HOUSTON — You only needed to stand by the exit of Minute Maid Park for a few minutes in the eighth inning of World Series Game 2 to know what Astros fans thought of the mauling that was still taking place.
“That SUCKS,” yelled one guy at no one particular. Or, heck, maybe to everyone.
“They played so bad,” one woman quipped to a friend, “they should refund us money.”
They didn’t say this and they probably should have: This is what happens when you think you can predict October baseball.
It gives you a 12-3 game where the losing the pitcher is Justin Verlander. It smacks you across the face like a six-run seventh inning. It throws you a curve — like the widely presumed World Series-champs-to-be Astros falling behind 0-2 to the Washington Nationals. At home. After Gerrit Cole and Verlander pitched the first two games.
This is why baseball is great. Conversely, it’s also why baseball is terrible. It’s all about perspective. It’s either designed to tear out your heart and stomp on it. Or it’s here to surprise you and give you joy.
It is not, however, here to go conveniently according to plan.
“That’s why it’s the best,” says Nats first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, obviously subscribing to the 2019 Nats’ side of that great/terrible theory. “Any team can beat anybody on any day.”
Oddsmakers, pundits and conventional wisdom be damned.
Right now, the team that can beat anybody is the Washington Nationals. This is eight straight postseason wins for them dating back to Game 4 of the NLDS. This is a team, it’s probably worth noting once again, that had never won a postseason series before this year.
The October heartbroken turned into October heartbreakers.
They infamously were 20-31 on May 24. They were more likely at that point to be sold for used parts than to go on a wild October playoff run. Fast forward five months and they just became the first team all season to beat Verlander and Cole is back-to-back games. They’re only the second team period to beat both Cole and Verlander this season.
“It would have been a success if we only came in and stole one game,” said star third baseman Anthony Rendon. “Playing at this stage and playing with the crowd and at their home field. But for us to steal two games from them at their home field is great.”
The other side of that is the Astros fans who started pouring out of Minute Maid Park after that six-run seventh inning. There was work and school to get to tomorrow — and heck, maybe if this doesn’t turn around, football season and basketball season.
One guy was walking out moments after Michael A. Taylor homered in ninth to make it 12-2. He gave a meek clap and said, “Gave ‘em hell boys.”
They say you can’t predict baseball, which is smart because if someone had predicted this, they’d have been laughed at. Even Nats reliever Sean Doolittle realizes that.
“If you had said at the beginning of the series, ‘What’s the best-case scenario?’ and I said ‘Well, we win two games,’ There would have been a bunch of people being like, ‘Be realistic here. These are two of the best guys in all of baseball.’ Give Max and Stras credit. They went toe-to-toe with those guys Our lineup, they grinded out at-bats. It’s incredibly impressive.”
Even more impressive when you consider the Astros were the best team in all of baseball at home this season, finishing 60-21 and the Nats were only five games over .500 on the road. Go ahead and add that to the “this shouldn’t be happening” column.
“Guys in here are aware that the Astros were the favorites heading into the series,” Doolittle said. “But it looks weird when you look at the names and the guys in this room to think of us as underdogs. People had kinda written us off in May and June. A lot of us found our names trade rumors. Our manager was on the hot seat. We’ve kind of embraced that role of just being counted out. It wasn’t something that we were looking to for motivation in this series, but we’ve kind of played with a chip on our shoulder for a while.”
That’s one way of putting it. Rendon had another way. He was asked the Nats having .01 chance of making the playoffs on May 24 and then defying those odds to the point of being two wins away from a World Series.
“We had nothing to lose at that point,” Rendon said. “We had .01 chance to lose, I guess. We had that much left. But we were just, ‘Hey, screw it, let's go out and have some fun and play ball.’ Whatever it was, something clicked and it turned around and we've been trying to ride that wave ever since.”
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