What a game.
One year ago today, Game 6 of the 2019 World Series ended with a final score of 7-2, which might indicate to the unassuming fan that it wasn’t a very close or memorable matchup. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Game 6 saw as much drama and clutch play as any of the Nationals’ games throughout their championship run.
It was Stephen Strasburg vs. Justin Verlander. The Nationals had just lost three straight games at home, watching their 2-0 series lead evaporate to force a decisive Game 6. Needing just one more win now that they were back in Houston, the Astros were looking exactly like the juggernaut they were billed as when the series began.
The Nationals jumped out to a 1-0 lead three batters into the game. Trea Turner led off the top of the first with a single off Verlander. Adam Eaton moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt before Anthony Rendon drove in the first of his five RBIs in the game with a single to center.
Yet Strasburg fared even worse than Verlander in that frame, serving up a leadoff double to George Springer. He then threw a wild pitch that allowed Springer to reach third, which came back to haunt him as Jose Altuve hit a sacrifice fly two pitches later. Two batters later, Alex Bregman took Strasburg deep in emphatic fashion, carrying his bat down the first base line with him.
After that inning, the Nationals’ dugout received a message from advanced scouting coordinator Jonathan Tosches, who oversaw Washington’s video replay room during games. Strasburg was tipping his pitches. The right-hander was reaching into his glove for his grip down by his waist, flapping his glove in a way that allowed the Astros to know what pitch was coming — an advantage they had come to know well after using hidden cameras to steal signs during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
"I started shaking my glove so they didn't know what I was throwing," Strasburg said to Fox Sports' Tom Verducci on the field after the game. "Obviously, you look for certain things and I just thank [pitching coach Paul] Menhart for giving me the tip…It's something that has burned me in the past, and it burned me there in the first. But it's just a part of the game and you gotta do your best to stay consistent in your delivery on each pitch."
Strasburg then settled in to deliver an all-time performance. He retired the next eight batters he faced and didn’t allow another hit until the fifth. The Astros threatened a few times but never managed to plate another run against him. Strasburg made it all the way into the ninth, ceding the final two outs to Sean Doolittle with a stellar line of 8.1 innings, five hits, two runs, two walks and seven strikeouts over 104 pitches (65 strikes).
But there were still runs that needed to be scored. The Nationals went into the top of the fifth trailing 2-1, that Bregman homer remaining the difference on the scoreboard. But Verlander was beginning to crack. He had allowed multiple baserunners in three of four innings, the Nationals just hadn’t been able to push any runs across. That changed in the fifth, when Adam Eaton launched a solo home run to tie the game. It was enough to shift the momentum in Washington’s favor, leading to Juan Soto hitting a home run of his own — complete with a bat carry of his own.
That score held into the seventh, when the Nationals thought they had the start of a rally when Turner hit a ball on the infield that pitcher Brad Peacock threw wide of first baseman Yuli Gurriel. Turner and Yan Gomes moved to second and third, respectively, with no outs and the bulk of their order coming up. But the umpire crew signaled that Turner had run outside the basepaths on the play, calling him out and sending Gomes all the way back to first.
It was a play that drew the rage of the Nationals’ dugout, including manager Davey Martinez. After the innings, Martinez would leave the dugout and confront the umpires. His yelling earned him an ejection, forcing bench coach Chip Hale to take over managerial duties for the rest of the game. But ultimately, the call didn’t cost the Nationals thanks to Rendon’s heroics.
Facing reliever Will Harris, Rendon picked his team up by hitting a 91-mph cutter into the Crawford Boxes in left field.
Rendon would tack on another two runs in the ninth, setting up that misleading 7-2 score that would end up being the final. The win sent the series to a Game 7, when the Nationals would come through with a few more heroics to claim their first World Series title in franchise history.
But for all the excitement that Game 7 had, no World Series game provided a roller coaster of emotions quite like Game 6.