Nationals Win 7-2, Rendon, Strasburg Force Game 7

Through seven minutes after the 8 pm E.T. Wednesday night, when Justin Verlander threw the first pitch of Game 6 to Washington’s Trea Turner, the 2019 World Series had recorded one lead change, zero home wins, and the lowest TV ratings in series history. What it needed, at least from the perspective of a non-partisan observer, was a little action, a little controversy, a little red blood in its veins. It got precisely that. This World Series is going to Game 7 tonight in Houston, and all it took to get there was two lead changes, five RBI from Anthony Rendon, a six-minute “replay” review, a managerial ejection, and quite possibly the best-traveled bats in Fall Classic history. That and 8.1 terrific innings from Stephen Strasburg.

In a moment of what we in the writing business call “foreshadowing,” the very first play of the game — a Turner groundball to Alex Bregman at third base — resulted in a replay review. The call on the field (out at first) was swiftly and uncontroversially overturned, and Turner took his base — and then a second — on his way to scoring the first Washington run of the game on an Rendon single to right (also, as it turns out, a sign of things to come). In a less eventful game, or one in which the final score was reversed, we might make more here of Dave Martinez’s decision to use Adam Eaton (and a bunt) to move Turner over in this inning; as we are consequentialists, we will not.

That first Nationals lead was itself overturned fewer than 10 minutes later, when a José Altuve sacrifice fly and a mammoth Bregman home run in the bottom of the inning put Strasburg on his heels and the score at 2-1 going into the second. Somewhat more importantly, given what was to come, Strasburg took just 13 pitches to get through his inning; Verlander threw 17. The next inning, which was scoreless for both clubs, added 7 and 12 to those totals. The third — also scoreless, though featuring a lively threat from Juan Soto — added 15 and 25, and by the time the fourth inning drew to a close, Verlander had thrown nearly 40% more pitches than his counterpart, and 75 on the game. He was, quite clearly, tiring.

That wear became evident when Eaton — no longer limited by the bunt sign, apparently — and Soto homered in turn in the fifth to put the Nats up 3-2 and make Game 6 the first World Series contest since last year’s Game 3 with multiple lead changes:

From that point forward, the game continued much as it had before until the top of the seventh inning. Verlander kept popping Nationals hitters up. Strasburg kept gutting it out near the bottom of the strike zone. And then, with nobody out, Trea Turner came to the plate for the fourth time on the night with Yan Gomes on first base and Brad Peacock on the mound for Houston. It only took one pitch for all hell to break loose, and to kick off the action-packed segment of the only inning from this game we’re likely to remember a decade from now:

What followed was complicated enough that we’ll be writing an entirely separate post about it for you to read later today (Update: Here it is!), and infuriating enough — at least for the Nationals and their fans — that Martinez went to the trouble of getting ejected from the game over it even after his team ended up exiting the inning with a three-run lead. For the purpose of this recap, know only this: Turner, despite conducting his journey from home to first much like most every runner does, was called out. That left Gomes back at first (he had advanced when the ball skittered away) with one out, rather than having runners on second and third with no outs, for Adam Eaton and then Anthony Rendon.

Eaton popped out against Will Harris, who came in to relieve Peacock, but Rendon — who already had an RBI on the night — took the second pitch he saw from Harris out to left for what had to be among the most satisfying home runs in Nationals history. It was the first home run — indeed the first run of any kind — allowed by Harris since August 30 (!), and constituted the middle third of what turned out to be a historically productive night for Rendon. After a relatively weak start to the series — just four hits in 20 at-bats, and no home runs — Rendon ended up becoming only the second-ever third baseman to drive in five in a single World Series game. This, of course, after Alex Bregman earlier this week. Baseball, folks! Quite simply the best.

