After losing the first two games at home, the Astros have made this World Series competitive, thanks to a pitching staff that snuffed out a steady stream of potential Nationals rallies.
The Astros avoided an almost insurmountable situation by beating the Nationals 4-1 on Friday night in Game 3 of the World Series, the first World Series game in D.C. since 1933, the year the American League Senators lost the title to the New York Giants.
The Nationals lead the best-of-seven series two games to one, but the Astros need to win one of the next two games Saturday and Sunday in D.C. to get the series back to Houston. Two more wins for the Nationals and Washington celebrates its first World Series title since 1924.
After the two losses in Houston, Astros talked about not trying to do too much.
“We talked about having good at-bats, keeping things simple,” Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos said. “We talked about not going to the plate and trying to be the hero. We wanted to keep the line moving. I think it showed all the way around.”
How important was this win?
“Very,” Astros starter Zack Greinke said.
Greinke and five relievers held the Nationals to one run and prevented them from taking a three games to one lead in the series. The Nationals had chances, but couldn’t score.
The difference was hitting with runners in scoring position. The Astros were 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position during the first two games, but were 4-for-8 in Game 3.
The Nationals, playing before a pumped-up crowd of 43,867, were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. They stranded 12 runners.
“Our pitchers made pitches when they had to,” Chirinos said. “We were trying to change the batters’ eye level all night and we did that.”
Greinke stranded a runner in scoring position in each of the first four innings.
He survived Anthony Rendon’s two-out double in the first and ended the second inning by getting Victor Robles to hit into a 5-4-3 double play. In the third, Greinke threw a 70 mph curveball to strike out Asdrúbal Cabrera with the bases loaded to end the inning.
The biggest drama came in the fifth inning. Greinke gave up a single to Adam Eaton and a double to Cabrera, putting runners on second and third with two outs.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch replaced Greinke with reliever Josh James, a flame-throwing right-hander with a ton of strikeouts but also command issues.
James hooked up with the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman on an eight-pitch at-bat. James threw a high and tight 98 mph that knocked Zimmerman flat, face-down on in the dirt.
“We wanted him to swing at a pitch up over the middle of the plate and that one pitch got away,” Chirinos said. “We weren’t trying to hit him.”
James got Zimmerman to strike out on a changeup. The Astros kept their 3-1 lead.
“Getting a punchout of Zimmerman was huge,” Hinch said. “Our pitching was phenomenal.”
After James, the Astros used relief pitchers Brad Peacock, Will Harris, Joe Smith and Roberto Osuna to finish off the game.
“Everybody had traffic,” Hinch said. “We did a lot of things well tonight. We came into the game with a great mindset.”
The Astros will try to even the series when rookie Jose Urquidy, 24, going to the mound in Game 4 against the Nationals’ Patrick Corbin.
The Astros originally had lefty Wade Miley as their No. 4 starter, but after a miserable September, he was left off the playoff roster.
So that gives Urquidy a chance.
He’s made two postseason appearances. During the regular season, he had nine appearances, including seven starts, the last coming in the final week of the season when he pitched six scoreless innings against the Angels.
“This is a big opportunity for me,” Urquidy said. “I’ll do my best.”
The Astros used a bullpen game and seven relief pitchers to beat the Yankees 6-4 in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
Hinch didn’t think a bullpen game would be good versus the Nationals.
“Their lineup is not just a one-size-fits-all strategy,” Hinch said. “These guys offer something a little different than previous decisions when you look at the balance they have at the top of their order.
“With (Trea) Turner, to Eaton to Rendon to (Juan) Soto. You take their first four hitters, when you think about starting a game, and you’re going to the bullpen, you better have somebody that’s pretty good at a little bit of everything. Those are four distinctly different guys.’‘
Friday night’s win was a relief for the Astros.
“We have a lot of confidence in that locker room,” Astros outfielder Michael Brantley said.