(Note: You can watch Game 6 of the World Series tonight on MASN at 7 p.m. Eastern time.)
Man, oh, man, did a lot of stuff happen in this game. I mean, this one game alone included Alex Bregman carrying his bat to first base after homering, then Juan Soto responding by doing the exact same thing. It had Stephen Strasburg tipping his pitches in the top of the first, then making a correction and pitching so well he actually took the mound for the bottom of the ninth. It had Adam Eaton hitting a game-tying homer. It had Anthony Rendon driving in five runs. It had Max Scherzer warming up in the bullpen two days after he couldn't get out of bed and hours after Davey Martinez insisted there was no chance his ace would pitch in this game.
And, of course, this game had The Trea Turner Interference Play, leading to an epic tirade by Martinez (and his subsequent ejection), a ridiculously long replay review that wasn't actually a replay review and so much emotion you didn't know if Minute Maid Park's roof could hold it all in.
It was a thrilling and exhausting game to cover in person. And it was just as thrilling and exhausting to re-watch 5 1/2 months later.
There's always an extra sense of anticipation heading into any Game 6, because of the stakes - either one team is going to win the series, or the other team is going to force a Game 7 - and this was no different. Even though the Nationals had looked dreadful in losing three in a row at home, their path to a championship was more than feasible. They had Strasburg on the mound for this one, then they expected to have Scherzer on the mound the following night after he threw pitches off flat ground that afternoon and pronounced his neck good to go.
First, though, they needed Strasburg to step up and win another elimination game, just as he did at Wrigley Field in 2017 and just as he did at Dodger Stadium three weeks earlier.
"Tonight he has a chance to check himself into Washington Nationals history," John Smoltz said during the open of FOX's broadcast.
Then again, Justin Verlander had a chance to rewrite his own wretched World Series history (0-5, 5.73 ERA) and pitch the Astros to their second title in three years.
"For him, a win tonight cements everything we think about him when he heads to the Hall of Fame," Smoltz said.
But as was the case during much of this series, all the pregame hype about the great pitching matchup was disrupted with a burst of offense in the first inning.
The Nats jumped on Verlander first, via Turner's infield single (which required an overturned replay review), Eaton's sacrifice bunt (because of course an Eaton sac bunt was part of this game) and Rendon's beautifully placed RBI single through the open right side of the infield.
But then the Astros returned the favor to Strasburg in shocking fashion in the bottom of the inning. Smoltz predicted George Springer would look to ambush a first-pitch fastball, and sure enough Springer did, driving a leadoff double off the left field wall. A wild pitch moved him to third, then Jose Altuve's sacrifice fly to deep left field brought him home to tie the game.
Shortly after that, Strasburg threw a fastball down the pipe to Bregman, who blasted it into the Crawford Boxes for a 2-1 lead. And it very nearly became 3-1 when Yuli Gurriel sent another drive to the wall in left-center (just beyond where those boxes stick out into the playing field) that was caught by Soto.
What in the world just happened? Well, we wouldn't know about this until Strasburg revealed it after the game, but he was tipping his pitches. Just as he did earlier in the season against the Diamondbacks (who unexpectedly crushed him twice), Strasburg was giving away the pitch he was about to throw based on the way his glove moved (or didn't move) as he went to grip the ball before delivering it.
It was Jon Tosches, the Nationals' manager of advanced scouting, who realized what was happening while watching from the video room outside the clubhouse. He told pitching coach Paul Menhart after the first inning, then Menhart watched Strasburg do it with his own eyes in the second inning before pulling the right-hander aside and letting him know.
Interestingly enough, Strasburg cruised through the bottom of the second before making the change, but as he begins the bottom of the third, you can see what he starts doing: As he comes set before delivering his pitch, he fans his glove open and shut several times in rapid fashion, no matter the type of pitch he's preparing to throw. Every one now looks the same. And the Astros wouldn't touch him the rest of the way.
The Nationals lineup, meanwhile, would put together some quality at-bats against Verlander but couldn't break through until the fifth. And boy did they break through with a pair of blasts that turned this game around.
First it was Eaton, who came up to bat with nobody on base and thus was denied the opportunity to bunt again. He had no choice but to swing away. And in doing so, he sent an 0-1 slider from Verlander deep to right for the game-tying homer (his second of the series).
Now it was Soto's turn, and the kid put on a show. After taking a 2-1 high fastball, he started nodding and smiling. Is there a more terrifying sight for an opposing pitcher right now? Sure enough, Verlander's next pitch (another fastball) was in the zone, and Soto turned on it and sent it soaring into the second deck in right field, his third homer of the World Series having given the Nats a 3-2 lead.
And how did Soto react? Just like Bregman, he carried his bat all the way to first base before trying to hand it off to a very confused Tim Bogar. Minute Maid Park was silent, but the visitors' dugout was rocking.