That homer, like two-run, add-on double provided by Rendon again in the top of the ninth, turned out to be inconsequential to the final result (the Soto homer was the difference in the game). But the pause in the action allows us to reflect for a moment on the other star of this game: Stephen Strasburg. The 31-year-old was good but not great in starting Game 2, allowing two runs and seven hits across six innings, but he was brilliant last night, retiring the last 10 Astros he faced and seeming to improve as the night went on. Strasburg relied heavily on his curveball, throwing the pitch 42% of the time, and supplemented that pitch with a changeup (16% of the time, almost exclusively down) and his usual two fastballs about a quarter of the time each. He looked particularly impressive going change, curve, curve to strike out Altuve swinging in the bottom of the fifth:

It’s not in that highlight reel, but Washington played terrific defense all night, substantially contributing to the Nationals’ win. Crucially, with runners on second and third and two outs — after that brilliant strikeout of Altuve — Strasburg got Michael Brantley to hit what looked like a sure base hit up the middle on the third pitch of the sequence. It wasn’t to be: Turner, who seemed to be in the middle of everything, got to the ball in time and threw to Ryan Zimmerman in time to record the out and end the inning. The game was only one run apart at that point; without Turner’s strong play, and Strasburg’s pitch to generate it, this game could easily have turned the other way. But the Nationals’ ace came through.

His team could not have needed it more. The Nationals’ series and season seemed lost Sunday afternoon when Dave Martinez announced that Max Scherzer wouldn’t be able to start, and when Joe Ross gamely but predictably gave up four runs in six innings of work to send the team to a 3-2 deficit. Strasburg’s long and brilliant outing has reversed that dynamic, saving the Nationals’ bullpen from all but 11 Sean Doolittle pitches and setting up Scherzer for a start Wednesday night against Zack Greinke. It remains to be seen whether the neck and shoulder spasms that kept Scherzer out Sunday will play into his performance tonight, but at least on paper, that pitching matchup seems as close to a push as you’re going to get in Game 7 of the World Series. (The ZiPS Postseason Game-By-Game Odds have the Nationals’ odds of winning at 48.2% compared to the Astros 51.8%.) It makes for great television.

Speaking of great television, one final note before we wrap this thing up: If you didn’t catch the game, you may see some news today about Alex Bregman, Juan Soto, and bat-holding. That’s because Bregman, for reasons not entirely obvious to most but in any event none of our business, held onto his bat all the way past first base after hitting his first-inning home run, then dropped that self-same bat in the dirt near first base before continuing to round the bases. That prompted Soto, in turn, to hold on to his bat after hitting his home run, and generated much discussion and hilarity online thereafter. Bregman, somewhat oddly, apologized for his behavior after the game, which in the view of this author was wholly unnecessary. If I hit a home run in the World Series, I’d be holding onto the bat a decade later. Let the kids play.

That’s exactly what they’ll do tomorrow night. Same time, same place, same teams. Game 7, for all the marbles. For a chance at a first-ever title for the Nationals. For a second title in three years for Houston. After all the drama of Game 6, that’s what the Nationals and Astros earned for all of us in Houston Tuesday night: One more day of baseball before we head into a cold winter without it. One more tomorrow. Good. I don’t want to go home just yet.





Rian Watt is a contributor to FanGraphs based in Seattle. His work has appeared at Vice, Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic, FiveThirtyEight, and some other places too. By day, he works with communities around the world to end homelessness.

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HamelinROY
2 years ago

If such a simple rule is going to be misinterpreted constantly, baseball just needs to switch to the dual first base that softball does and say that if you’re hit by the ball while inside of the line, you’re out.

But agreed, last nights game was fun. Hoping for a repeat tonight

stever20member
2 years ago
Reply to  HamelinROY

Yeah, Kyle Schwarber tweeted that out last night actually.

The Ghost of Johnny Dickshot
2 years ago
Reply to  stever20

Joe Girardi said it on Dan Patrick’s show this morning. It’s such a simple fix, how does it not happen?

Unit2015member
2 years ago
Reply to  HamelinROY

Agree. Hope they let them play tonight instead of turning it into Ump Show for a third game in a row.

