WASHINGTON (AFP) – A masterful pitching performance from Houston ace Gerrit Cole sparked the Astros to a 7-1 victory over the Washington Nationals on Sunday, lifting them to the brink of their second World Series title in three seasons.
Yordan Alvarez, Carlos Correa and George Springer each smacked two-run homers as the Astros seized a 3-2 lead in Major League Baseball’s best-of-seven final.
”If we win in front of our fans, it’s going to be so special,” Correa said. ”I think I’ll black out for the first time in my life.”
Cole struck out nine and surrendered only one run on three hits over seven innings as the Nationals dropped a third straight home game, having batted only .175 in the span.
But after dropping the first two games of the series at home, the Astros are far from overconfident.
”These next 27 outs we’re going to have to get to wrap this thing up are going to be the hardest we’ve had to get all year,” Cole said.
Game six is set for Tuesday in Houston, where a seventh game would be played Wednesday if necessary.
”We’ve got a lot of fight in us left. I know we do,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. ”We’re going to fight. We’re going to finish this thing.”
The Astros can secure a second title in three seasons Tuesday when Justin Verlander takes the mound against Washington’s Stephen Strasburg.
The Nationals must win twice in Texas, as they did in the first two games of the series, to capture the first title in the franchise’s 50-year history and the first for Washington since 1924.
”It has been pretty even this series. They are a game up with two games left. Let’s worry about Tuesday,” Martinez said. ”I like our chances.”
The Astros could become only the third team in World Series history to lose the first two games at home and win the title, the first since the 1996 New York Yankees.
In sweeping three games at Washington, where the World Series hadn’t been played since 1933, the Astros outscored the Nationals by a combined 19-3 after falling twice by a combined 17-7 in Houston.
Cole allowed five runs on eight hits over seven innings in a game-one loss but mystified Nationals batters Sunday, throwing 71 of his 110 pitches for strikes with only Juan Soto’s solo homer in the seventh spoiling a shutout effort.
”The stuff was crisper,” Cole said. ”I thought we executed more pitches.”
The Nationals suffered a major setback hours before the start when scheduled starter Max Scherzer was pulled due to neck and trapezius muscle spasms, leaving 26-year-old right-hander Joe Ross to pitch on short notice.
Doctors say Scherzer might be available for Washington if the Nats can force a seventh game.
”He’s going to try to figure something out,” Martinez said. ”He wants to get himself ready.”
Cuban-born 22-year-old Alvarez, who went 3-for-3 at the plate, smashed a two-run homer into the centerfield stands off Ross in the second inning after Yuli Gurriel had hit an infield single.
Soto singled and took third on Howie Kendrick’s single in the second but Cole struck out Ryan Zimmerman and induced a double play to end the threat.
Correa followed an Alvarez single in the fourth with a two-run homer off Ross to left field, lifting the Astros ahead 4-0.
Soto snapped a hitless streak of 5 1/3 innings for the Nationals by smashing a solo homer just over the centerfield wall in the seventh, trimming Houston’s lead to 4-1.
But the Astros answered in the eighth as Springer doubled, took third on Jose Altuve’s ground out and scored on a Gurriel single.
Springer blasted a two-run homer to left field in the ninth after a Martin Maldonado single to complete the scoring.
Astros relievers Joe Smith and Ryan Pressly allowed Washington only one hit after Cole’s departure.
US President Donald Trump received a chorus of boos from the crowd of 43,910 when his image appeared on the stadium videoscreen just after the third inning.