World Series, Game 1

Nats 5 Astros 4

Jim Rome
October 23, 2019 - 9:20 am
Juan Soto

USA Today

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Game 1 of the World Series could not have started any better for the Houston Astros. They held Washington scoreless in the top of the first and then went to work on Max Scherzer in the bottom of the inning.

Their game plan against Scherzer was to make him throw pitches, as many pitches as possible. And that’s exactly what happened in the first. George Springer walked. Jose Altuve singled. But Scherzer dug deep and struck out the next two batters. And then Yuri Gurriel fell behind 0-2.

At that point, it looked like he was getting out of the inning and the Astros would have to comfort themselves with the fact that they didn’t score, but they did make him work. But after a ball, Gurriel doubled 2-0 Stros.

Two runs score and when you have Gerrit Cole on the mound, two runs could very well be enough. It gets really late really early against Cole and after the damage Houston did to Scherzer in the first, you couldn’t blame Astros fans if they thought they’d cruise to a Game 1 win. No disrespect to the Nats, but Cole hadn’t lost in five months. He was especially sharp in his last outing, so you knew he’d be dialed for Game 1. So yes, two runs, for that guy, did feel like it be enough. 

Then again, we are talking about the Nats. And these aren’t Nats of old, where it wasn’t a question of IF they’d fold, but a matter of WHEN. Not this crew. They don’t turtle. And they don’t get intimidated. Not on the road; not against the best pitcher in baseball; and not in Game 1 of the World Series. As I always say, they’re not there to take part; they’re there to take over. And old head Ryan Zimmerman reminded the entire world of that when he stepped to the plate in the second, with two outs, and goes yard.

2-1 Astros. The fact that it was that guy doing that in that situation, with two outs, is absolutely huge. And so on brand. Because it sucked so much of the early momentum from the Astros. Coming right back in the next half inning to get on the board was massive. And doing it the way they did it was even bigger. It proved that they don’t give in; ever.  And that Cole is mortal. 

And if Zimmerman’s shot in the second was massive, I don’t even know how you’d describe what Juan Soto did leading off the fourth:

Tie game. That was absolute smoked. An absolute bomb the opposite way onto the train track that’s fifty feet above the field. When the ball was eventually recovered, it was given to Soto who’s donating it to Cooperstown.

Cole dominated Juan Soto in their first at-bat, setting him down with a 99.1 mile per hour heater. But that wouldn’t happen again. Every at-bat is a brawl for Soto and he wasn’t going to get iced twice.

The Astros had a chance to chase Scherzer early, he was on the ropes, taking a lot punishment, seemingly unable to defend himself, and this fight could have ended early.  But it didn’t because this dude absolutely battled his ass off. Everything was a struggle for him last night, including the fact that he had to throw 112 pitches to get through five innings. That was clearly not your typical, dominating Scherzer performance. But I couldn’t be any more impressed with how this guy got it done than I am. While not dominant, that was an impressive a performance as you’ll ever see from an ace in the postseason. He clearly didn’t have his best stuff and yet he was able to grind out and grunt out five tough innings to keep his team in it and give them a chance to win.

And he kept Washington in it long enough for the offense to take the lead 3-2 in the fifth and then with two runners on, you know who came up, Soto and he doubles to take the lead for good.

After the game, Cole said the Soto home run was a “tip your cap situation,” but the slider he threw there was a bad pitch. Last night, just about any pitch thrown to Soto was a bad pitch. Because he was locked in and raking. And he kept on doing it, singling in the eight and stealing second.

And now, I am required by law to inform you that Juan Soto is only 20 years old. Get used to hearing that. It’s the new Jerome Bettis is from Detroit.

So how do you explain a guy that young showing up that big in Game 1 of the World Series? And he wasn’t doing it against some ham and egger on the mound. He was doing it against a CY Young candidate. A guy who hadn’t lost a decision since May. Arguably, the best pitcher in baseball. How the hell does a 20 year old do that, against that guy, on that big of a stage.

The best explanation came from a Nationals executive who told Jeff Passan that Soto is "a dog that plays checkers.”

And when asked for a further explanation, the exec said: "You don't see dogs playing checkers.”

Good point. I guess. What an awesome quote. Whatever the hell it means. Then again, I guess you don’t see dogs playing checkers. Just as you don’t see mammoth 20 year olds doing signature shuffles in the batter’s box and then dominating arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Game 1 of the World Series. So, as much as calling Soto a “dog who that plays checkers” doesn’t make any sense, it actually makes perfect sense. 

Because nothing about Soto makes sense. He isn’t supposed to be doing this. Nobody is. And neither are the Nats, who come to find out are a bunch of checker playing dogs. 

And when they got the lead last night, manager Davey Martinez knew what he had in front of him. He had a chance to steal Game 1. Not only steal a game, but steal a game that Gerrit Cole was pitching. And rip in the homefield in the process. So he went all in.

When Scherzer got tired, starter Patrick Corbin came in out of the bullpen, possibly changing up their starting rotation for down the road. But it didn’t matter. Who cares about Game 3 or 4 when you’ve got a chance to win Game 1?

And after Corbin, Martinez went to Tanner Rainey, then Daniel Hudson, and Sean Doolittle. It wasn’t pretty, and there’s no way they can win four games that way. And Houston did have a look, a really good look, in fact. But the Nationals did enough to win. Just as they’ve done for months now and if you didn’t know before what these dudes are about, you do now.

Scherzer pitched his ass off. Soto played his ass off. And Davey Martinez managed his ass off.

As Martinez says, the goal is always to go 1-0. They went 1-0 last night. The epitome of working ahead. I guarantee they already had Houston’s attention going into last night’s game. Now, they have EVERYONE’s attention. Tremendous heart, and grit, a bunch of dogs playing checkers, one 20 year old budding superstar, who is not only not afraid of the moment, but lives for it, and has future hall of famer written all over him. This is exactly why I said yesterday, the Astros should be favored, and I’m riding them, but everyone who had them as heavy favorites had no idea what they were talking about. Or hadn’t seen what the Nationals have been doing for the last several months. But if you didn’t know before, you do now, these guys are no joke, and the Astros might already be in a must win situation this evening.  

This prize fight turned into a street fight last night, and I can’t wait to roll it back again. Verlander vs. Strasburg tonight. Hell Yes, let’s freaking do this.

October baseball is the best.