Nationals strike 1st in World Series, top Astros 5-4 in Game 1
HOUSTON — Juan Soto and the Washington Nationals quickly derailed the Cole Express.
A 20-year-old prodigy with a passion for the big moment, Soto homered onto the train tracks high above the left field wall and hit a two-run double as the Nationals tagged Gerrit Cole and the Houston Astros 5-4 Tuesday night in the World Series opener.
“After the first at-bat, I just said, ‘It’s another baseball game,’” Soto said. “In the first at-bat, I’m not going to lie, I was a little bit shaking in my legs.”
Not even a history-making home run by postseason star George Springer — and another drive that nearly tied it in the eighth inning — could deter Washington.
Ryan Zimmerman, still full of sock at 35, also homered to back a resourceful Max Scherzer and boost the wild-card Nationals in their first World Series appearance — tres bien for a franchise that began as the Montreal Expos in 1969.
“They waited a long time,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said.
Otherworldly almost all season, Cole looked downright ordinary. Trea Turner singled on the second pitch of the game and the Nationals were off and running, ending Cole’s 19-game winning streak that stretched back 25 starts to May.
“I didn’t have my A-game tonight,” Cole said.
Not what Cole or anyone else at Minute Maid Park expected, especially after he led the majors in strikeouts, topped the AL in ERA and finished second in the big leagues in wins to teammate Justin Verlander.
Cole had breezed through the AL playoffs, too.
Yet it was a further testament to an eternal truth about baseball: It doesn’t matter what you do the whole season if you don’t get it done in October.
“I think he’s been so good for so long that there builds this thought of invincibility and that it’s impossible to beat him,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “So when it happens it is a surprise to all of us because we’ve watched for months this guy completely dominate the opposition.”
Soto finished with three hits and a stolen base. Three days shy of his 21st birthday, the wunderkind left fielder also snared Michael Brantley’s late try for a tying hit.
The MVP when Houston won its first crown in 2017, Springer set a record by connecting in his fifth straight Series game to make it 5-3 in the seventh. But reliever Daniel Hudson threw a fastball past rookie Yordan Alvarez with the bases loaded to end the inning.
In the eighth, Springer put a charge into a drive to deep right-center field, and it appeared as though he might’ve hit a tying, two-run homer. Springer took a couple of hops out of the batter’s box to watch, and had to settle for an RBI double when the ball glanced off the glove of a leaping Adam Eaton at the fence.
Heavily favored at the start, the 107-win Astros will try to get even Wednesday night when Verlander faces Stephen Strasburg in another matchup of aces.
Scherzer slipped in and out of trouble for five innings. But every time the stadium got rollicking, he found a way to get out of trouble. There’s a reason ol’ Max has won three Cy Young Awards.