HappyFunBallmember
2 years ago
Reply to  Unit2015

Not me. I’m excited to see how the Blüe Crüe botches this one tonight. Will it just be a boring inconsistent and awful strike zone? Will they go topical and toss Soto for grabbing his crotch at the pitcher? Maybe bring back a classic like a Jeffrey Maier-esque HR interference boundary call? I can’t wait to find out!

RonnieDobbs
2 years ago
Reply to  HappyFunBall

Crotch grab? Did that happen? I didn’t see as much of that game last night as I would have liked.

docgooden85member
2 years ago
Reply to  HamelinROY

The double 1B bag is a no-brainer from a safety standpoint. While we’re at it, let’s make the bases softer & less slippery when wet.

lillypad
2 years ago
Reply to  docgooden85

And bigger!

RonnieDobbs
2 years ago
Reply to  lillypad

Lol. Lets get one of those mats that they use in slow-pitch softball at home plate. How about peg outs?

Max Power
2 years ago
Reply to  docgooden85

Disagree. If anything, baseball needs more, not less, Bon Jovi

Rational Fan
2 years ago
Reply to  HamelinROY

Or we can not have a rule that bails a fielder out from making a terrible throw?

I understand on a bunt when a catcher is forced to field the ball out front – he needs a throwing lane. Last night was not that, at all. Peacock had a ton of real estate to throw the ball but made a poor Throw and it hit the runner. That’s a trash call.

If you do not deviate from a direct path to the base you should not be called out, period. Lefties already have a big advantage out of the box, and now they have arguably a bigger one since their swing will pull them inside the line instead of outside so their direct path to the base is more likely to be in foul territory. A right handed batter cant be expected to take an unnecessary step towards foul territory out of the box.

Adding another base doesn’t help the situation.

Joe Joemember
2 years ago
Reply to  Rational Fan

Or we can not have a rule that bails a runner out from running outside the running lane?

I understand on a bunt when a batter is running to first – he needs a running lane. Last night was that. Turner had a ton of real estate to run in the running lane but made a poor route and he hit the 1B’s mitt. That’s a correct call.

If you do not deviate from the running lane towards the base and make the last stride towards’s first, you should not be called out, period. Last night was not that, at all. Lefties have a big advantage out of the box, and they have arguably one since their swing will pull them inside the running lane instead of outside so their direct path to the base is more likely to be in foul territory. A right handed batter can be expected to take a step towards foul territory out of the box.

Adding another base does help the situation.

Rational Fan
2 years ago
Reply to  Joe Joe

Adding another base doesn’t counteract the fact that a right handed swing is going to pull them into fair territory. Period.

Tell me how Turner – who took a straight line path to the base – ran out of the running lane? A right handed batter should be expected to take a step that isn’t directly towards first base just to assure they are in foul territory? That’s absurd.

thestatbook
2 years ago
Reply to  Rational Fan

Imagine if football had a rule that required a subset of players to go 101 yards for a touchdown instead of 100.

This is what this rule does to right-handed batters, and it’s infuriating.

But most RHH just run where Turner was (and many lefties, too) and take the chance. Most likely, they’ll be out by a lot or safe, so it’s a safe risk.

But rules should reflect how the game is played, and if every RHH is running to the left of the foul line, they should protect that.

mgwalker
2 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

Essentially all of baseball’s lefty/righty advantages/disadvantages stem from the fact that there is a net angular momentum: base order is counterclockwise (as viewed from above). This amounts to a de facto rule that lefties don’t get to play 2b/3b/SS. Maybe that’s ‘unfair’, but it’s baseball.

Football/basketball/soccer/hockey/etc. lack this handedness precisely because they are back-and-forth sports. This makes them ‘fairer’ with regard to handedness, but to my mind also makes them far less interesting.

thestatbook
2 years ago
Reply to  mgwalker

It’s not a rule that lefties can’t play 2B/SS/3B. They technically *could* play, but it’d be last resort.

