Urquidy makes Astros’ strategy look good as Corbin blows up on Nationals

Houston Astros starting pitcher Jose Urquidy throws during the first inning of Game 4 of the baseball World Series against the Washington Nationals Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, in Washington. (Will Newton, Pool/AP)

In the wake of the Houston Astros’ 5-4 loss to the Washington Nationals in the opening game of the World Series, when Gerrit Cole was beaten for the first time in 26 starts, Alex Bregman pointed at himself and took the heat.

“It starts with me,” he told reporters after going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, stranding three base-runners. “I was horrible all night.” Later, he added: “I’ve been terrible this post-season. I need to get in the video room, get in the cage and figure it out.”

The next game, Bregman hit a two-run homer off Stephen Strasburg in a 1-for-4 night as the Astros lost again before going 0-for-5 in his team’s Game 3 victory, which isn’t exactly the kind of impact the AL MVP candidate would have been looking for.

Saturday, his big moment came, as his RBI single in the first inning off Patrick Corbin got the Astros rolling before his grand slam in the seventh inning secured an 8-1 victory, tying the World Series at two games apiece and ensuring that the clubs will return to Houston.

Cole and Max Scherzer face off again in Sunday’s Game 5 with the championship down to a best-of-three sprint to the finish, spiking the stakes attached to each team’s pitching strategy.

The Nationals certainly appeared to have the upper hand entering Game 4 with Patrick Corbin taking the mound against Jose Urquidy, the 24-year-old Mexican rookie who started the year at double-A Corpus Christi, was promoted a month later to triple-A Round Rock and then had three stints up in the majors. Houston planning looked all-the-more faulty after using five of their top relievers to lock down Friday’s 4-1 win.

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But no matter how well a team pre-plans a strategy, it doesn’t matter if players don’t execute.

Just as he did over 2.2 innings during the bullpen game that won Game 6 of the ALCS, Urquidy delivered beyond expectations against the Nationals, allowing a mere two hits over five shutout innings.

Corbin, meanwhile, surrendered a pair in the first and a Robinson Chirinos two-run homer in the fourth that pushed the Nationals into a deficit they couldn’t recover from. He did manage to go six innings, at least, although the dam broke once he left, Bregman making sure Urquidy’s fine work wouldn’t go to waste.

Borderline call blues

Take a look at this full-count four-seamer at 99 m.p.h. Tanner Rainey threw to George Springer.

Catcher Yan Gomes was so convinced the pitch was a strike that he received it and quickly fired a throw to second to try and get Kyle Tucker, who was running on the pitch. James Hoye called it a ball, and if he didn’t, the Nationals probably would have had a double play.

Instead the Astros, after a Jose Altuve flyout, proceeded to load the bases when Michael Brantley singled to centre and Victor Robles, playing shallow, prevented Tucker from scoring.

Bregman took care of that two pitches later, turning on a two-seamer from Fernando Rodney breaking toward the inside corner, cleverly pulling in his hands to keep the ball just inside the left-field foul pole.

Really is a game of inches.

Time of game

Have you noticed that the World Series games have been really long? Game 4 came in at 3:48, relatively brief after back-to-back four-hour affairs – 4:01 for Game 2 and 4:03 for Game 3. Game 1 was 3:43.

“You know what, we’re in the World Series,” says Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “I know a lot of it has to do with TV, commercials, and things of that nature. We’ve got a three-minute in between innings time. So it is what it is. I said this before, I can’t drink caffeine anymore, but a couple cups of coffee would have done wonders for me during the game (Friday).”

If you can believe it, the Nationals enjoyed one game under three hours during the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, a 3-1 Game 2 victory in 2:53, and one just over, the clinching 7-4 Game 4 win in 3:02.

Three of Houston’s six games in the ALCS went four hours, with another clocking in at 3:44.

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.


Go go Guerra

As mentioned earlier, how the teams cover each inning now is pivotal because pitches thrown one day eliminate pitches from being thrown later. That’s why the two clean innings of work by Javy Guerra in the eighth and ninth frames could pay substantial dividends for the Nats moving forward.

Guerra delivered 53.2 innings of 0.2-bWAR valued work for the Nationals after being claimed off waivers May 20 from the Toronto Blue Jays, who designated him for assignment after he logged three shutout innings May 17 at Chicago.

Manager Charlie Montoyo praised Guerra’s willingness to take the ball for that long afterwards, impressed by the right-hander’s selflessness given that such an outing made him likely to be DFA’d. Getting to pitch in the World Series, no matter the circumstances, is a just reward.

Make it four?

The Astros are only the fifth team since the advent of the DH in 1973 to lose the first two games of the World Series at home. Interestingly, three of those teams rallied to win the championship and Houston has climbed back into things for a shot at becoming the fourth.

The 1985 Kansas City Royals (beating the Cardinals in seven), the 1986 New York Mets (beating the Boston Red Sox in seven) and the 1996 New York Yankees (beating the Atlanta Braves in six) are the previous teams to accomplish the feat.

The 1999 Braves couldn’t dig themselves out of the hole, getting swept by the Yankees.

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