January 13, 2020:
After the dramatic comeback win over the Brewers to keep their season alive, the Nationals opened the division series at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 3 against Los Angeles, a team that had the league’s best won-loss record: 106-56.
N.L Division Series
Game One: Patrick Corbin started against 14-game-winner Walker Buehler. The Nats lefty walked the leadoff man but struck out the next two hitters. His control suddenly deserted him as he walked three hitters in a row to force in a run. Buehler, meanwhile, shut down Nationals’ hitters. The Dodgers bullpen got the final six outs.
Corbin pitched well the rest of his outing, yielding just three singles and one other walk after the first while striking out nine. The second Dodger run was the result of an error by Howie Kendrick in the fifth. Adam Eaton keep things from getting worse by throwing a Dodger out at the plate after the error. The two runs would have been enough, but the Dodgers piled on against the Nats bullpen and won 6-0.
Game Two: The Nationals scored a run in the first and two in the second off Clayton Kershaw. Kendrick, Eaton and Anthony Rendon had the RBIs. Stephen Strasburg struck 10 in six innings. The Dodgers got one back on a sac fly in the sixth and another when Sean Doolittle gave up a homer to Max Muncy in the seventh. Max Scherzer pitched a scoreless eighth. Daniel Hudson loaded the bases before striking out Corey Seager to end it.
Game Three: Back in D.C. on Oct. 6, Soto’s two-run homer in the first held up through Anibal Sanchez’s solid five innings. Corbin entered in relief with a 2-1 lead, but the four hits and two walks he yielded led to six Dodger runs. The Dodgers tacked on three more against the Nats ‘pen.
Game Four: Facing elimination again, a four-run fifth, highlighted by Ryan Zimmerman’s two-out, three-run homer, was enough to make Scherzer the winner. Max went seven, yielding nothing after the first inning homer by Justin Turner. Rendon matched Zim’s three RBIs.
Game Five: Back in L.A. for the win-or-go-home game, the Dodgers got three quick runs off Strasburg, who left after six, down 3-1. Soto’s single after Rendon’s double had gotten one back in the top half off Buehler. Kershaw came in to fan Eaton with two on in the seventh. The ace lefty came back for the eighth and was greeted by a Rendon homer. Soto blasted Kershaw’s next pitch deep into the stands in right-center to tie the game.
Joe Kelly set the Nats down in the ninth. Daniel Hudson did the same for Washington. Kelly stayed in for the 10th. Eaton walked leading off. Rendon doubled him to third. Soto was walked intentionally. The next hit gave Howie Kendrick the NLDS MVP. His grand slam on an 0-1 pitch made Doolittle’s one-two-three bottom of the 10th easier.
The N.L. Championship series gave the Nats a chance to avenge the heartbreak of 2012, even though the 2019 St. Louis Cardinals were a different cast of characters. The Cards, Central Division champs with 91 wins, had come back to beat the Braves in a tough five-game series.
Game One: In St. Louis on on Oct. 11, Sanchez started against Miles Mikolas, who followed his breakout 2018 season (18-4, 2.83) with a not-so-hot 2019 (9-14, 4.16). Still, a Yan Gomes double in the second drove in the only run the Nats could muster through six.
Sanchez, meanwhile, was untouchable, pitching a no-hitter through seven and two-thirds. Kendrick had driven in the Nats’ second run in the top of the seventh, so Sanchez, having yielded a single, turned a 2-0 lead over to Doolittle. Sean retired the side in the eighth and got the Cards in order in the ninth.
Game Two: A lead-off homer in the third by Michael A. Taylor, who spent part of the season back in the minors, put the Nats up 1-0 against Adam Wainwright. Not to be outdone by Sanchez, Scherzer took a no-hitter into the seventh before giving up a lead-off single. He left with 11 strikeouts. Eaton’s two-run double in the eighth gave the Nats breathing room. Corbin and Hudson combined for a one-two-three ninth.
Game Three: At Nationals Park on Oct. 14, RBIs by Eaton and Rendon and two more by Kendrick put the Nats up 4-0 after three. Back-to-back, two-out, doubles by Kendrick and Zimmerman produced another two in the fifth. A Victor Robles homer in the sixth put Washington up 7-0. Strasburg was brilliant again with 12 Ks through seven.
Game Four: The Nats jumped on 16-game winner Dakota Hudson for all seven of their runs in the first inning. Corbin was sharp through three but the Cards climbed back into the game with three runs in the fifth. Tanner Rainey, Doolittle and Hudson got the last 12 outs to send the Washington Nationals to the first World Series in franchise history and put a D.C. team there for the first time since 1933.
The World Series
Any review of the 2019 World Series must take note of the sign-stealing controversy that later cost Houston Astros General Manger Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch their jobs on top of year-long suspensions from the game.
In a January 2020 report, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred criticized the Astros for a culture of disdain toward opposing teams, the media and even some of their own employees. He singled out the team’s disgraceful initial response to the sexist outburst by Luhnow’s former assistant, Brandon Taubman, after the Astros beat the Yankees in the 2019 ALCS.
As the Post’s Barry Svrluga wrote in November 2019, the Nationals had elaborate plans to foil any sign-stealing by the Astros in the World Series. The pitchers and catchers Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes were given laminated cards about the sets of signs to be used in any situation. You can’t argue with the results: Washington won all four games in Houston.
