By Sam Bush
The Nationals embarrassed the Astros 12-3 last night, and are now halfway home to the first World Series championship by a Washington, D.C., team since 1924.
They are up 2 games to 0, and are looking every bit like a team that will sweep the World Series.
The Nats, who are on the verge of becoming only the second team in history to be 12 games under .500 during the season and win a World Series, have now won eight consecutive postseason games by a combined score of 50-17, and are 18-2 overall since Sept. 23.
The Astros, who had the greatest 1-2 punch in the game during the season with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, just watched them both lose back-to-back home games for the first time this season.
The Nats have outplayed the Astros in every phase of the game, turning a thrilling 2-2 game into a laugher with a six-run, seventh-inning, and sending the sellout crowd of 43,357 home early.
The hero of the night was Stephen Strasburg, who has pitched his heart out this postseason, 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA, and a 40-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was sensational again. He gave up two runs in the first inning on Alex Bregman’s two-run homer, and that was it for the rest of his 114 pitches.
He sat on the bench in the top of the seventh and watched 36-year-old catcher Kurt Suzuki become the oldest player since 1949 to hit a go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later. And then watched the Astros become unglued, and by the time the inning ended, the players were giving Strasburg a group hug.
It’s not over, but plans for the parade route circling the nation’s capital are underway.
“We know the series isn’t over,” said Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon. “I think it would have been a success if we only came in and stole one game, obviously, playing at this stage and playing with the crowd and at their home-field. But for us to obviously steal two games from them at their home-field is great.”
Just once since 1985 has a team lost the first two games at home in a best-of-seven series and won the series, the last being the 1996 New York Yankees over the Atlanta Braves, starting the dynasty.
“We respect the heck out of them,’’ Nats first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said, “and we know we got a long way to go.’’
The Nats will have Anibal Sanchez, who nearly threw a no-hitter in Game 1 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, in Game 3 vs. Zack Greinke.
They will go with 14-game winner Patrick Corbin in Game 4 against the Astros’ bullpen, or possibly Cole on short rest.
Advantage Nats again.
The Astros, who haven’t been to Washington since 2014, can only hope the forecast for rain holds up in Washington over the weekend, slowing the Nats’ momentum, and giving them enough time to pitch Cole and Verlander again.
No matter the odds, Nationals manager Dave Martinez is confident in his team.
“I wish I was a betting man, but I’m not,” he said.
“What I believe in is hard work, being consistent in what we do, and sticking to our process, and we did that. I said it all along, when this team was down, I felt like we had starting pitching that could keep us in the ball games. And once we got healthy that things would change.
“We’re here because the boys never gave up.”