Baseball is an unforgiving sport, especially to casual fans. While it doesn’t happen often, games that last 12 or more innings can be painfully boring to watch. Every strike feels like hours and every out feels like days as viewers patiently wait for someone (anyone!) to finish the game.
However, Game 6 of the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals was anything but unforgiving.
Heading into Game 6 in Houston, the storyline was how the road team had won every game so far in the series. The Nats took the first two in Houston, while the Astros took the next three in Washington.
The Nationals found themselves in a spot even they couldn’t believe. Early in the season, the team started out with a 24-33 record. They came roaring back to win 69 games while only dropping 36 throughout the remainder of the year, finishing second in the National League East at 93-69.
This team was used to being doubted.
They were used to being down in a series.
In fact, they weren’t supposed to be here at all.
Outfielder Adam Eaton explained it best following a 7-1 loss in Game 5 when he said, “What’s new? That’s kind of our feeling: what’s new? Backs against the wall. Winners come to play when their backs are against the wall.”
On the Astros’ side of the spectrum, they were looking for their second championship in the last three years, a far cry from the Cinderella run their opponents are currently on. This was a team built from the ground up with good drafting, intelligent signings, and fabulous scouting. The core of the team from two years prior was still intact with guys like Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Justin Verlander, and Yuli Gurriel.
This game was supposed to be the start of a baseball dynasty in Houston.
Before the very first pitch was thrown, tens of thousands of fans in Minute Maid Park were rocking. They were ready to tear the stadium down from the get-go as if the game has already been decided. Little did they know they were about to witness one of the best sporting games at the very tail end of the decade.
The first inning was seemingly like a prelude of what was to come not only in this game but baseball in general. It was almost as if fans were getting a preview of the chaos that would ensue following this series.
In the top of the inning, leadoff man and speed demon Trea Turner stepped up to the plate to face Verlander. Turner worked hard to get ahead of the count. At two balls and two strikes, Verlander threw his signature slider. Turner managed to make contact as he hit a chopper towards the third baseman Bregman. In one quick motion, Bregman managed to grab the ball with his bare hand, darting it to first to get the out. However, the speedy shortstop managed to beat out the throw. After getting bunted to second by Adam Eaton, Turner was brought home by MVP candidate Anthony Rendon as he took advantage of the left-sided shift.
Score update: Nationals lead 1-0
In the bottom of the first, the drama was laid out even more for fans.
Like Turner for the Nats, George Springer was a key player for this Astros team. In fact, Springer was named World Series MVP in 2017. In his first at-bat, Springer was facing All-Star pitcher Stephen Strasburg. There was a different look in the eyes of the former MVP as if he was waiting on something. Indeed, Strasburg’s very first pitch was his signature 94 MPH two-seam fastball. This was it; this was what the outfielder wanted. And in one powerful swing, Springer was on his way to second base as he barely missed a potential home run.
Next, it was Jose Altuve’s turn. Strasburg seemed flustered when facing Altuve as he threw a wild pitch that caused Springer to advance to third. With zero outs and a runner at third, the second baseman for the Astros laced a sacrifice fly.
Score update: Nationals and Astros tied 1-1
Alex Bregman, another MVP candidate, was up next. Bregman got ahead of the count early at 2-0 but wasn’t swinging at anything. In fact, he had the same look Springer had earlier. The third pitch against Bregman? The very same two-seam fastball that got Washington in this jam. Bregman pulled this ball into left field for a mammoth 355-foot home run to take the lead.
Score update: Astros lead 2-1
When rounding the bases, the third baseman made sure to make it memorable. Instead of the usual bat flip, he took his bat all the way to first base as he gave it to first base coach Don Kelly. He later apologized for this by saying, “It’s not how I was raised to play the game. Sorry for doing that.”
While the batters deserved praise for the action and drama through the fist inning, the pitchers were partially to be blamed, as well. Both Verlander and Strasburg are two of the best that MLB has to offer.
