Washington Nationals go to the extreme to get Game 1 win

washington nationalsNot sure which was bigger: the Washington Nationals getting to Gerrit Cole, or getting a win with Max Scherzer only going five.

“Max, kudos to him. He gave us everything he had today,” manager Davey Martinez said of Scherzer, who gutted through five innings, after giving up two runs in the first, and getting just one 1-2-3 inning, his final one.

Scherzer needed 112 pitches to get through those five innings, and it was clear early – his pitch count was at 48 through two, 96 through four – that he was going to need some help.

Martinez had indicated on Monday that he would use presumptive Game 3 starter Patrick Corbin in relief if needed.

Scherzer’s pitch count was part of the calculus for Martinez last night.

The other, maybe bigger part: the Nats getting to Cole.

Cole hadn’t lost since May 22, right around the time the Nats started turning their season around, coincidentally, and he had been virtually unhittable in the 2019 postseason, with a 0.40 ERA in three appearances.

A second-inning Ryan Zimmerman homer was the first crack in the ceiling. Juan Soto went deep in the fourth to tie the game at 2.

Scherzer pitched around a two-on, two-out situation in the bottom of the fourth, getting Jose Altuve to ground out to conclude a tense eight-pitch at bat.

The big inning was the top of the fifth. Kurt Suzuki walked to lead off, and Victor Robles, after failing to get down a bunt, singled to right.

Trea Turner lined out to deep right, sending Suzuki to third. Anthony Rendon beat out a throw to first for a fielder’s choice that allowed Suzuki to score.

Then Soto, again, went the other way, doubling to left on a 3-2 pitch, and it was 5-2 Nats.

Scherzer finally got his 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the fifth, but his pitch count was at 112.

Martinez got Corbin up in the bullpen, intending, he said after the game, to only use the lefty for one inning.

“As the game was rolling along, and I started watching Max’s pitch count, I knew that there was going to become an inning that we need to use Corbin,” Martinez said.

It wasn’t a clean inning. Yordan Alvarez singled with one out in the sixth, and if there were echoes of the sixth inning of Game 3 of the NLDS for Nats fans, you can forgive them for letting their minds go there.

Corbin pitched around them, striking out Martin Maldonado and getting Aledmys Dias to ground out to second to end the inning.

The seventh involved the use of Tanner Rainey, the big righty with the big 101-mph fastball, who would only be able to get one out, a strikeout of Altuve, which came after he’d surrendered a 428-foot leadoff homer to George Springer that made the score 5-3 Nats.

Rainey followed the K of Altuve with a pair of walks, to Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman, before Martinez went to … his closer?

Yes, his closer. Daniel Hudson. In the seventh.

Here, Martinez was playing his trump card, which, if it worked, great, you get out of the inning, but if it didn’t, you just burned Corbin for Game 3, in all likelihood, and burned getting a five-spot off the best pitcher in baseball in a Game 1 loss, and you’re on your way to getting swept.

Hudson got Yuli Gurriel, whose two-run double had gotten the Astros on the board in the first, on a popup, but then a Carlos Correa infield single loaded the bases with two outs.

With the tying run in scoring position, Hudson got Alvarez on three pitches – all 96-mph four-seamers – to end the threat.

The drama wasn’t over, though. After the Nats failed to score in the top of the eighth, Houston got closer in the bottom half, on a Springer one-out RBI double that made it 5-4.

Hudson got Altuve to line out to right for out number two, when Martinez went to his former closer, Sean Doolittle, to face Brantley.

Now you’re really up against it. Tying run in scoring position, again. Astros manager A.J. Hinch got his closer, Roberto Osuna, up in his bullpen, in case his team tied the game or took the lead.

Doolittle got ahead in the count 0-2, Brantley fouled off a four-seamer at 0-2, then lined out to left.

Joe Smith put in a 1-2-3 top of the ninth, and it was Doolittle’s game to close, facing the heart of the Houston order.

He got Bregman, the leading candidate for AL MVP in 2019, swinging on a 94-mph, two-strike four-seamer.

He fell behind Gurriel 2-0, but Gurriel flew out to center on the 2-0, out number two.

Correa, the last hope, hit a first-pitch soft liner to center for out number three.

Just the way you drew it up before the game, right? Five ugly innings from Scherzer, an inning from Corbin, Rainey gives up a bomb, Hudson muddles through the seventh and eighth, Doolittle closes it out.

“This is just a team win,” Scherzer said. “When you look at this, there is not one guy that won this game. It was a collection of everybody. Up and down the lineup, in the bullpen, what can you say? The reason we won tonight was because of everybody in this clubhouse.”

Story by Chris Graham


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