Strasburg’s outing for the ages sets up Game 7 drama in World Series

Stephen Strasburg pitched into the ninth and Anthony Rendon had five RBI as the Washington Nationals beat the Houston Astros 7-2 to force a Game 7 of the World Series.

You couldn’t ask for a much better Game 6 than that.

In a matchup of aces, Stephen Strasburg out-pitched Justin Verlander to keep the Nationals’ championship hopes alive. Some of the game’s best young stars took turns hitting homers and celebrating them in style. And in the background of it all was Max Scherzer, whose rapid recovery from a neck injury gives the Nationals legitimate hope of winning it all.

Beyond that, Game 6 featured three home runs from a previously dormant Nationals offence and a controversial call on the bases. Here’s what stood out on a night the visiting team improved to 6-0 in the World Series…

Strasburg’s gem keeps Nationals’ hopes alive

Few if any pitchers have ever entered pro baseball facing higher expectations than Strasburg, but there’s no doubt he’s now living up to them at age 31. The pitcher who went first overall in the 2009 Draft, struck out 14 batters in his MLB debut and made his first all-star team at 23 delivered a post-season performance for the ages Tuesday.

Facing elimination on the road, Strasburg pitched 8.1 innings of two-run baseball against a historically dominant offensive team. Impressive under any circumstances, but for the Nationals this outing changes the whole dynamic of the series.

It’d be different if manager Dave Martinez had more than two relievers he could trust, but he doesn’t. Five innings simply wouldn’t have been enough against this Houston lineup.

Now, Daniel Hudson will be fully rested for Game 7 and Sean Doolittle should be relatively fresh even after throwing 11 pitches in the ninth. And while Scherzer was spotted throwing in the bullpen during the seventh inning, Washington’s far better off saving him for Game 7. Thanks to Strasburg, that’s now possible.

With that, the right-hander has a 2.51 ERA in his two World Series starts and a career 1.46 ERA in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Verlander still awaits his first World Series win after allowing three earned runs over five innings of work. Book-keeping aside, Verlander was good enough to give his team a chance, just not good enough to keep up with Strasburg.

Astros must now beat Scherzer

Safe to say you could do worse than Max Scherzer for Game 7 of the World Series.

Of course it’s not quite that simple for the three-time Cy Young Award winner even if he was warming up late in Game 6. A cortisone shot chased away the neck spasms that forced the Nationals to scratch him from Sunday’s start, but the Washington still can’t be completely sure what to expect.

“He’s good. He threw, he felt good,” Martinez told reporters before the game. “So, yeah, as of right now he’ll definitely start Game 7.”

So far this October, Scherzer has a 2.16 ERA with 34 strikeouts compared to 11 walks in 25 innings. If the Nationals get anything close to that, their chances of winning the first title in franchise history will look good.

Starting for the Astros will be Zack Greinke (and don’t forget about Gerrit Cole, who could be available out of the bullpen on two days rest).

Why flip the bat when you can carry it?

We’ve seen some memorable home run celebrations over the years, but Alex Bregman came up with something new after his first inning home run against Strasburg. Bregman, who has only homered against all-stars this post-season, carried his bat all the way to first base, where he attempted a handoff. But first base coach Don Kelly was understandably surprised, so the bat landed on the infield dirt while Bregman rounded the bases.

Apparently the Nationals were watching, since Juan Soto copied Bregman’s celebration after homering off Verlander to give the Nationals the lead in the fifth. With that a new style of home run celebration emerged during the span of a few innings.

Soto now has three homers in the World Series: two against Cole and one against Verlander. Evidently Bregman’s not the only one capable of handling elite pitchers.

Controversy… then power

In the top of the seventh inning, Trea Turner appeared to have his second infield single of the game, but first base umpire Jim Wolf ruled that Turner had interfered with the glove of Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel. Instead of two runners on and none out, the Nationals had one on and one out.

An Adam Eaton pop-up later, the Astros were on the brink of escaping the inning unscathed, but Anthony Rendon eliminated the possibility of any real controversy by hitting a two-run home run to left. Finally, some breathing room for the Nationals.

Another significant swing

The home runs from Rendon and Soto will justifiably get more attention, but we shouldn’t forget about Washington’s first homer of the day. With the Nationals trailing Verlander 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Eaton hit a slider down the left field line to tie the game.

To keep pace with Houston’s stacked lineup, Washington needs big moments from the likes of Eaton, a contact hitter who has never hit more than 15 home runs in eight major-league seasons. Perhaps another unlikely hero can help the Nationals to one last road win in Game 7.

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