There were a whole lot of memorable and even historic moments in Tuesday night’s World Series opener in Houston, where the Nationals held on for a 5-4 win. It didn’t come easy, and it sure was unlikely, but they managed to snatch home field advantage away from the best team in baseball this year — against baseball’s best pitcher, to boot.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of last night’s game!
In his first World Series game at the young age of 2 —
/gets yanked off the stage
Yeah, yeah. Everyone gets it. Soto is young. Yet he is already in rarefied air. There’s a lot of baseball history to talk about, but let’s focus on Tuesday night for a second. It might have seemed odd that Soto was batting clean-up, after boasting a line of .188/.235/.250 in the National League Championship Series. But boy, did he deliver big time.
Here is Soto smashing a lead-off home run to the top of the left field wall to tie the game in the fourth inning:
Oh my goodness...— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 23, 2019
20-year-old Juan Soto with a SHOT off of Cole to tie this game up!! pic.twitter.com/XJz2loVNR8
But he was not done there. With runners on the corners in the top of the fifth, Adam Eaton knocked in the go-ahead run with a single, putting runners at first and second for Soto. Soto brought in both Eaton and Anthony Rendon on a line-drive double that bounced off the left field wall to give the Nationals their fifth run of the night.
Listen, if there’s one thing baseball fans love more than an underdog, come from behind victory, it’s free tacos. And, friends, Turner got that out of the way tout de suite. After reaching on a lead-off single, Turner stole second base and provided free tacos to America. (Oct. 30, 2-6 p.m. at participating Taco Bell locations.)
The Nationals hadn’t even attempted to steal a base during this postseason, so they weren’t exactly favorites to be the first to succeed at it in this series. They ended up with two in this game, the other from (you guessed it) Soto, in the eighth.
Shortly before Doolittle entered the game, I was describing the Nationals bullpen to my brother as being held together by duct tape and a prayer, noting the duct tape had already been used. Which left the prayer — a prayer that was answered by Doolittle when he entered with two outs in the eighth and didn’t allow a base-runner as he closed out this first, and arguably toughest win of the series in a generally stress-free manner.
I would give honorable mention to Patrick Corbin, but as a starting pitcher, he’s not even supposed to be here. (Though his scoreless sixth inning had been the last time Nationals fans breathed easily in this game.)
Cole has been incredible this season. He has been god-like in this postseason. Which meant that a loss seemed almost inevitable, in terms of the unpredictability of baseball. It’s very rare that even the best players can live up to the amount of hype Cole was receiving going into this game. And it was like every good thing said about him turned into a curse in real time.
“Teams can only score off of him when they hit a solo home run, and even that’s been rare.”
How about two?
“He hasn’t allowed a run to a hit with runners in scoring position since August.”
Hello, Eaton’s fifth inning RBI single!
“He hasn’t given up five runs or lost a game since May!”
About that ...
It’s hard to put someone who hit a mammoth home run in the seventh inning (making him the first player to ever hit one in five straight World Series games) into the loser category, but hear me out.
There are a couple of honorable (dishonorable?) mentions here as well. The first is for Victor Robles, who inexplicably threw the ball to first base after catching a fly ball from Aledmys Diaz, allowing Kyle Tucker (who had singled to lead off the inning) to reach second easily.
This was followed by a fly ball from Springer that hit off the wall, just over Eaton’s head. This led to two head-scratching moments.
First, Springer showboated what was only ever a possible home run at best by skipping and pumping his arms in the air, almost willing the ball to go out. It was not to be, so Springer got a late start on the bases, turning what could have been a triple into a double. Not to be outdone, Tucker doubled back to tag up for some reason before he came around third to score.
There’s a bit of a “what-if” factor to all of this. Would Tucker’s delay have kept Springer from getting to third if he hadn’t gotten a slow start out of the box? I don’t think so. Would Springer have made it to third if he had just run initially? I do think so. And with one out, having a base-runner at third instead of second for Jose Altuve’s line out could have made a world of difference for Houston in this game.
Judge for yourself:
GEORGE SPRINGER IS PUTTING THE TEAM ON HIS BACK!!! pic.twitter.com/kcoS9tkzLY— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 23, 2019
Again, it’s hard to put Gurriel in this category when he knocked in the first two runs of the game for the Astros with a double in the first inning. And I wouldn’t really count him as a “loser” of this game, but he did lose his streak of 48 plate appearances this postseason without striking out when he struck out to end the fifth inning.