By sweeping Nationals in D.C., Astros take command of series before heading home

The Astros arrived in Washington, D.C., looking for relevance. They left leading the best-of-seven World Series three games to two and have a chance to win a Fall Classic for the second time in three seasons.

“If we win in front of our own fans, it will be special,” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said. “I think I will black out for the first time in my life.”

Correa hit one of three home runs and Gerrit Cole pitched seven strong innings as the Astros cruised to a 7-1 victory against the Nationals in Game 5 on Sunday night at silenced and shocked Nationals Park.

The Astros outscored the Nationals 19-3 in the three-game sweep in D.C. The Nationals were 1-for-21 with runners in scoring position during the three games, the first World Series games in Washington since 1933.

This is the first World Series since the 1996 Yankees-Braves clash where the road team has won the first five games. History is on the Astros’ side: The road team has never won six consecutive World Series games.

“We took a pretty heavy punch to the gut when it comes to the first two games,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Then you take a step back and you’re like, ‘We are in the World Series. It’s still a race to four wins.’

“You win the first one and the vibe is going to pick up. And then we win the second game. And then today, we come out and separate ourselves.

“We are a close-knit group. We’ve dealt with a lot in general over the year, even though on paper it looks like its been six winning months and a franchise record number of wins.

“We’ve had to fight through a few things. It’s no different in the World Series.”

Cole had nine strikeouts in his seven innings. He allowed a home run to Juan Soto in the seventh inning, but otherwise was in command.

He pitched to only three batters in five of his seven innings. He needed six pitches to get through the fifth inning, getting the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman on a foul popout, Victor Robles on a strikeout and Yan Gomes on a fly to right.

Cole’s only trouble was in the second inning while the crowd of 43,910 was going crazy.

Soto and Howie Kendrick started the inning with consecutive singles, putting runners on first and third. But Zimmerman struck out and Robles hit into a 6-4-3 double play.

Cole said Soto did a great job getting loft on the ball and that he left a pitch in the top of the zone for Kendrick to hit.

“Need to make a couple of pitches to Zimmerman, execute those and take a step back and breathe,” Cole said. “Know we are at the bottom of the lineup. You can smell the pitcher’s spot coming up, and you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself. You can afford to give up one run, but not a huge inning.

“You’re just going to make your pitches. You keep the pressure on Robles. Fortunately, the ground ball was hit hard enough that we were able to turn the double play.”

Alvarez, the Astros’ lefty DH, came into the game with one postseason RBI. At one point, the rookie was so frustrated he broke a bat.

But with one swing of the bat in the second inning Sunday, Alvarez had two RBIs with a home run to left-center field that gave the Astros a 2-0 lead.

“I was very happy,” Alvarez said. “My teammates kept telling me, ‘Today is your day.’ I was looking for a pitch to hit, up the middle. I wasn’t trying for a home run. I was just trying to hit the ball over the middle. It went out.”

Alvarez hit a sinker low and away. He worked on his October slump with extra time in the cage so that he “could focus on many pitches in the zone. I made adjustments.”

As a DH, Alvarez is known more for his bat than his glove. He was a pinch-hitter in each of the first two games in Washington, but Hinch didn’t want him to sit for three consecutive games, so he started Alvarez in left field.

Hinch said he usually uses Alvarez in the field in games where Cole pitches because there are fewer defensive plays behind Cole. That’s because Cole, a contender for the American League Cy Young Award, strikes out close to 40 percent of the batters he faces.

Correa, the Astros shortstop, hit his home run in the fourth inning. Correa was behind 0-2, worked the count to 2-2 against Joe Ross and then hammered a slider into the left-field seats.

Correa said that Ross, a fill-in starter for the injured Max Scherzer, was working him good and making it tough to make contact.

“I got one mistake, put a good swing on it and I was able to take advantage,” Correa said. “Joe is a tough pitcher who was commanding the strike zone well. And he made one mistake.”

George Springer hit his second home run of the World Series, a two-run job in the ninth inning, against Nationals reliever Daniel Hudson.

The Astros starter in Game 6 is Justin Verlander, who was the Game 2 losing pitcher in Houston, giving up four runs and seven hits in six innings.

It will be the fifth time that he’s pitched against the same team twice in a postseason series.

Verlander will make adjustments, and so will the Nationals. He said the Nationals’ lineup has the advantage in the adjustment department.

“Once the opposing guys see who three, four at-bats, it’s easier for them to make adjustments, having seen your off-speed stuff and tracked it,” he said. “I just need to execute better.”

Verlander is impressed with the Nationals’ preparation and the lineup’s ability to adjust.

“Their two-strike approach is very good,” Verlander said. “They will adjust to a pitcher on any given day. You don’t see that often in today’s game.

“Wow, you make an adjustment, you go to two-strike approach. That’s found its way out of the game. Honestly, it’s refreshing to see a couple of teams that don’t swing and miss a ton and change their approach based on the pitcher that’s pitching against them.”

Cole said the Astros have been challenged all season.

“I think resiliency is a great word,” Cole said. “This club demonstrates that the whole year.

“We take the mentality that we took during the regular season. We’re just going to put one foot in front of the next, respond to the challenges, shower off the mistakes and celebrate the amazing plays.”

Correa said the team was looking for ways to get its swagger back:

“Let’s play hard,” he said. “Let’s play with passion. Let’s play like we want it.”