Handed the lead, Strasburg really bore down and took care of business. He did get into a jam in the bottom of the fifth, with runners on second and third and one out. But as Patrick Corbin started warming in the bullpen just in case, Strasburg promptly struck out Altuve on a brilliant three-pitch sequence (changeup, curveball, curveball) and then got Michael Brantley to hit a sharp grounder right at Turner, who was shifted around to the other side of second base.
Strasburg posted another zero in the bottom of the sixth, this time with Daniel Hudson warming alongside Corbin and none other than Scherzer stretching in the bullpen. By the time the Nats began batting in the top of the seventh, Scherzer was actually warming up on the mound, prompting the announcers to wonder if he really might pitch in this game, and then what that would mean for a potential Game 7.
But before they could get too deep into that discussion, the signature sequence of Game 6 took over and consumed everyone's attention the rest of the night.
It started out innocently enough, with Yan Gomes dumping a single into right field and Turner tapping a little roller toward the mound. And when Brad Peacock's throw sailed wide, knocked off Gurriel's glove and ricocheted off Turner's leg, the Nats had two runners in scoring position with nobody out. Or so they thought.
Plate umpire Sam Holbrook immediately signaled that Turner was out for interfering with the throw, and, oh, man, you know what happened next.
"I mean, this is potentially a series-changing call," Joe Buck said.
A potentially series-changing call that would take forever to resolve and would never be adequately explained to those watching on TV or in person. Here's how ridiculous it was: From the time Holbrook made the initial call until the time crew chief Gary Cederstrom took the headset off and signaled Turner out again, nine minutes and 20 seconds passed. That's more than a minute longer than the time that passed between Soto's three-run single off Josh Hader and Hudson recording the final out in the wild card game.
And it turns out the play wasn't even being reviewed, because you can't review a judgment call. Martinez had asked for a rules check, and according to Tom Verducci and Ken Rosenthal on the broadcast, the manager was trying to play the rest of the game under protest, which also wasn't allowed.
As this was all playing out, the cameras and microphones caught Turner in the dugout pointing at Joe Torre seated nearby and saying "Hey, he's right there! Just ask him! Why's he hiding? He's right there!"
Also, you could see Mike Rizzo texting someone on his phone. Who was he texting? As we found out the next night outside a champagne-soaked clubhouse, the recipient of the GM's profanity-laced text message was none other than commissioner Rob Manfred. (A fine was subsequently handed out, which Rizzo happily paid.)
This play has been analyzed and discussed ad nauseam since, but for the record, here's the final verdict of what happened: Rule 5.09(a) states that a batter is called out if he runs outside the designated lane between the foul line and the other line drawn three feet to the side in foul territory, and, in the umpire's judgment, in doing so interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base. Turner did run outside the lane, that's not disputed. But as most people not named Sam Holbrook or Joe Torre seemed to agree at the time, his running outside the lane didn't appear to interfere with Gurriel catching Peacock's throw. For one thing, the throw pulled Gurriel toward Turner. For another, the ball didn't strike Turner until he was stepping on the base, so he would've been safe anyway.
Nevertheless, the call stood, and now everyone was worried it might alter the outcome of the game and the series. Everyone except Rendon. Once the hubbub died down and the game resumed - with Will Harris now on the mound for Houston - Rendon lofted a 1-0 pitch over the left field wall for the two-run homer that extended the Nats' lead to 5-2 and helped ensure the interference call wouldn't impact the game's outcome.
Not that Rendon's blast calmed everyone down, though. As the teams changed sides before the bottom of the seventh, Martinez came storming out of the dugout and accosted both Holbrook and Cederstrom. Chip Hale tried his best to hold the manager back, but Martinez would not be denied. He let the two umps have it - his argument wasn't solely about the interference call but also the words Cederstrom had for the Nationals dugout everything was playing out - and thus became the first manager since Bobby Cox in 1996 to be ejected from a World Series game.
The final postscript on the whole affair: in late February, Major League Baseball announced Cederstrom was one of four veteran umpires (along with Dana DeMuth, Jeff Kellogg and Mike Everitt) who was retiring.
Anyway, while all this chaos was consuming Game 6, who blocked it all out and kept doing his job exceptionally well? Strasburg. He retired the side in the bottom of the seventh, and with his pitch count still under 100, he was good to return for the eighth. Which he completed in a scant four pitches, leaving him good to return to the ninth.
First, though, the Nationals were going to tack on two more insurance runs, with Rendon again supplying the big hit: a double off the wall in right-center, giving him five RBIs on the night and extending the lead to 7-2.
Strasburg thus became the first starting pitcher to take the mound for the ninth inning in a World Series elimination game since Curt Schilling in 1993. He got Gurriel to ground out, then gave way to Sean Doolittle to finish things off.
The Nationals won the game in convincing fashion. Strasburg became the first pitcher ever to go 5-0 in a single postseason. And for the first time in major North American sports history, the road team won the first six games of a postseason series.
It was, as previously stated, a thrilling and exhausting game. But it ensured there would be one more game in the 2019 baseball season. One more game to seal the Nationals' place in baseball history.