WASHINGTON — The opportunities were there time and again for the Nationals.
Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night played out close to how Game 3 did the night before. The only difference is this time the Houston Astros had already blown the game open in an eventual 8-1 victory at Nationals Park.
And so the two teams are tied 2-2 in this best-of-seven series. The home team has yet to win a game. The Nationals will have just a few hours to figure out why their bats have gone cold in the big moments entering their final home game of 2019.
Over the past two games, Washington is 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position. That’s a lot of runs wasted and far too many times letting Astros pitchers off the hook. Things don’t get any easier on Sunday when Washington faces Houston ace Gerrit Cole for the second time.
“Hitting in general is I think pretty tough. It's a failure sport,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “The fact that we did the first two games, great and I thought they pitched great the past two days. I don’t think its a matter of us having bad at-bats or whatever it may be, I think we've got runners on base, we've had the at-bats, we just haven't got the big hits.”
On Saturday, it was little known reliever Jose Urquidy baffling the Nationals. They managed just two hits against him and only Yan Gomes – with a leadoff double in the third inning – reached scoring position.
Washington’s chances came against the Astros’ bullpen. They had the bases loaded with one out in the sixth inning before Houston reliever Will Harris came on to put out that fire with just one run scoring on a Juan Soto ground out.
But at that point it was still a game. Washington cut the deficit to 4-1. There was disappointment more didn’t come from that inning, but some hope at least with nine outs to go. That was extinguished when Alex Bregman hit a grand slam in the top of the seventh inning to make it 8-1.
Even still, the Nationals had runners at first and second with two out in the seventh and the eighth innings. Maybe a hit in those circumstances would have generated some confidence, if it was too late to get back into the game. But even that proved too much for them and now, facing Cole a second time in the series, they have to adjust quickly. These chances might be few and far between on Sunday.
“I just think you don’t get hits that usually helps with that [runners in scoring position) percentage,” outfielder Adam Eaton said. “But they made pitches when they needed to. I think [Astros starter Zack] Greinke yesterday like I discussed it seemed like whenever we got a couple guys on he was absolutely spotting up. It’s what good pitchers do, good staffs do. They can keep us off balance.”
Urquidy went away from the scouting report the Nationals put together after his playoff appearances against Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees. When Eaton was expecting the change-ups Urquidy throws to lefties 40 percent of the time, he got sliders instead. He saw one change in two at-bats. All in all, what manager Davey Martinez said before the game applied for Saturday and does again for the pivotal Game 5 on Sunday. The Nationals have to choose their spots better. They might not get as many against Cole. They have to take advantage when they do with a better approach. `
“We left a lot of runners stranded [Friday],” Martinez said. “We need to be aggressive, but aggressive in the strike zone. We chased a lot of balls outside the strike zone [in Game 3]. And I don't mind our guys being aggressive, but I want them to be aggressive in the strike zone today.”
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