HOUSTON — The end made all that came before it worthwhile. All the strikeouts. All the homers. All the questions of the 2019 season, first about the liveliness of the baseball and then about its deflation.
Game 7 of the 115th World Series goes into the forever basket because of Max Scherzer’s grit, Zack Greinke’s greatness and — most notably — the Nationals’ grind. The Nats played out their whole season on Wednesday night. Seemingly dead, until they weren’t. Knocked down, but not out.
These Nationals survived a 19-31 start to the season and ultimately five elimination games in October. In the fifth of those do-or-dies, they were dominated by Greinke’s precision for two-thirds of a game. Astros fans were counting the outs to a second title in three years. Minute Maid Park was rocking in joy, anticipation, dynasty possibilities.
Maybe it was fitting that Halloween was just hours away. Because these Nationals are Michael Myers. They just won’t die.
So now they live forever. As the first champion from the 51-season lineage that began with the Montreal Expos. As the first titleist to call Washington home since the 1924 Senators. As the first team in NBA, NHL or MLB history to take a best-of-seven series by capturing all its victories on the road. They did so against the team that had the majors’ best home record and quite frankly they did it against a brilliant team, rallying, then pulling away on the final day of the season to win 6-2 in a thrilling, dramatic, worth-the-wait Game 7.
The Astros are the best club of the past three years, but it is hard to win titles. It is harder still when the opponent merges fortitude and fearlessness as well as these Nationals did. For years the talented team that could not prosper in the postseason, Washington this time around scoffed at history and degree of difficulty. This version proved to be both pesky gnats and fierce Nats.
Scherzer personified the team Wednesday night. He had been scratched from Game 5 with neck and trapezius muscle spasms that debilitated movement. But cortisone, tenacity and adrenaline had him warming up late in Game 6 and on the mound in Game 7. He was not Max Scherzer in talent during this decisive contest. But he was in mettle.
He never had a 1-2-3 inning in his five frames. He lacked the elite swing-and-miss finish to his pitches. Davey Martinez had inning of traffic-filled inning in which he could have taken him out. Yet the Nationals manager invested in Scherzer’s heart, if not his talent — plus he just didn’t trust his bullpen. The Astros grinded Scherzer for 103 pitches in five innings. They received a Yuli Gurriel homer in the second and a Carlos Correa RBI single with two outs in the fifth to lead 2-0. But they were squandering more than they were producing.
Houston managed just two hits in 13 at-bats with men on base against Scherzer and just one in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position. They had opened the door to regret.
But Greinke seemed poise to close it. He had not had a good postseason, but through six innings he allowed just two base runners and no runs and had thrown only 67 pitches. With one out in the seventh, Anthony Rendon unplugged the Nats’ attack with a homer that drew Washington within 2-1. Houston manager A.J. Hinch stayed with Greinke, who walked Juan Soto.
Gerrit Cole had walked to the bullpen in the fifth. Closer Roberto Osuna had not been heavily used in this series. But Hinch turned to Will Harris, who was so good all postseason, but had given up a homer to Rendon in Washington’s Game 6 victory.
Howie Kendrick had been such a difference-maker in the Nats’ run to the NL pennant, specifically with his 10th-inning grand slam to win the decisive Division Series Game 5 over the Dodgers. But he had been mostly quiet in the World Series. Until, that is, he lifted a Harris cutter to the opposite field and off the right-field foul pole. The two-run homer put the Nats ahead. And it stunned and quieted the crowd.
The Astros felt like they were way ahead on points in this game, but they were not way ahead on the scoreboard. Now, they were behind — for the rest of 2019.
The Nationals, who seemed done in May, whose manager was on life support, now get a parade, rings, forever status. They endured a three-game losing streak at home in the World Series and flew to Houston to win it all. They return to the nation’s capital, D.C.