Nationals Win Back-and-Forth World Series to Claim Franchise’s First Championship

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The Washington Nationals fell to 19-31 on May 23, capping off an embarrassing four-game sweep against the lowly Mets. With the fourth worst record in baseball—12 games under .500—everyone had all but written off the Bryce Harper-less Nationals. One hundred and sixty days later, the Nats are World Series Champions.

After winning the World Series in 2017 and falling just short in the ALCS of 2018, the Houston Astros came into the 2019 season with high expectations. Those expectations rose even higher when they acquired former Cy Young Award Winner Zack Greinke at the trade deadline, and they emerged as the clear favorites, finishing the season with the best record in baseball. Houston did find themselves in some tough spots throughout the postseason, such as in the ALDS against the wild card Tampa Bay Rays. But, they got by, and thanks to some late-game heroics from Jose Altuve in Game Six of the ALCS, the Astros found themselves in their second World Series in three years.

In the second year since the MLB decided to determine home-field advantage by record rather than the All-Star Game, the Astros found themselves with an extra home game. This only continued to fuel the narrative that the Astros would breeze through the World Series and emerge as champions. However, after the Nationals won the first two games (in Houston) behind the 1-2 punch of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, it became clear that this was going to be a series, one which the Houston juggernaut might be taken down.

Returning home to Washington, the Nationals held a commanding 2-0 lead, and the Astros needed to win at least two of three on the road in order to stay alive. They accomplished this and more, thanks to an awakening of the bats, notably Alex Bregman, who had been struggling in the postseason, and strong outings from both rookie Jose Urquidy and ace Gerrit Cole. Houston had accomplished a feat that few expected, from down 2-0 to up 3-2 in the series, hoping to return home to finish the job.

In Game Six, the pressure was on the Nationals. Somehow, someway, they needed to get a win against Houston ace Justin Verlander on the road. Early on, it looked as though Houston would once again be crowned champs, as they went up 2-0 in the first. But the never-say-die Nationals persevered for what seemed like the 10th time this postseason. Anthony Rendon, who put up MVP numbers in the regular season, slashed an impressive three for four with five RBIs, alongside a solo shot from 21-year-old rising star Juan Soto. Stephen Strasburg went eight and a third innings while giving up only those two first-inning runs before handing it off to Sean Doolittle to close it out.

Max Scherzer vs. Zack Greinke. Game Seven. This would be the first time in World Series History in which two former Cy Young award winners would face off in the winner-take-all finale. Houston jumped out to a 2-0 lead, looking to win their second World Series in three years. Greinke was practically untouchable from the get-go, but after a solo home run in the Seventh, he was pulled, a questionable decision by manager AJ Hinch. With Gerrit Cole in his back pocket, Hinch chose to call upon RHP Will Harris from the pen. His second pitch was a fastball in the zone, and Nationals 34-year-old second baseman Howie Kendrick went deep to right for a go-ahead two-run homer, putting the Nationals on top 3-2. They never looked back, putting three more runs on the board and blanking the Astros for the rest of the game, thanks to relief help by starter Patrick Corbin. Nats closer Daniel Hudson put down George Springer and Jose Altuve before striking out Michael Brantley to end it all. The Nationals took their first World Series Championship back to D.C, and capped off a historic run against all odds.