Nationals beat Astros, force Game 7 in World Series

Stephen Strasburg has a strong start and Washington rallies in Houston.
Juan Soto  is congratulated by first base coach Tim Bogar after hitting a home run as the Nationals beat Justin Verlander and the Astros.
Juan Soto is congratulated by first base coach Tim Bogar after hitting a home run as the Nationals beat Justin Verlander and the Astros. [ DAVID J. PHILLIP | AP ]
Published Oct. 30, 2019|Updated Oct. 30, 2019

HOUSTON — Stephen Strasburg took a gem into the ninth inning and Juan Soto ran all the way to first base with his bat following a go-ahead home run, the same way Houston slugger Alex Bregman did earlier.

Washington has matched the Astros pitch for pitch, hit for hit, win for win — even home run celebration for home run celebration.

Strasburg gutted through without his best fastball to throw five-hit ball for 8 1/3 innings, and now it’s onto a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday night to decide the first World Series in which the visiting team won the first six games.

Eaton and Soto hit solo homers off Justin Verlander in the fifth, Anthony Rendon had five RBIs, including with a two-run homer in the seventh, and the Nationals beat the Astros 7-2 Tuesday night to tie the Series at three games apiece.

Fired up after a disputed call at first base went against them in the seventh, the Nationals padded their lead moments later when Rendon homered off Will Harris. Washington manager Dave Martinez, still enraged at umpires, was ejected during the seventh-inning stretch, screaming as a pair of his coaches held him back while the crowd sang along to “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” Rendon added a two-run double off Chris Devenski in the ninth.

Martinez, the Rays’ longtime bench manager under Joe Maddon, became the first manager tossed from a Series game since Atlanta’s Bobby Cox in 1996.

With a runner at first in the seventh, Washington’s Trea Turner hit a slow roller down the third base line and ran for first narrowly inside fair territory.

Pitcher Brad Peacock fielded the ball and his throw pulled first baseman Yuli Gurriel toward the baseline. As Gurriel stretched, Turner ran into his glove, and the ball bounced off Turner’s leg and into foul territory. Home plate umpire Sam Holbrook quickly signaled interference.

After some argument from Martinez and the Nationals, umpires went to the headsets for 4½ minutes and upheld the call. Major League Baseball executive Joe Torre said the “right call” was made and Washington’s request to protest the game was denied because it was a judgment call.

Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger tweeted that the call was “just plain ugly,” and Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber called it “a bad rule,” suggesting MLB should adopt a wider “safety bag” like those used in many slow pitch softball leagues.

Now the Nationals will attempt their ultimate comeback in a year in which they were written off time after time, hoping for the first title in the 51-season history of a franchise that started as the Montreal Expos and the first for Washington since the Senators in 1924. The Astros led the majors with 107 wins and are seeking their second title in three seasons.

Visiting teams have won three straight Game 7s in the Series since the Cardinals defeated Texas at home in 2011.

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Wednesday’s forecast calls for widespread rain and thunderstorms throughout the day and into the night.

Ratings on record-low pace

Fans in Washington and Houston may be excited, but the rest of the country is reacting to the World Series with a collective yawn.

Through five games, the World Series averaged 11.6 million viewers, the Nielsen company said. That puts it on pace to be the least-watched Fall Classic ever, although ratings tend to pick up when a series reaches a sixth or deciding seventh game. Game 6 was Tuesday in Houston.

The previous low point came in 2012, when an average of 12.64 million viewers watched the Giants complete a four-game sweep over the Tigers.

From an audience perspective, the Series was really hurt Sunday night, when 18.3 million people watched a Packers-Chiefs NFL game compared to the 11.4 million who tuned into baseball at the same time. That’s the widest viewership margin an NFL game has ever had over a World Series game at least since Nielsen began keeping more precise records in 1987.

Sports led Fox to an easy victory for the week in prime time, averaging 10.9 million viewers. CBS had 6.54 million viewers, NBC had 6.45 million, ABC had 4.3 million, Telemundo had 1.3 million, ION Television had 1.22 million, Univision had 1.16 million and the CW had 880,000.

Fox News Channel was the week’s most-watched cable network, averaging 2.44 million viewers in prime time. ESPN had 2.38 million viewers, MSNBC had 1.8 million, TLC had 1.21 million and TNT had 1.04 million.

For the week of Oct. 21-27, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: NFL: Packers at Chiefs, NBC, 18.32 million; NFL: Washington at Vikings, Fox, 13.77 million; World Series Game 1: Nationals at Astros, Fox, 12.28 million; World Series Game 3: Astros at Nationals, Fox, 12.22 million; World Series Game 2: Nationals at Astros, Fox, 12.01 million; NFL Pregame Show, NBC, 11.87 million; World Series Game 5: Astros at Nationals, Fox, 11.39 million; NCIS, CBS, 11.35 million; NFL: Patriots at Jets, ESPN, 11.33 million; 60 Minutes, CBS, 11.22 million.

Scherzer ready for Game 7

Max Scherzer appears ready to start Game 7 Wednesday. The right-hander, 35, missed his scheduled start in Game 5 because of an irritated nerve near his neck, and the Astros beat substitute starter Joe Ross. Scherzer had a cortisone shot in his neck Sunday and threw in the outfield Tuesday. Manager Davey Martinez said “as of now, he’ll definitely start Game 7. He threw. He felt good.” Scherzer said after throwing Tuesday: “I’m good.” Zack Greinke, who allowed one run over 42/3 innings in his first-ever World Series start in Game 3, is scheduled to start for Houston. “Max will pitch until his neck decides he can’t pitch anymore,” Martinez said. “I can’t see myself telling Max, ‘You’re only going to go 75 pitches.’ He’s going to want to go out there and go as long as he can.”

The pregame

Country star Clay Walker, outfitted in a 10-gallon hat, performed the national anthem before Game 6. The predominantly orange-clad crowd waved orange towels and cheered loudly as game time approached. Hakeem Olajuwon zinged the ceremonial first pitch to fellow Houston Rockets legend and Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler. It landed a bit outside where Drexler, who played high school baseball, tried to scoop it. Drexler has been a longtime Astros fan. Growing up in Houston, he would ride his bicycle to the Astrodome and nab 50-cent tickets. He said he caught home run balls from stars that include Willie Mays and Bobby Bonds.

Mike Stone dies

Mike Stone, the Rangers president from 1983-90 who later served as commissioner of the independent baseball Northern League, died Friday at his home in Ajijic, Mexico. He was 80. Mr. Stone was instrumental in the Rangers signing Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan as a free agent before the 1989 season. Mr. Stone was with the Northern League from 2002-06 and was a professor at SMU in the sports management program from 2010-17.

Cruz stays with Twins

Minnesota exercised Nelson Cruz’s $12 million option for next season. The designated hitter, 39, agreed in January to a contract with a $14 million salary for 2019 and the club option. He hit .311 with a team-high 41 homers and had 108 RBIs in 120 games. He spent two stints on the injured list for a wrist problem that led to a torn tendon. Cruz was 2-for-10 with a solo home run as the Twins were swept by the Yankees in the AL Division Series. If the option was declined, Cruz would have received a $300,000 buyout and become eligible for free agency.