The Nationals had all the momentum going into Game 2 of the 2019 World Series.
Juan Soto led the way for Washington in Game 1, racking up three hits — including a long home run off Gerrit Cole — to help the Nationals give Max Scherzer and the bullpen just enough run support to pull out an upset victory over the Houston Astros.
One year after the Nationals jumped out to a 2-0 series lead, Game 2 is remembered as an initially strong pitching matchup that turned into a rout by the later innings. Former No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg and his sterling 1.10 career postseason ERA were pitted against future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, who would eventually be named the AL Cy Young winner for the 2019 season. The contest wasn’t expected to be particularly high scoring, a sentiment that held true for the first six frames.
Strasburg and Verlander each gave up two runs in the first. Anthony Rendon jumped on an 0-2 offspeed pitch from the Astros’ right-hander and sent it off the wall in left field to drive in Trea Turner and Adam Eaton. Alex Bregman clobbered a hanging changeup in the bottom of the frame to tie it right back up. But after that, both starters settled in. Each pitcher would give up just four hits between the second and sixth innings. Only once did a runner make it past second base.
Strasburg was finished after six innings, throwing 114 pitches with seven strikeouts before handing things over to the bullpen. Astros manager A.J. Hinch decided to try and get one more inning out of Verlander after his pitch count sat at 98 after six. First up in the inning was Kurt Suzuki, who had singled off Verlander in the second.
On the second pitch he saw, Suzuki caught up to the fastball. He crushed a no-doubt home run to left that ended the stalemate, silencing the Minute Maid Park crowd and directing all the momentum back into the third-base dugout. It was the first go-ahead home run hit by a catcher in the seventh inning or later of a World Series game since Steve Yeager did it for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981.
However, Suzuki’s home run doesn’t stand out as one of the most memorable plays of the World Series. It’s been lost in the shuffle a bit in part because the Nationals turned the game into a blowout. Even so, that hit served as the biggest of his career. Not only did it give Washington the lead in Game 2, but it also jumpstarted the Nationals’ offense in the seventh.
Victor Robles followed Suzuki with a walk, prompting Hinch to pull Verlander from the game. The Astros’ skipper opted to bring in set-up man Ryan Pressly to face the top of the Nationals’ lineup. Turner drew a walk and both runners moved into scoring position after Eaton bunted them over. Rendon then field out and Soto was intentionally walked, bringing up Howie Kendrick with the bases loaded.
Kendrick proved yet again that he has the clutch gene, hitting a groundball to the left side of the infield that forced Bregman to try and make a play. He couldn’t handle the ball and everyone moved up 90 feet to make the score 4-2 with two outs. It would’ve already been a successful inning for the Nationals, but it was then Asdrúbal Cabrera’s turn to come through.
The Nationals’ midseason pickup had more RBIs (40) than games played (38) for Washington down the stretch. He won away the starting second base job from Brian Dozier and he rewarded the Nationals for giving him that opportunity by hitting a line drive up the middle to bring home two more and widen the lead to 6-2. With the Nationals’ always-suspect bullpen, those were some valuable insurance runs for the later innings.
Washington went on to score three more runs in the eighth and another in the ninth to give themselves a 12-3 victory in Houston. Suddenly, the underdog Nationals were up 2-0 in the series with the next three games set to be played in the nation’s capital. Of course, the series ended up going a bit longer than that. But the first two wins are just as important as the last two in a seven-game series.
Suzuki and Cabrera each came through in a game that didn’t end up being very close. While those hits may not stand out like the heroics of Rendon or Kendrick later in the series, both journeymen players earned their World Series rings for putting the Nationals in the position to win Game 2.