The nature of baseball dictates what is the norm, hence why lefties don’t play those infield positions. But it’s physics that dictates that, not baseball’s rules.

The case of the running lane is not based on physics. The players are at a disadvantage because of the rules… the rules literally force a subset of players to play differently than another and that rule then puts them at a disadvantage.

If a rule puts a subset of people at a disadvantage, it’s time to change the rule.

mgwalker
2 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

Right-handers *could* bat from the left side, there’s no rule saying they can’t…

mgwalker
2 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

“If a rule puts a subset of people at a disadvantage, it’s time to change the rule.”

Sorry but that is absurd. All rules to all games favor certain subsets of people. There is a reason tall people make better basketball players. There is a reason short people make better middle infielders. There is a reason the strong-armed make better pitchers. Etc. etc. etc. Should these reasons be eliminated in the name of fairness? We are not talking about human rights here…

thestatbook
2 years ago
Reply to  mgwalker

None of those are “rules”. Not a single one. There’s not a rule in basketball that a 6-3 point guard would violate that a 7-0 center wouldn’t. In baseball, a right-handed batter who runs directly to the base violates a rule that a left-handed batter doesn’t. The LHH can run directly to the base and be completely within the running lane and never have to step towards foul territory first. That’s the problem.

Heck, if you want an example from basketball: when basketball allowed the three-pointer, it allowed more shorter players to compete and hold value. They literally changed their rules to prevent one subset from holding all the advantage.

What I’m suggesting from baseball isn’t even that drastic. It’s not difficult for baseball to open the running lane to the fair-side of the foul line. It won’t affect plays, and you can make reasonable rules surrounding plays where contact is made and it doesn’t change the game in any way. You likely wouldn’t even notice it.

mgwalker
2 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

Letting RH batters run inside the line would suddenly give a disadvantage to LH batters, whose natural path to first base would not obstruct a catcher’s throw to first. Thus RH bunters gain an advantage over LH ones. Your proposed rule change merely places the shoe on the other foot, it doesn’t increase fairness.

thestatbook
2 years ago
Reply to  mgwalker

When did I say LHH can’t run on the inside lane?

Many do, seeing as the base is in fair territory, and it’s a straight line there.

mgwalker
2 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

um, but then in order to run inside the line, LH batters would then need to run an indirect route, so there’s the same disadvantage you’re decrying now. There’s simply no getting around baseball’s L/R asymmetries, a fact that I choose to embrace.

thestatbook
2 years ago
Reply to  mgwalker

Jesus, are you being obtuse on purpose or is it natural?

They don’t have to run on the inside. They can run on the outside lane. They can do pirouettes the whole fucking way down the baseline.

Let the runner take the path they feel is best. Make a call if/when interference exists.

mgwalker
2 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

I guess it’s natural.

Your laissez faire proposal is still going to favor RHs, since their most direct route to first is also the one that obstructs throws from fair territory. But I guess it changes last night’s call, if that’s the goal.

mgwalker
2 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

“It’s not a rule that lefties can’t play 2B/SS/3B. They technically *could* play, but it’d be last resort.”

hence the qualifier ‘de facto’

thestatbook
2 years ago
Reply to  mgwalker

We aren’t discussing “de facto” rules. You can’t change that without drastically changing the game.

We are discussing a rule that can easily be changed to minimize the disadvantage a right-handed hitter has. And a rule that isn’t grounded, at all, in how the players actually play the game.

You’re missing the forest for the trees, and it seems you’re doing it intentionally.

mgwalker
2 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

You’re proposing to change forest-wide legislation based on a rare event that happened last night to one tree.

cartermember
2 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

With how important positioning is these days, I wonder if we will ever see a lefty at a non-1st position. With positioning now it almost feels as if a lefty could play 2nd.

jayman4
2 years ago
Reply to  mgwalker

Solved! When RHH, run clockwise (if runners at corners they need to re-orient to the opposite bag), 3B become the 1B, the 1B becomes 3B, etc. When LHH, run the conventional counter clockwise. OK all in jest, but kinda fun to think how this be to watch and the changes in skill sets for 1B/3B (not that much).