By the same token, the 107-55 Astros did not reach the 2019 World Series on the strength of cheating alone. Like all teams, Houston played half its games on the road, winning 47 times. The Astros beat the Nationals three times in D.C. Even if Houston’s sign-stealing continued into 2019 – the commissioner’s report had no evidence of that – it wasn’t a factor in away games.
If anything, the Nationals’ victory over a team so intent on getting an edge, through advanced analytics or sign-stealing, made Washington’s championship even sweeter.
GAME ONE: On Oct. 22, Max Scherzer gutted his way through five innings, allowing eight base runners. He allowed no runs after the Astros scored twice in the first. Max left with the Nats up, 5-2.
Ryan Zimmerman got it started with a two-out homer off Garrit Cole in the second. Juan Soto hit one out in the fourth. His double drove in two more in the fifth.
After George Springer homered off Tanner Rainey in the seventh, Daniel Hudson escaped a bases-loaded jam by retiring Yordan Alverez. Sean Doolittle got Hudson out of trouble after the Astros made it 5-4 in the eighth; then Sean survived a couple of hard hit balls to center in the ninth.
GAME TWO: Anthony Rendon’s double off Justin Verlander gave the Nats two runs in the first, but the Astros tied it on Alex Bregman’s two-run homer off Steven Strasburg in the bottom half. It could have been worse. Jose Altuve was thrown out after surprisingly trying to steal third after his one-out double.
Verlander and Stras settled in to match zeroes for the next five innings. Leading off the seventh, Suzuki took Verlander deep. After walking Victor Robles, Verlander was lifted. Two more walks, a wild pitch and three well-placed singles off reliever Ryan Pressly brought in five runs, putting the Nats up 8-2. Adam Eaton’s two-run homer and Asdrubal Cabrera’s third RBIs added three more in the eighth. The final: Nats 12, ‘Stros 3.
GAME THREE: On Oct. 25 in the first World Series game in D.C. since 1933, Anibal Sanchez allowed single runs in the second and third before a triple in the fourth by Victor Robles brought the Nats to within a run. Houston got the run back in the top of the fifth. Zack Greinke was lifted with runners on second and third and two out in the bottom half, but Josh James fanned Zimmerman to end the threat.
Sanchez yielded a solo homer in the sixth, putting the Astros up by three. Houston used five relievers to shut the Nats down the rest of the way and give the Astros a 4-1 win.
GAME FOUR: Patrick Corbin allowed four hits and a walk in the first. A double-play grounder got him out of the inning allowing just two runs, but Houston added two more in the fourth.
The Nats could not solve Astros rookie Jose Arquidy, who allowed just two hits over five innings. Houston’s five relievers held the Nats to one run. Astros slugger Bregman, meanwhile, drove in five runs in the 8-1 Houston win.
GAME FIVE: Joe Ross, starting because of Scherzer’s neck stiffness, was victimized by a pair of two-run homers. The Nats could not solve Cole until Soto’s solo homer in the seventh. Three runs in the eighth off Hudson put the game out of reach as the Astros won, 7-1.
GAME SIX: Back in Houston and facing elimination on Oct. 29, the Nats hopes rested on Strasburg. Again, he faced Verlander. Rendon’s single scored Trea Turner in the first, but once more, the Astros got to Stras for two in the first. Springer led off with a double, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly. With two outs, Bregman homered.
After that, Stras shut the door. Verlander faltered in the fifth as Eaton and Soto homered. In the seventh, after a single by Gomes and a controversial batter interference call against Turner, Rendon hit a two-out, two-run, homer off Will Harris. That put the Nats up, 5-2. Rendon sealed the win in the ninth with a two-out, two-run, double.
Doolittle got the final two outs after relieving Strasburg in the ninth.
GAME SEVEN: Scherzer, insisting his neck was OK, put 11 men on base but gave up just two runs in his five innings of work. Still, he and the Nats were behind 2-0 to Greinke, who was cruising through six. With one out in the seventh, Rendon homered to put the Nats on the board. After Greinke walked Soto, Hinch brought in Harris to face Kendrick. Howie greeted him with a homer that put Washington up 3-2.
Corbin, who replaced Max in the sixth, shut the Astros down for three innings. Facing Joe Smith in the ninth, Eaton singled in two runs to give the Nats a 6-2 lead. Hudson came in for the bottom of the ninth to face Springer, Altuve and Michael Brantley.
Springer popped to second on an 0-1 pitch. Altuve struck out on three pitches. On Hudson’s seventh pitch and 3-2 count to Brantley, the Astros left fielder struck out swinging. The Nationals mobbed Hudson and each other around the mound, After nearly a century, at 11:50 p.m. Eastern time on Oct. 30, Washington had won the World Series.
Strasburg, the first pitcher to go 5-0 in post-season, was selected World Series MVP. Juan Soto (.333, 438 OBP) and Adam Eaton (.320, .433 OBP) were outstanding, too. Rendon and Kendrick delivered clutch homers. Suzuki, Zimmerman and Taylor went deep. Corbin’s two relief appearances were crucial.
These guys will never be forgotten by Washington baseball fans.