HOUSTON - Much as he hoped to be behind the plate one more time in 2019, Kurt Suzuki instead will have to watch Game 7 of the World Series from the bench, with perhaps a chance he comes off the bench at some point.
Suzuki, who hasn’t played since injuring his right hip flexor in Game 3 on Friday, was initially included in tonight’s starting lineup, batting eighth and catching Max Scherzer. But he was scratched by the Nationals about 2 1/2 hours before first pitch, with Yan Gomes taking his place.
“After I came in today, we talked about it, I talked to Suzuki. And we felt it would be best to just keep him on the bench,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Starting him, and all of a sudden the third or fourth inning he starts tightening up again, things might get a little hairy.”
Both Martinez and Suzuki had previously said they expected the 36-year-old to start tonight and elected to have him sit out Game 6 to give him more time to get his body ready for this assignment.
The biggest reason the Nationals wanted Suzuki in tonight’s lineup: He has worked exceptionally well with Scherzer all season long. In 16 starts together, Scherzer owns a 2.08 ERA. In 12 starts with Gomes catching him, Scherzer’s ERA rises to 4.09.
There are some advantages with Gomes playing, though. He is better at throwing out basestealers. He’s been a more potent offensive threat throughout the postseason, batting .280 (7-for-25) with two doubles and three RBIs to Suzuki’s .100 average (3-for-30) with one homer and one RBI.
“Yan’s playing good,” Martinez said. “Yan’s caught Max before. I like Suzuki coming off the bench if need be to pinch-hit or even to catch. So we did it that way.”
Gomes also is Patrick Corbin’s regular catcher, and there’s a good chance the left-hander appears at some point in tonight’s winner-take-all game. For that matter, there’s a good chance anybody on the Nationals pitching staff appears at some point in tonight’s game.
Asked if everyone’s available, Martinez answered in the affirmative.
“If you have a Nats uniform on today and you’re part of (the 25-man active roster), I’m going to ask you if you can go,” the manager said.
Does that even include Stephen Strasburg, who threw 104 pitches over 8 1/3 standout innings Tuesday night?
“I’m going to talk to him later on,” Martinez said. “Hey, there’s no tomorrow. He’s got 3 1/2 months off.”
Update: The good news: Scherzer got through a clean first inning, which has been his biggest problem area throughout the postseason. The bad news: He did not get through a clean second inning. The Astros only scored one run, on Yuli Gurriel’s line drive homer off a slider, but there was a ton of hard contact. How did Scherzer escape with only the one run? The Astros gifted him an out when Robinson Chirinos popped up a sac bunt attempt. And George Springer swung at a 3-0 pitch with two runners in scoring position and lined a ball to left field, with Juan Soto barely making the catch before it touched grass. So the Nats are down 1-0, but it could’ve been much worse.
Update II: It was a slog tonight for Scherzer. He clearly wasn’t at his best. But he made it through five innings allowing two runs while throwing 103 pitches. And he came within inches of avoiding that second run. With two on and two out in the fifth, he hung a slider to Carlos Correa, who ripped a ball down the third base line. Anthony Rendon almost made a spectacular diving play, but the ball glanced off his glove and kicked into foul territory. Trea Turner made a nice play to retrieve the ball, but one run scored to make it 2-0 Houston. That’s it for Scherzer, who gave everything he had and gave the Nationals a chance tonight. Now it’s up to a lineup that hasn’t done squat against Zack Greinke through five innings, totaling one hit and one walk.
Update III: The Nationals finally got to Greinke in the top of the seventh, Rendon’s one-out solo shot cutting the deficit in half. After Soto walked, Will Harris relieved and Howie Kendrick sliced a ball down the right field line that struck the foul pole for a two-run go-ahead homer. Patrick Corbin came on for Scherzer after five innings and worked a scoreless sixth. Scherzer allowed two runs on seven hits with four walks and three strikeouts. But the Nats have a 3-2 lead.
Update IV: In the eighth, Eaton singled with one out, stole second and scored on Soto’s two-out RBI single to right. The insurance run pushes the lead to 4-2.
Update V: The Nats loaded the bases against Joe Smith in the ninth before José Urquidy relieved and surrendered a two-run single to Eaton for a 6-2 cushion. Daniel Hudson is coming in to get the last three outs after Patrick Corbin worked three scoreless innings of two-hit relief.
Update VI: Hudson worked a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out Michael Brantley for the final out. The Nationals win 6-2 and take the World Series four games to three.