Honest opinion: What was your reasonable, best-case scenario for the Nationals in the first two games of the World Series? Maybe you had a pie-in-the-sky dream of snatching both games from the Astros and returning to D.C. flying high, but realistically you just wanted to see them win one of two on the road. Especially when those two games were started by Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. Right?
Well, after beating Cole in Game 1, the Nats returned to Minute Maid Park the next night for Game 2 playing with house money. A loss to Verlander and company would have been perfectly acceptable. A win? Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves here.
Then again, the Nationals had Stephen Strasburg on the mound, and all the big right-hander had done so far in the postseason was go 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA, 33 strikeouts and one walk. Come to think of it, maybe the Astros were the ones who needed to hope they could just split that opening pair of games at home.
The elite pitching matchup again dominated the FOX game intro, just as it did in Game 1. Then, of course, both guys gave up two runs in the first inning.
The Nationals put pressure on Verlander right away, with Trea Turner drawing a four-pitch walk and Adam Eaton slapping a single past third baseman Alex Bregman to set the table for the big boys behind them. Anthony Rendon made the most of the opportunity, driving an 0-2 changeup deep to left and nearly over the wall, settling for a two-run double that rattled off the out-of-town scoreboard. The sellout crowd already was in stunned silence.
The Astros would give them reason to bounce back, though, in the bottom of the inning. Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley and Bregman all hit the ball hard off Strasburg, all for clean hits, with Bregman's no-doubt homer to left off a changeup the equalizing blow. It probably should've been a three-run blast, but Altuve's gamble to try to steal third with one out backfired and ultimately cost Houston a run.
Were we in for a slugfest? No. At least not for the majority of the evening. Strasburg and Verlander each settled in nicely after the shaky first and posted dueling zeros all the way through the sixth.
There were a few close calls along the way, and some precursors of what was still to come. Both Juan Soto and Kurt Suzuki hit Verlander hard in their second at-bats, Soto lacing a double down the right field line and Suzuki driving a ball to deep left-center that was caught at the track.
Strasburg, meanwhile, had to pitch his way out of a couple of jams. With runners on the corners and two out in the third, he got Bregman to ground out. And with two on and one out in the sixth, he broke Carlos Correa's bat on a 3-2 changeup, then froze pinch-hitter Kyle Tucker with one of the best 3-2 curveballs of his life, capping his 114-pitch start with an emphatic punchout.
And so this tense, tight, 2-2 ballgame moved to the seventh. At which point it morphed into the Nationals' most lopsided rout of the entire postseason. Yeah, really.
It began with a big blast from a guy who really hadn't done much at the plate all month but only one at-bat earlier had driven a ball to the warning track. Yep, this time Suzuki got all of one and crushed a Verlander fastball way over the left field wall for the go-ahead homer. It was the 36-year-old's first RBI of the postseason, and it was a fitting offensive highlight for the catcher who had already been wowing observers with his work behind the plate in the series' first two games.
The Nationals led 3-2, but they were far from done. Verlander was pulled after walking Victor Robles, then reliever Ryan Pressly walked Turner. A sacrifice bunt by Eaton - because a 2019 postseason game wouldn't be complete without at least an attempted sac bunt by Eaton - moved the runners up, but Rendon couldn't get them home.
Now A.J. Hinch did the unthinkable. He intentionally walked Soto. Not that the situation didn't call for precisely that. But it was a sign the Astros manager had not given once in the entire 2019 season. He didn't walk one batter intentionally all year, the first time any major league club had done that since the intentional walk was officially tracked in 1955.
Up stepped Howie Kendrick with the bases loaded, and you know how that usually goes. OK, so he didn't hit a grand slam this time. But he did put the bat on the ball and force Bregman to try to make a tough play at third. Which the MVP candidate could not do. Everybody was safe on the infield single, and the Nats now led 4-2.
And were ready to pour it on. AsdrÃºbal Cabrera (who admittedly had looked terrible at the plate so far) lined a two-run single to center. A wild pitch moved two more runners into scoring position. And Bregman again couldn't make a play, this time on Ryan Zimmerman's slow roller to third, with a throwing error letting two more runs come home to cap a staggering six-run rally.
That's six runs in the inning, five of them scoring with two outs. And the Nationals were just getting warmed up.
After a scoreless bottom of the seventh by Fernando Rodney - yes, that really did happen - the Nats did it again in the top of the eighth. Eaton, who had successfully bunted one inning earlier, now belted a two-run homer to right to make it 10-2. And several minutes later, Cabrera delivered another RBI single to center to make it 11-2. So in the span of two innings, the Nationals sent 18 men to the plate and scored nine runs, eight of them with two outs.
And now it was OK to start acknowledging what exactly was going on, and consider what now lay ahead.
"The Nationals have just come in here and put their mark on this World Series," Joe Buck said, gushing about the NL champs. "They beat Gerrit Cole last night, and they're on their way to beating Justin Verlander tonight."
The final tally would be 12-3, with Michael A. Taylor doing a Michael A. Taylor thing and belting another October homer in the top of the ninth and MartÃn Maldonado responding with a solo homer off Javy Guerra in the bottom of the ninth.
It was a shockingly lopsided win for the Nationals to complete a shockingly dominant two nights in Houston and continue a shockingly dominant run that stretched back for weeks.
The Nationals had scored 17 runs in the first two games of the World Series, the most by any road team since the 1960 Yankees.
They had won eight games in a row, tied for the longest streak in postseason history, and done so by a combined score of 50-17.
They had won 18 of 20, dating to the last week of the regular season, the best 20-game stretch in club history.
They were coming home, up two games to none, and for the first time it was OK to think to yourself: "OMG, they're probably going to win the World Series."