The 2019 World Series is officially going back to Houston. The Houston Astros rode their rookie fourth starter to a Game 4 win over the Washington Nationals (HOU 8, WAS 1) on Saturday night to join the 1986 Mets and 1996 Yankees as the only teams to win Games 3 and 4 of the World Series on the road after losing Games 1 and 2 at home.
The Nationals have lost back-to-back games for the first time since Sept. 13-14 against the Braves. That was also the last time they were held to no more than one run in back-to-back games. Here are eight takeaways from Houston's Game 4 win:
1. Jose Urquidy? Jose Urquidy!
Naturally, after beating Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander in Games 1 and 2, and wearing down Zack Greinke in Game 3, the Nationals had no answer for rookie Jose Urquidy in Game 4. The 24-year-old righty with nine regular-season appearances to his credit flummoxed Washington across five scoreless innings. He retired the final nine hitters he faced.
Urquidy did not throw more than 47 pitches in either of his two previous postseason appearances, and you have to go back to Sept. 27 for the last time he threw as many as pitches as he did in Game 4. It appeared he started to run out of gas in the fifth inning, hence the quick hook. Urquidy gave the Astros as much as they could've reasonably hoped.
"Emotionally, he's evolved to being a very, very confident, very calm, very poised pitcher," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said prior to Game 4. "... I would love for Urquidy to go five, six innings. Whatever he can do."
Urquidy is a four-pitch pitcher (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup) and he silenced the Nationals with a steady diet of fastballs and sliders Saturday night. He leaned on the fastball/slider combo against a lineup with five righties among the eight non-pitchers. Here are Urquidy's Game 4 pitch usage rates:
- Fastball: 55.2 percent (regular season: 47.3 percent)
- Slider: 23.5 percent (regular season: 17.2 percent)
- Changeup: 14.9 percent (regular season: 25.7 percent)
- Curveball: 6.0 (regular season: 9.8 percent)
Urquidy joins Gary Gentry (1969), Les Straker (1987), Madison Bumgarner (2010), Yordano Ventura (2014) and Walker Buehler (2018) as the only rookies with a scoreless start in the World Series since the mound was lowered in 1969, according to MLB's Sarah Langs.
Furthermore, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Urquidy is only the second pitcher since the League Championship Series was introduced in 1969 to make his first career postseason start in the World Series and not allow a run. Jon Lester did it with the Red Sox in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series.
2. The Astros jumped on Corbin early
It did not take the Astros long to silence the Nationals Park crowd. After Patrick Corbin struck out George Springer on eight pitches to begin the first inning, the next four hitters strung together back-to-back-to-back-to-back singles in the span of seven pitches. Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel each drove in a run.
Anthony Rendon probably saved a run with that diving stop on Gurriel. No, he didn't get an out, but if doesn't stop that ball, it goes into the corner for extra bases, and Bregman likely scores from first. Instead, Rendon robbed the double, then started the inning-ending double play to limit the damage to two runs.
The Astros scored their 15th and 16th first inning runs of the postseason in Game 4. The 2011 Cardinals hold the all-time record with 21 first inning runs in a single postseason. The 2003 Cubs are next up with 17, then it's the 2019 Astros. Houston has done a great job getting on the board early this October.
The Nationals have used Corbin a lot this October -- he is the first pitcher in history to make three starts and four relief appearances in a single postseason -- and one can't help but wonder whether the workload affected his Game 4 performance. More likely, the Astros are just a really good offensive team, and they capitalized on some poorly located pitches.
3. Chirinos went deep again
World Series MVP Robinson Chirinos? It's a little too early to say that definitively, but he is certainly making a case. . His fourth inning two-run homer against Corbin was a no-doubter:
Chirinos is the first catcher to go deep in back-to-back World Series games since the Brewers' Ted Simmons in 1982. The only other catchers to hit homers in consecutive World Series games are Gene Tenace and Hall of Famers Roy Campanella, Mickey Cochrane and Bill Dickey. No catcher has ever hit a homer in three straight World Series games. Chirinos will try to do that in Game 5.
Believe it or not, Chirinos is the first player with two home runs in this World Series. The first nine homers of the series were hit by nine different players. How's that for a fun fact? Also, there have been four home runs by a catcher in this World Series (Martin Maldonado, Kurt Suzuki, Chirinos twice). The all-time record is five homers by catchers in the 1972 Fall Classic.
