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Nationals savor seventh heaven

China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-01 09:07
The Washington Nationals celebrate Wednesday's 6-2 victory over the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park in Houston. En route to capturing its first championship in franchise history, Washington became the first team in MLB history to win four road games in a best-of-seven series. MATT SLOCUM/AP

HOUSTON - Seventh inning. Game 7. Cue the comeback.

You couldn't script a World Series finale any better.

Howie Kendrick and Anthony Rendon blasted seventh-inning home runs to erase a 2-0 deficit and start the Washington Nationals on the way to defeating the Houston Astros 6-2 at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Wednesday night.

With all eyes on starter Max Scherzer and his remarkable recovery after a painkilling injection, the Nationals truly embraced their shot in the first Series ever in which the road team won every game.

Even more against the odds of the Nats clinching their first championship in franchise history was the fact they came from behind to win five elimination games this postseason, an unprecedented feat.

"What a story," said Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals' first draft pick in 2005 after the former Montreal Expos franchise transferred to the US capital."I hope DC's ready for us to come home!"

The Washington Senators won the city's only other title, way back in 1924.

The Expos moved to DC in 2005, ending Washington's three-decade-plus wait for big-league baseball after the Senators left town to become the Texas Rangers.

But no one could have imagined the incredible road the wildcard Nationals took to the title.

"Resilient, relentless bunch of guys," manager Dave Martinez said. "They fought all year long."

Having lost star slugger Bryce Harper to free agency and beset by bullpen woes, the Nationals plummeted to 19-31 in late May.

It got so bad there was talk around town the team might fire Martinez and trade away the fire-balling Scherzer.

Instead, the Nats stuck with the mantra that sprung up on T-shirts - "Stay In The Fight."

"That was our motto," Scherzer said.

And months later they finished it.

"Guess what? We stayed in the fight. We won the fight!" Martinez shouted during the trophy celebration on the field.

"We were down and out. We were 19-31. We didn't quit then, and we weren't going to quit now."

World Series MVP Steven Strasburg went 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA in five postseason starts and one relief appearance, including victories in Games 2 and 6 of the Series. The 31-year-old struck out 47 and walked four in 36.1 innings.

"Through all the adversity I think I've learned a lot about myself. When you have the ups and downs, I think you can learn just as much from the downs as you can the ups," Strasburg said.

For the 43,326 revved-up fans at Minute Maid Park, Game 7 was a combination of shock and disappointment. So close to seeing the Astros win their second title in three years, they watched their chance suddenly vanish as Houston fell apart.

"I've got a group of heartbroken men in there that did everything they could to try to bring a World Series championship to this city. And we fell one win shy," Astros manager AJ Hinch said.

"Let's be honest, there's 28 other teams that would love to have our misery today. We play to get here.

"I just told our team, it's hard to put into words and remember all the good that happened because right now we feel as bad as you can possibly feel."

Washington kept pulling away after taking the lead, with Adam Eaton's two-run single in the ninth accounting for the final margin.

Houston starter Zack Greinke was in complete control until Rendon - a Houston prep and college star - blasted a home run that cut Houston's lead to 2-1 in the seventh.

When Soto followed with a oneout walk, manager AJ Hinch decided to make a move. He'd had ace starter Gerrit Cole warming up in the bullpen earlier, but this call was for reliever Will Harris.

Kendrick promptly connected on Harris' second pitch, slicing a drive that hit the screen attached to the right-field foul pole.

Just like that, everything had changed for the team in orange that led the majors in wins, and the ballpark fell silent.

For Kendrick, it was another timely blow. At 36, playing on the oldest team in the majors, the journeyman earned the NL Championship Series MVP award against St. Louis. And it was his grand slam in the 10th inning of the deciding Game 5 in the Division Series that beat the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Then again, this was nothing new for the Nationals.

Washington rallied in the eighth to beat Milwaukee in the wildcard game and took the last two to beat LA in the NLDS, setting up a sweep of the Cardinals in the NLCS.

Far away, a big crowd poured into Nationals Park to watch the party. That was the stadium where Houston hammered the Nats for three games last weekend, but their luck changed in Texas.

"The way this game went is the way our whole season went," said Zimmerman, the last player left from the original 2005 Nationals.

The Astros breezed to the AL West title, edged Tampa Bay in a five-game ALDS and topped the New York Yankees in the ALCS.

Houston also played through a front-office fiasco, which led to the firing of an executive for a boorish rant at female reporters during a clubhouse celebration.

Associated Press

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