All the good vibes that emanated from the unlikely playoff run of the Washington Nationals have utterly disappeared in the World Series.
An eight-game playoff winning streak has turned into a three-game losing streak, all of those at home. The latest disappointment for fans who hadn’t seen a World Series win in Washington for 86 years came on Sunday night, when Gerrit Cole overwhelmed the Nationals for seven dominant innings on the way to a 7-1 Houston victory.
Cole’s anticipated pitching duel with Washington’s Max Scherzer didn’t materialize, as the Nats ace was scratched due to a nerve issue in his neck that left him barely able to move.
Washington’s Joe Ross, used mostly as a reliever this year, was pressed into starting duty and, while the 26-year-old pitched gamely, he gave up two-run home runs to Yordan Alvarez and Carlos Correa, which was all the cushion Cole needed.
Juan Soto hit a solo homer off him in the seventh inning, but the big Houston right-hander was still throwing 100 mph after he passed the 100-pitch mark. He ended his night with a strikeout of Victor Robles on a fastball high and outside, one of many questionable calls on the night from home plate umpire Lance Barksdale.
George Springer added another two-run shot off Daniel Hudson in the ninth inning.
The Nationals scored 17 runs in the two games in Houston to begin the series, but managed just one in each of the three games at Nationals Park. Houston outscored Washington 19-3 in the District of Columbia.
The series now shifts back to Houston, where the Astros will need to win one of two possible games to nail down their second World Series title in three years.
Scherzer said before the game that there was no way he could pitch.
“I mean, I’m as disappointed as I possibly can be not to be able to pitch tonight. It’s Game 5 of the World Series,” he said. “I’ve pitched through so much crap in my career that (anything) would be easy to pitch through at this point. This is literally impossible to do anything with.”
Stephen Strasburg will start for the Nationals in Game 6 at Minute Maid Park, where he won Game 2 of the Series. The Astros will counter with Justin Verlander, who has yet to win a World Series start in six tries.
DUMP ON TRUMP
Donald Trump, the U.S. President, was one of the 43,000 in attendance at Nationals Park for Game 5.
The key question was what kind of reception he would get, or even if the Nationals would subject him to a public acknowledgement.
He got a reception, all right.
Trump arrived shortly before the first pitch and sat in a box with an entourage that included senators Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, plus several wounded military veterans. He was not shown on screen until the bottom of the third inning, when the Nationals traditionally have a salute to military members who are shown on the big screen.
This was all roundly cheered, but when the camera switched to a shot of the President and his box-mates, loud boos rang down.
These were lusty boos, perhaps not surprising in the District of Columbia, which gave Trump 4% of the vote in the 2016 election.
Trump grinned at the boos and then the camera shot on the scoreboard switched back to people in military dress and there were cheers again.
But while Trump’s presence also had a ripple effect in terms of increased security measures and the addition of some extra-large United States flags, the teams insisted they didn’t think much about what it meant.
“You know what, he’s coming to the game. He’s a fan,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said. “Hopefully, he cheers for the Washington Nationals and I hope he enjoys the game.”
Martinez’s parents are from Puerto Rico, a frequent Trump target.
Justin Verlander, who is scheduled to pitch Game 6 on Tuesday for the Astros, said he didn’t know what his teammates thought about it.
“We haven’t really discussed it all that much,” he said. “We’re worried about winning a baseball game.”
Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals starter who is slated to face Verlander in what will be an elimination game, said he thought his team was excited to have the U.S. President in the house.
“So, there’s obviously beefed up security,” Strasburg said. “Usually the dogs that are sniffing in our clubhouse are these nice Labs that are super friendly. And today there was a German Shepherd that I didn’t really feel comfortable petting.”
Probably a good call, that.
The biggest news of Sunday came before Game 5 even started, when Martinez announced that Scherzer would not be able to make his scheduled start due to muscle spasm in his neck.
The soreness had developed over the past few days, and Scherzer, who is 3-0 in the post-season with a 2.16 ERA, said his neck “locked up” overnight.
Speaking before the game, he said he could not lift his right arm over his head and that his wife had to help him get dressed on Sunday morning before he came to the ballpark.
Scherzer had a cortisone shot on Sunday in the hopes that it will loosen up the affected area and make it possible for him to pitch in a possible Game 7 on Wednesday night.
“I’ve dealt with (neck spasms) in the past different times where I just need little adjustments here and there,” Scherzer said. “And that’s where I thought I was at a couple days ago. If I just do my normal treatment and get adjustments that I could be able to heed this off and keep it from being blowing up on me.”
“Unfortunately, this blew up on me to the point where, like I said, I can’t move.”
The saga of the Houston Astros, the former assistant GM, and Roberto Osuna may finally have reached its end. Team owner Jim Crane has sent an apology to Stephanie Asptein, the Sports Illustrated writer who reported how Brandon Taubman, then an Astros executive, shouted his support of Osuna, specifically in the direction of three female reporters, one of whom had questioned Houston’s decision to acquire Osuna while he was serving a 75-game suspension under the league’s domestic-violence policy.
The team originally called Apstein’s report “misleading and completely irresponsible”.
Days later, Houston GM Jeff Luhnow said they had learned that their initial impressions of the story were wrong and Taubman was fired. But he had not apologized to Apstein specifically.
She posted the letter from Crane to social media on Sunday.
“We were wrong and I am sorry that we initially questioned your professionalism,” Crane wrote. “We retract that statement, and I assure you that the Houston Astros will learn from this experience.”
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