Soto seizes World Series stage after unacceptable actions from Astros

Juan-Soto

Washington Nationals' Juan Soto celebrates in the dugout after his home run against the Houston Astros during the fourth inning of Game 1 of the baseball World Series Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, in Houston. (Matt Slocum / AP)

It took 112 pitches from Max Scherzer, a rare relief appearance from Patrick Corbin and just enough late-inning tightrope walking from Daniel Hudson, but the Washington Nationals took Game 1 of the World Series.

The Houston Astros rallied thanks to yet another World Series home run from George Springer, but Washington held on to win a World Series game for the first time in franchise history.

Of course, the action on the field was just part of the story Tuesday. MLB announced earlier in the day that it’s investigating the conduct of Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman, whose alleged actions during Houston’s ALCS celebration were charitably described as “uncalled for” by manager A.J. Hinch (more on that later).

From the Astros’ off-field intimidation and PR fumbles, to the pitching duel that wasn’t and Juan Soto‘s continued dominance, here’s what stood out most from Game 1 of the 2019 World Series:

Soto at his best

Few hitters take pitches quite like Soto. Even fewer could do what he did against Gerrit Cole on Tuesday. Facing perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, Soto drove in three of Washington’s runs with two impressive swings.

With the Nationals trailing 2-1 in the fourth, Soto turned around a 96 m.p.h. Cole fastball and sent it onto the railroad tracks deep in left-centre field. Tie ballgame thanks to a player who doesn’t turn 21 until Friday.

His at-bat the following inning was arguably more impressive. After falling behind 3-0 against Soto, Cole located a slider for a called strike then fooled Soto on an impressive 3-1 changeup. Then, with Nationals runners at first and third moving on the full-count pitch, Cole threw a third consecutive off-speed pitch in deference to Soto’s bat. This time, Soto sent the slider off the left-field wall, driving in two.

In a World Series featuring more veteran talent than usual, it was the youngest player on the field who made the biggest impact.

Unfortunate, uncalled for, unacceptable

Before a pitch was even thrown in the 2019 World Series, we learned a lot about the Houston Astros.

In the course of the celebration following Houston’s ALCS win, Taubman yelled the following at three female reporters, according to Sports Illustrated‘s Stephanie Apstein.

“Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f—— glad we got Osuna!”

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

That itself is disrespectful considering Osuna was arrested and charged with assaulting his girlfriend last summer. Though charges were withdrawn as part of a peace bond when the complainant declined to testify, MLB still found enough evidence to suspend Osuna for 75 games. The Blue Jays eventually traded him to Houston, where his profile remained relatively low until Monday night.

At that point, the Astros still had a chance to take a step in the right direction by suspending Taubman or at least acknowledging the severity of the allegations. Instead, they denied that those events even occurred, calling them a “fabrication.”

Only when others on the scene corroborated Apstein’s report did Taubman issue a half-hearted apology in which he complimented himself for being progressive and apologized “if anyone was offended.” Nobody apologized publicly to Apstein, whose credibility they insulted, or made Taubman available for comment. Instead, Hinch had to answer for the actions of an executive hours before Game 1 of the World Series.

“I’m very disappointed for a lot of reasons,” Hinch told reporters in Houston. “It’s unfortunate, it’s uncalled for.”

It has also revealed a lot about the Astros. Not only did this organization acquire Osuna when other teams wanted no part of him, they continue defending the unacceptable actions of a leader in their organization. They may be good at baseball, but by standing by Taubman in this way they’ve compromised their integrity.

Battle of aces

A glance at the boxscore might suggest Game 1 didn’t live up to its ace vs. ace billing. And granted: Cole allowed five runs for the first time since May while Scherzer didn’t throw a pitch in the sixth.

But even if this wasn’t your traditional pitchers’ duel, there was lots to like about Cole and Scherzer. Both combined upper-nineties fastballs with devastating breaking stuff, as usual. And after some early offence, both recovered to finish strong. Scherzer battled through four scoreless after allowing two in the first and Cole held the Nationals off the board in the sixth and seventh after allowing five runs through five.

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In a potentially long series, those performances shouldn’t be overlooked.

Gurriel comes through (but a streak ends)

The Astros got on the board right away thanks to a two-run double from Yuli Gurriel, but later on, Scherzer got a small measure of revenge against the Houston first baseman by striking him out. Whiffs are rarely worth even mentioning in today’s game, but Gurriel hadn’t struck out once in his first 11 post-season games despite facing the high-octane pitching staffs of the Rays and Yankees.

Even with the strikeout, he collected two of Houston’s 10 hits Tuesday.

Zimmerman adds to Nationals legacy

While Soto was the offensive star for Washington, he did have some help from a player 15 years his senior. In his first-ever World Series at-bat, 35-year-old first baseman Ryan Zimmerman sent a 97 m.p.h. offering from Cole over the centre-field wall for a home run.

With that swing, he became the third-oldest player to homer in his first career World Series plate appearance, trailing just Barry Bonds (38 in 2002) and Bob Watson (35 in 1981). More importantly, the homer further cemented Zimmerman’s place in Nationals history.

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