4. The Nats had their chance against the bullpen
The decision to remove Urquidy was ripe for second-guessing. Josh James came out of the bullpen in the sixth, walked two of the three batters he faced, then Game 3 hero Will Harris allowed an infield single to load the bases with one out. Just like that, the Nationals had Juan Soto at the plate representing the tying run.
Soto, the just-turned-21-years-old wunderkind, went 3-for-4 with a double and a home run in the Game 1 win. He is 1 for 13 (.077) in the three games since, including 0-for-3 with a walk in Game 4. Soto got a run home with a groundout to first in that sixth inning.
The run-scoring groundout did more harm than good. Down four runs in the sixth inning, making the second out of the inning is more damaging than getting a run home to cut the deficit to three. Following Rendon's infield single to load the bases, Washington's win probability was 21.0 percent. After Soto's RBI ground out, it dipped to 18.7 percent.
Down four runs, the Nationals needed more than an RBI ground out from their cleanup hitter with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning. The Nationals went 7 for 21 (.333) with runners in scoring position in Games 1 and 3. They went 0-for-10 in those spots in Game 3 and 1-for-9 in Game 4, and the one hit was an infield single that didn't score a run.
5. Bregman broke it open
In Game 3 the Nationals intentionally walked Michael Brantley to load the bases for Bregman. That move shouldn't have worked, but it did. Bregman grounded out to end that inning. In Game 4, Bregman got another chance with the bases loaded, and this time he did not miss. His seventh inning grand slam broke the game open.
Bregman's grand slam is the 20th in World Series history and the first since Cubs shortstop Addison Russell in Game 6 of the 2016 World Series. It's the first World Series grand slam by an American League player since White Sox slugger Paul Konerko in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series against the Astros, coincidentally enough.
Going into Game 4, Bregman was 10-for-48 (.208) in this postseason, including 1-for-14 (.071) in the World Series and 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position.. Bregman finally got the monkey off his back with his Game 4 grand slam, the second postseason grand slam in Astros history (Lance Berkman in 2005).
As for the Nationals, where was Daniel Hudson in that seventh inning? Manager Dave Martinez went to Tanner Rainey, who walked two of the three batters he faced, then he brought in Fernando Rodney to face the middle of the lineup. Rodney faced six batters: single, grand slam, walk, walk, fielder's choice, walk. Rainey and Rodney let Game 4 get away.
6. Altuve reached base again
Make it a 24-game on-base streak for Jose Altuve in the postseason. He was able to sneak a ground ball through the infield for a first inning single to extend that on-base streak, which dates back to Game 7 of the 2017 World Series. Altuve is now tied for the fifth longest on-base streak in postseason history:
- Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: 31 games (2011-13)
- Chase Utley, Phillies: 27 games (2007-11)
- Pablo Sandoval, Giants: 25 games (2012-14)
- Boog Powell, Orioles: 25 games (1966-71)
- Jose Altuve, Astros: 24 games (2017-19)
- Carlos Beltran, Astros/Mets/Cardinals: 24 games (2004-12)
- Carlos Ruiz, Phillies: 24 games (2008-10)
The 2-for-5 effort in Game 4 improved Altuve to 23 for 63 (.365) in the postseason and 8 for 29 (.400) in the World Series. Altuve has 11 extra-base hits (six doubles and five homers) and only five strikeouts in October. He's a great player during the regular season and an all-timer during the postseason.
7. The Astros have evened the series up
Two days ago the Astros were in a bad place. They lost two games at home -- two games started by Cole and Verlander at that -- and had taken an 0-2 series deficit on the road to Washington. Following Astros wins in Games 3 and 4, the World Series is now tied 2-2, and Houston has regained homefield advantage.
Furthermore, the Astros have Cole, Verlander, and Greinke lined up to start the next three games, and a rested Joe Smith and Roberto Osuna for Game 5. Bregman's grand slam gave Houston's top two relievers the night off in Game 5. You're in good shape when you have Cole, Verlander, and Greinke lined up in what is now a best-of-three.
8. Game 5 is up next
There will be at least two more games this season. The Astros and Nationals will reconvene Sunday night for Game 5, the final game at Nationals Park in 2019. Game 1 starters Cole and Max Scherzer will be on the mound. Game 5 will begin at 8:07 p.m. ET.