HOUSTON — Juan Soto homered onto the train tracks high above the leftfield wall and hit a two-run double as the Nationals tagged Gerrit Cole and the Astros 5-4 Tuesday night in the World Series opener.
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. Springer set a record by homering in his fifth straight World Series game, breaking a record he had shared with Lou Gehrig and Reggie Jackson.
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 game.
Sean Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth for the save, only the second 1-2-3 inning on a night that Washington relievers were given a three-run lead and just held on.
Washington got all its runs in the first five innings.
Cole hadn’t lost since May 22. The right-hander, who went seven innings, came into the game having won 19 consecutive decisions over his last 25 starts. Tuesday, Cole pitched in a game without the lead for the first time since Sept. 2.
The Astros got within 5-4 in the eighth. Pinch-hitter Kyle Tucker, a former Tampa Plant standout, led off with a single off Daniel Hudson, then moved up to second when Aledmys Diaz had a deep flyout to centerfield. Springer, who hit a solo homer in the seventh to make it 5-3, then got an RBI double on a ball that nicked off the glove of a leaping Adam Eaton against the angled wall in right-center.
Jose Altuve then flew out to rightfield before Doolittle came on and got Michael Brantley on an inning-ending liner to left.
Justin Verlander is 0-4 with a 5.67 ERA in five World Series starts going into his Game 2 outing Wednesday.
“You know that the nerves are going to be higher. Your body knows it’s not a regular start,” Verlander said Tuesday. “Going to sleep tonight is not going to be the same as normal. But having done it before, I don’t know if it helps, it’s definitely not going to calm you down any more, but I know what to expect.”
Verlander, a 36-year-old right-hander, lost Games 1 and 5 to St. Louis in 2006, then dropped the 2012 opener to San Francisco.
He wasted a 1-0 lead for Houston in Game 2 two years ago, giving up solo homers to Joc Pederson and Corey Seager and leaving after six innings in a game the Astros won 7-6 in 11 innings. He also wasted a lead in Game 6.
“I think you know what to expect out of the nerves and the anxiousness, but it doesn’t make it go away,” Verlander said.
The Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg, a 31-year-old right-hander, has pitched in seven postseason games since 2014 but will be making his World Series debut.
“You’re going to get the butterflies,” he said. “Done it enough time that the more you try and settle in, the more it gets. And I think it’s beneficial to just play wherever you’re at. You know it’s going to be a storm out there. You’re going to weather it.”
For the first time since the first World Series in 1903, a team has no lefties on its Fall Classic staff. Houston has 12 pitchers, all right-handers. The only teams with no left-handers on their World Series roster were Boston and Pittsburgh in that first matchup, the Elias Sports Bureau said. Boston had only three pitchers, including Cy Young, on its roster and the Pirates carried five. Deacon Phillippe went 3-2 and threw 44 innings for Pittsburgh, which lost the Series 5-3. There were 13 complete games and neither team used more than one reliever when it did go to the bullpen.
Comments unnerve female reporters
The assistant general manager of the Astros apologized Tuesday for using “inappropriate language” after a Sports Illustrated report said he repeatedly yelled toward a group of female reporters about closer Roberto Osuna during a clubhouse celebration.
Brandon Taubman released a statement through the Astros hours before they played Game 1 of the World Series against Washington. Major League Baseball said it will interview those involved before further commenting.
Taubman’s remarks after the Astros clinched the AL pennant reportedly referenced Osuna, who was suspended for 75 games last year for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy before being traded from Toronto to the Astros.
SI said one of the reporters was wearing a domestic violence awareness bracelet. The incident occurred after the Astros beat the Yankees on Saturday night.
Reporter Stephanie Apstein wrote the story.
As she stood with two other female reporters, she said, she heard a chant that at first she couldn’t make out but then became all too clear. “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f------ glad we got Osuna!”
“At first I didn’t know who he was, who was yelling, but then it was shocking,” Apstein said Tuesday. “We were shaken.”
Apstein’s story, which posted late Monday night on SI’s website, highlighted Osuna’s situation with the Astros as well as Aroldis Chapman, the closer the Yankees traded for after he was suspended by MLB after allegedly choking his girlfriend.
“This is the miscalculation that teams make over and over again,” Apstein wrote. “They acquire players with reprehensible pasts for less than market rate and concede that they will have to pay a price in public trust. But when the bill comes due, teams act like they, not the people their actions wounded, are the aggrieved party. How dare you keep reminding us of the past? Don’t you understand we have baseball games to play?”
On Monday night, after the SI story was published, the Astros called it “misleading and completely irresponsible.” The team said SI had tried to “fabricate a story where one does not exist” and said Taubman’s comments weren’t directed at the reporters.
Taubman on Tuesday said he was “deeply sorry and embarrassed.”
“In retrospect, I realize that my comments were unprofessional and inappropriate. My overexuberance in support of a player has been misinterpreted as a demonstration of a regressive attitude about an important social issue,” he said.
MLB said in a statement that “everyone in baseball must use care to not engage in any behavior — whether intentional or not — that could be construed as minimizing the egregiousness of an act of domestic violence.”
Canadian prosecutors dropped a domestic assault charge in September 2018 against Osuna, who agreed to stay away from a woman identified by authorities as the mother of his child for one year and continue counseling.
Astros owner Jim Crane said the team has mandatory training for its employees and “we fully support MLB and baseball’s stance and values regarding domestic violence.”
Also Tuesday, the Baseball Writers Association of America denounced the incident and the team’s handling of it.