In the top of the fourth, the broadcast crew showed a mind-boggling stat about Verlander. He had seemingly accomplished every possible milestone there is to accomplish in the league, such as Rookie of the Year, All-Star, Cy Young, some no-hitters, MVP, and World Series champion. The one thing missing? A pitching win in the World Series. Prior to this game, he was 0-5 as a starting pitcher despite donning a ring.
Verlander struggled to get an out in this inning. He gave up a hit to Howie Kendrick and proceeded to walk Ryan Zimmerman after getting ahead in the count at 0-2. Luckily for him, he managed to get by without giving up a run.
The top of the fifth was more of the same: drama. Adam Eaton at the plate and he absolutely crushed Verlander’s slider.
Score update: Nationals and Astros tied 2-2
21-year-old Juan Soto, one of the most entertaining players in the league, was up next. The young outfielder was fighting to get ahead of the count while Verlander was desperately trying to get Soto to swing at a high fastball. The count went to 3-1, the next pitch was about to elevate this game to greater heights. Down 3-1 in the count, Verlander threw an up-and-in fastball but the lefty batter managed to pull it for another solo bomb.
Score update: Nationals lead 3-2
Ever the entertainer, Soto took his bat to first the same way Bregman did and handed it off to Washington’s first base coach Tim Bogar.
While his counterpart was apologetic, Soto owned it up as he said, “I just thought it was pretty cool. I wanted to do it, too.”
At this point, the climax of this game was rapidly approachinng. After meltdowns, statements, and emotion, the only missing was an actual sports rule to screw a team up. That happened in the top of the seventh.
At the start of the seventh, the Nationals found themselves at the top of their batting order. Trea Turner started this game off with a bang and he looked to seal it off in a similar fashion. Turner stepped into the batter’s box one more time but instead of Verlander, he was staring Brad Peacock in the eyes.
Peacock did a great job backing Turner into a corner, managing to even jam him with an off-speed pitch. Turner ran to first as he hoped for a fielding error. However, instead of a mistake, we witnessed questions and an ejection. Turner beat the throw to first using his legs but was called out due to “interfering” with the throw.
This rule in baseball has always been an issue and even the commentators were having a hard time explaining what exactly happened.
The game was stopped for about 10 minutes because of this and the crowd had no clue why. They were booing because of the pause in the action. But once Nationals manager Dave Martinez was seen shouting at the umps, the crowd managed to piece two and two together. Martinez was fuming at the call, shouting, “Wait ’til you watch!”
With the dugout still seething from the call, Anthony Rendon had a stoic look on his face as he hit a two-run homer off of Peacock. This hit released the frustration within the team as they felt robbed of one more run.
Score update: Nationals lead 5-2
In the middle of the seventh, Martinez had enough. He walked up to the umpires and started shouting and pointing fingers. It reached such an intense level that bench coach Chip Hale held back his superior to save the manager from ejection. It was not enough, as Martinez was thrown out of the game while Hale had to act as manager for the remainder of the contest.
To finish this thrill ride, Rendon capped off the night with a two-RBI double in the top of the ninth.
Score update: Nationals lead 7-2
One can not talk about this game without examining Strasburg’s performance. After giving up two runs in the first due to tipping pitches, the pitcher managed to hold this Astros team to zero runs in a performance for the ages. He finished the game with seven strikeouts, five hits, and two walks in 8.1 innings pitched.
When asked about the game and tipping his pitches, Strasburg said, “It’s something that has burned me in the past, and it burned me there in the first. It’s just a part of the game, and you’ve got to do your best to stay consistent in your delivery on each pitch.”
Of course, everyone knows what happened next. The Cinderella story was completed with a Game 7 victory on the road the following day.
And a few weeks later, the cheating saga of the Astros came into life thanks to pitcher Mike Fiers.
This game and this series had it all. It had the dangerous cloud that is the Astros looming over MLB. It had the feel-good story of the Nationals. It really did seem like a prelude of what was to come in the baseball world. Looking back, this championship is arguably the most satisfying title of the past decade.