The Astros are playing the cruelest of Nationals spoilers

WASHINGTON — This was the party without food. Without booze. Without music.

The invites went out. The RSVPs were staggering. More than 131,000 attended the first World Series games in Washington in 86 years. The mood was great at Nationals Park. The anticipation to erupt in celebration could be felt for three days.

And …

The fans so badly wanted a reason to turn expectation into exhilaration. The Astros just wouldn’t let that happen — they crashed this party. Twenty-seven innings were played over the weekend in the nation’s capital. Washington led in zero of them. The Nationals managed three runs in three games. They had one hit in 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

They arrived two wins from a sweep and, with a 7-1 setback Sunday, leave one loss from elimination. So Oct. 5, 1933, will — at least for one more year — remain the last time the home team won a World Series game in D.C. The franchise that was the Expos and is now the Nationals still has never won a home Fall Classic contest.

This played like a cruel prank. A polarized city had found commonality on how much it loved the Nats. The fans arrived early, stayed late even when unpleasant outcomes were becoming overt and they all dressed in crimson, Nationals Park staging red October.

But Game 3 was lost 4-1, so there wouldn’t be a sweep, but at least the Nats still led the series. Then came an 8-1 clobbering that tied the 115th World Series, but at least the Nationals had the indomitable Max Scherzer to counter Astros ace Gerrit Cole, salvage the final game in Washington and give the Nats two shots in Houston to gain the one win that would be needed to capture the title.

That would be something for which to finally unleash pent-up euphoria, to at last get this party started.

But this bulletin just in: Scherzer would not start Game 5. The righty had gone to sleep Saturday night with neck pain, hoping it would subside. Instead, he awoke hardly able to get out of bed, incapable of lifting his pitching arm over his head.

“This is just a little thing that turned into a big thing that turned into a giant thing,’’ Scherzer said of the gestation of his pain. He could have been detailing the rising problems of the Nationals this series.

The Nats tabbed Joe Ross, who has a 5.21 ERA over the past three injury-smashed seasons. He had pitched just twice in the postseason, but once was two relief innings Friday. But Washington had few options. Pitching depth has been their bugaboo all year even while getting to this moment.

So the team and the fan base conjured the Rocky spirit. Unheralded Astros rookie Jose Urquidy had thrown five winning shutout innings in Game 4. Why not Ross in Game 5?

The Astros, that’s why. After losing twice at home to open this series and enduring public rebuke for their miserable organizational handling of a now-fired executive’s abusive behavior during the ALCS clinching celebration, the on-field Astros have regained their championship footing.

Yordan Alvarez, a DH inserted in left field for Game 5, and Carlos Correa — the sixth and seventh hitters in this stacked lineup — each hit a two-run homer off of Ross, who despite the throaty encouragement of the crowd had about the result you would expect: four runs, five innings.

And that just was not going to work with Cole putting the Cy in no mer-Cy. He held Washington to a Juan Soto solo homer in the seventh. That brought the Nats within 4-1 and also a sense of possibility. But by inning’s end, the potential was gone, replaced with fury toward home-plate ump Lance Barksdale only matched by their earlier booing when President Trump appeared on the outfield screen.

Through five games the home team has yet to win and the next two are in Houston and — unless he wakes up in angst — Stephen Strasburg will start Tuesday’s Game 6. This is what the Nats will cling to now after being outscored 19-3 over three days. A party 86 years in the making came to Washington. The attendance and anticipation were great.

The Astros robbed the joy.

Source: Read Full Article