Here are nine essential takeaways from a thrilling Game 1.
1. Thank Mr. Turner for your free tacos
In keeping with ancient tradition and the timeless laws of righteous combat, Michelin-starred Taco Bell is offering a free taco to everyone pure of heart in exchange for a World Series stolen base. Game 1 had barely begun when Nationals shortstop Trea Turner -- who is self-evidently of, for, and by the people -- swiped second base following a first-inning single. Turner did not score in that inning, but denizens of Taco Nation-State surely did:
There's the required speed mercantilism, and here's the handsome reward:
Eight days hence, let us be tacoed.
2. This wasn't the pitching duel we thought it would be
Max Scherzer versus Gerrit Cole certainly raised tantalizing possibilities for Game 1, but contrary to expectations the series opener did not yield great starting pitching. Scherzer settled down after allowing two runs in the first, but the Astros got baserunners and worked counts, and Scherzer was gassed and at 112 pitches after just five innings. He was done.
Across the way, Cole lasted seven innings, but the Nats got to him. Cole wound up allowing five runs, which is the most he's given up since May 22. He also allowed multiple home runs in a start for the first time since Aug. 7.
3. It was an unlikely loss for the Astros
After a Yuli Gurriel double gave the Astros a 2-0 lead in the first, they had better than a 70 percent chance of winning Game 1. There was also this working against the Nationals:
The Astros were 26-0 in the regular season when scoring 2+ runs in the first inning.— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) October 23, 2019
They're 2-0 in such games in the playoffs, entering today.
So, yes, Game 1 occasioned the first time all year that the Astros lost a game after scoring at least two runs in the first inning.
4. Springer made World Series history
George Springer's home run in the seventh -- his 14th postseason home run in just his 44th postseason game -- occasioned a bit of notable World Series history. First, the crank in question off Tanner Rainey:
And now the historical significance:
George Springer has homered for his 5th consecutive World Series game (dating back to 2017).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 23, 2019
That breaks a tie with Reggie Jackson and Lou Gehrig for the most consecutive games with a HR in World Series history.
Yes, George Springer, the MVP of the 2017 World Series, is the first ever to homer in five straight World Series Games. His Game 1 shot cut the Washington lead to 5-3. His next time up, Springer hit a clutch RBI double to pull Houston within a run:
And with that knock Springer tied Lou Brock for the most extra-base hits by a leadoff hitter in World Series history (10). Springer assumed it was a home run out of the box, which maybe cost him a triple. Maybe. A triple, of course, would mean he'd have been on third as the potential tying run with one out. Let's let Springer have his say:
George Springer on his eighth-inning double: “I don’t want to necessarily run as fast as I can because, for some reason, if he tags or whatever the case and I run by him, it’s not good. I was watching the outfielder”— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) October 23, 2019
“If I had gone to third, I’m out. I'm out for sure"
5. Doolittle was huge
With Springer on second and representing the potential tying run with two outs in the eighth, Davey Martinez summoned closer Sean Doolittle for what he hoped would be a four-out save. He got Michael Brantley to line out, and then he worked a spotless ninth against the likes of Alex Bregman, Gurriel, and Carlos Correa. Given the one-run margin and the importance of the game, that's a high-leverage save in the extreme. Doolittle delivered.
Doolittle has gotten back to being a dominator since getting over his knee injury. In his nine regular season appearances after returning from the IL, Doolittle pitched to a 2.25 ERA with seven strikeouts against two walks. Counting his four-out save in Game 1 of the World Series, he's got a 2.08 ERA with seven strikeouts and no walks in seven 2019 playoff appearances.
6. Zim hit the first World Series home run in Nationals history
The Nats are making their first World Series appearance, and that of course meant they entered Game 1 looking for their first World Series home run. Fittingly, the Nats' first ever draft pick Ryan Zimmerman was the one to hit that first Series clout:
Zimmerman's homer cut the Houston lead to 2-1 and was, as you can see, hit off no less a moundsman than Cole. Zimmerman entered Game 1 with a line of .290/.313/.484 for the 2019 postseason, so he's putting up solid numbers despite a poor regular season. As well, Zimmerman at age 35 years, 24 days also becomes the oldest player ever to hit a home run in his first World Series Game.
Speaking of age and World Series dingers ...
7. Soto became one of the youngest to homer in World Series
Nationals phenom Juan Soto has power and plate discipline that's beyond his years. The former merit was prominently on display in Game 1. Gird yourselves for this one:
Mercy. That was a 96-mph fastball outside and near the top of the zone, and Soto took it the other way all the way to the train tracks. That absolute blast puts Soto on this exclusive list:
Not bad company, that. More importantly, Soto's homer off Cole tied the game at 2-2 in the fourth. Oh, and to bring it full circle:
The Nationals have gotten a HR from 20-year-old Juan Soto *and* 35-year-old Ryan Zimmerman in this game.— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) October 23, 2019
This is the first game in World Series history where a team got a HR from both a player 20 yrs or younger AND a player who's 35+.
Soto would later notch a two-run double in the fifth and a one-out single in the eighth. Triple shy of the cycle? Triple shy of the cycle, people. Soto remains perhaps the best young hitter in the game today.
8. Martinez used Corbin in relief again
During the regular season, Patrick Corbin was one of the NL's best starting pitchers. In the postseason, however, Nationals manager Davey Martinez has used Corbin out of the bullpen on four occasions, including Game 1 in Houston. Corbin worked a scoreless sixth on Tuesday, and Martinez opted to have him work only that one frame, even though Corbin was at just 21 pitches. That decision likely keeps Corbin in line to start Game 3 back in D.C. on Friday. However, that meant Martinez was had to use one of his actual relievers against the Houston top of the order in the seventh. As noted above, Tanner Rainey allowed a homer to George Springer.
Martinez's gamble paid off, albeit barely, and that likely means we'll see Corbin on the mound to start Game 3 opposite Zack Greinke.
9. Most teams in the Nats' position win the series
So the Nats took Game 1 of the best-of-seven series as the road team. Teams in that exact position -- i.e., up 1-0 in a best of seven without home-field advantage -- have gone on to win the series in question 58.9 percent of the time. Given that the Astros were roughly two-to-one favorites coming in, that's a notable reversal of fortunes.
The bad news for the Nats? Teams in their exact position have won Game 2 of the series in question just 35.6 percent of the time. We'll find out whether they can defy the odds again Wednesday night back in Houston.