All Nationals fans would admit that Howie Kendrick's two-run homer in the World Series Game 7 was a big moment in franchise history. But fans probably do not realize the homer ranks as the 10th best change-of-fortune hit in Major League Baseball postseason history, dating to 1903, according to a metric developed by The Baseball Gauge.
The Baseball Gauge tracks a metric known as Change in World Series Win Probability (cWPA), based off every World Series (and postseason) game played the past 115 years.
Kendrick's hit had a cWPA of .348, matched by Yogi Berra's three-run homer in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series for ninth and 10th on the list of all-time change of fortune plays.
The Yankees were down 4-2 in the top of the sixth to Pittsburgh when Berra launched the homer. The Pirates came back to win the game 10-9, thanks to Bill Mazeroski's walk-off homer. But when Berra hit the homer in the sixth, the Pirates' fortunes went from a 73 percent chance of winning down to 38 percent, a change of about 35 percent.
In the bottom of the sixth of Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, when Patrick Corbin allowed a Jake Marisnick single, the Astros' probability of winning the game jumped to its highest point of the contest, from 85.3 to 87.1 percent. Houston led 2-0.
After that, the Nats changed the momentum of the game and the series. Corbin got out of the inning unscathed, which was a big deal in itself. George Springer struck out and Jose Altuve grounded into a double play to AsdrÃºbal Cabrera to end the threat.
In the top of the seventh, the Astros' win probability actually went up for the last time, from 82.4 to 85.8 percent, when Adam Eaton grounded out to begin the frame. So Houston still had an 85.8 percent chance of winning the World Series with eight outs remaining.
But Anthony Rendon's solo shot off of Zack Greinke finally got the Nats on the board. Down 2-1 with one out in the top of the seventh, the Astros' fortunes dropped from 85.8 to 75.1 percent. A walk to Juan Soto pushed the probability of a Houston win from 75.1 to 70.5. So in a span of five at-bats, the Astros' win percentage had dropped almost 17 percentage points, from its game-high of 87.1 down to 70.5 percent.
With Rendon hitting the homer and Soto drawing the walk, Houston manager AJ Hinch decided Greinke was done. Incredibly, Greinke had tossed only 80 pitches (49 strikes) to that point, finishing 6 1/3 innings. Hinch went to the extremely reliable Will Harris to face Kendrick.
After swinging and missing at Harris' 80 mph curveball, Kendrick reached down in the zone for a 90.6 mph cutter and drove the ball deep down the right field line where it clanged off the foul pole for a game-changing hit. As Kendrick rounded the bases and the crowd in Houston stood in stunned silence, the Nats led the winner-take-all match 3-2. And the Astros' World Series win probability took a direct hit.
Houston had a 70.5 percent chance to win the game and the series before the Kendrick at-bat began. After Kendrick's blast, the Astros' chances of winning had dropped close to 35 percent. The drop of 34.8 percent was the 10th biggest change in postseason history. That ranking is based on not only every World Series game since 1903, but also 100 League Championship Series since 1969, 104 Division Series and 16 wild card games.
Looking closer at the Astros' win probability throughout the game, Houston had a 53.2 percent chance of winning before game even began, playing in front of their home fans at Minute Maid Park. Early in the game, the closest the Nats got to changing that fortune was a single by Soto off Greinke to begin the top of second. Washington actually had a 50.6 percent chance of winning the game at that moment. That opportunity to win had dropped all the way down to 12.9 percent in the bottom of the sixth.
In the top of the ninth, Eaton's two-run single made the score 6-2, allowing the Nats to enjoy a 98.8 percent chance of winning. When Daniel Hudson struck out Altuve for the second out of the bottom of the ninth, Houston's win probability had dropped to 0.2 percent.
Kendrick's hit was gigantic, as the two-run shot in the top of the seventh cut Houston's chances of winning in half, from 71 to 36 percent in one swing. The two-run homer set the stage from a mathematical probability standpoint, and in game momentum, for the Nats to pull off the dramatic comeback and win their first title.