HOUSTON: Stephen Strasburg baffled Houston’s batters and Anthony Rendon drove in five runs to power the Washington Nationals over the Astros 7-2 Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila), forcing a one-game winner-take all showdown for the 115th World Series championship.
Washington pulled level at 3-3 in Major League Baseball’s best-of-seven final, setting up a seventh game Wednesday to decide the title.
Strasburg allowed two runs on five hits over 8 1/3 masterful innings while walking two and striking out seven Houston batters, improving to 5-0 in the playoffs after an 18-6 season.
“Big pitchers do what he did,” said Nationals manager Dave Martinez. “I told him, ‘You were tremendous. You picked us up and because of you we’re going to game seven’,” added Martinez, who was ejected late on after a disputed call.
Washington’s Juan Soto and Adam Eaton blasted solo home runs in the fifth inning and Houston native Rendon hit a two-run homer in the seventh and a two-run double in the ninth.
“Rendon stepped up big,” Martinez said.
That was enough run production for the Nationals thanks to Strasburg mystifying the Houston hitters who had produced 19 runs over the prior three games.
“I saw an incredible pitcher,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “He was really good. We didn’t put a lot of stress on him.”
Strasburg had been tipping his pitches to Houston hitters in the first inning, when Alex Bregman homered off him, but Martinez solved the problem.
“I said, ‘You’re tipping you’re pitches. We need to fix it,’” Martinez said. “After that he was lights out.”
Strasburg began to wiggle his glove to throw the Astros off.
“Started shaking my glove so they didn’t know what I was throwing. Obviously, they look for certain things,” Strasburg said. “It’s something that has burned me in the past and they burned me there in the first.
“It’s just a part of the game. You’ve got to do your best to stay consistent in your delivery on each pitch.”
Martinez became the first World Series manager ejected since Atlanta’s Bobby Cox in 1996, needing to be restrained from angrily confronting umpires after a controversial call in the seventh inning.
“I’m not going to criticize the umpires about anything,” Martinez said. “I don’t really want to make this about me and take away from what the boys did. It was a judgement call. I don’t want to make it about one play.”
The Nationals, who improved to 4-0 in playoff elimination games this month, will start three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer in game seven after neck spasms kept him out of game five. Fellow right-hander Zack Greinke will start for Houston.
“We have a great opportunity to play a game seven in the World Series in our ballpark,” Hinch said.
But a World Series in which Houston was one of the heaviest favorites in years has turned into a historic epic, the first World Series with road teams winning the first six games.
“It’s weird,” Martinez said. “You can’t explain it.”
The Astros will try for their second title in three seasons while the Nationals seek the first crown in their franchise’s 50-year history.
It would also be the first World Series title for Washington since 1924.
Houston’s Justin Verlander, who won a season-best 21 games, surrendered three runs on five hits to suffer the loss and remain winless in seven career World Series starts, the most of any pitcher without a win. His 0-6 record is the all-time worst World Series mark.
Martinez ousted early
Washington clung to a 3-2 lead in the seventh when controversy struck.
Nationals shortstop Trea Turner was called out for interference on first baseman Yuli Gurriel and the decision was upheld after a 4 1/2-minute video review. It would cost Washington a run when Rendon smashed a homer to left field.
After the inning, Martinez angrily moved toward the umpires, bench coach Chip Hale restraining him. But Martinez yelled until home plate umpire Sam Holbrook ejected him, leaving Hale to take the team to the finish.
Rendon’s two-run homer put Washington ahead 5-2 and his two-run double in the ninth added more insurance runs.
Jose Altuve’s 25-game streak of reaching base safely was ended by Strasburg’s supreme effort.