Joe Joemember
2 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

Unless RHB can run to third, he has to run farther than LHB. I like the idea of adding a base in foul territory to fix the problem of 1st baseman trying to catch balls in fair territory, and runner running to 1B being in fair territory.

TKDCmember
2 years ago
Reply to  thestatbook

There is no rule that mandates any player bat (or throw) right handed or left handed.

Joe Joemember
2 years ago
Reply to  Rational Fan

Running lane is between the base line and the line 3 feet in foul territory for the last 45 feet to first. It is not a straight line from batter’s box to first base. He was not in the lane. Period. He did not exit the lane with last stride to touch first. Period.

Whether you think it is absurd or not, the rule clearly specifies the expectation for the runner to be in the running lane, but will only be called for interference if he actually interferes with the play.

Rational Fan
2 years ago
Reply to  Joe Joe

The rule doesnt clearly define anything – hence why it’s a judgement call. Regardless of how many times you say it’s clearly defined, it obviously isn’t as it is a rule that has a lot of human interpretation involved and theres thousands of people arguing about it because, once again, it’s not clearly defined and it’s nonsensical.

It is unnatural to hit a baseball and bust it down to first while thinking about having to take a step that isn’t directly towards the base.

Joe Joemember
2 years ago
Reply to  Rational Fan

“In running the last half of the distance from home base to
first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he
runs outside (to the right of ) the three-foot line, or inside
(to the left of ) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment
in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at
first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he
may run outside (to the right of ) the three-foot line or
inside (to the left of ) the foul line to avoid a fielder
attempting to field a batted ball;”

The rule clearly defines where the runner is suppose to run whether or not it is unnatural. The only murkiness is what constitutes interference and whether a runner is protected from interference call in his last step regardless of whether he was in running lane or not prior to the last step. Clarification to rule only explicitly specifies this protection when exiting the running lane to touch bag on last step, stride, slide.

On runner’s rounding 1st, they typically use the runner’s lane and don’t interfere with a throw to first. Runners run out of the running lane at their own risk.

cartermember
2 years ago
Reply to  Joe Joe

I’m a Nats fan (at least over the Astros) and I agree that they made the right call based on the rules. I feel like a lot of people are losing sight of the rules here. It is a horrible, horrible rule, but it is in fact a rule. Thus, they called it directly. I would imagine in someway this will be changed this off-season because it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Enos twitter explained it pretty well, the right handed batter is simply not allowed to run in a straight line as stupid as that rule sounds.

A lot of the people arguing here seems silly. You can have a rule and have it be a stupid rule, those things aren’t mutually exclusive. You can also have a rule and not have it be enforced all the time, but that doesn’t make it less a rule. The correct decision would be to change the rule, but you cannot do that in the middle of a playoff game.

isntthisrichmember
2 years ago
Reply to  Rational Fan

100% correct! The rule doesn’t clearly say the batter must be called out — it’s a judgment call on whether he interfered with the first basemen. Which is why this was a terrible call. It was obvious that Turner was a half step from being ON THE BASE — and where the heck else should he have been? — when he “interfered” with Gurriel, who made a poor attempt at catching a terrible throw.

Rational Fan
2 years ago
Reply to  Joe Joe

So runners should be called out for being outside of the running lane while they round first base?

RonnieDobbs
2 years ago
Reply to  Rational Fan

Hey, hey, hey that is way too rational! There are a lot of reasons that the inside of the baseline should not be an illegal path. Every right-handed hitter is on the illegal side at some point, so its not like crossing some line is illegal. Anyone rounding first goes well outside of some defined path to first. It has never made sense to pretend that runners need to stick in a little 2 foot wide path because they don’t and sometimes we call them out? There is no possible scenario where the defensive player doesn’t have a throwing lane.

TKDCmember
2 years ago
Reply to  Rational Fan

Well, then change the rule. I’d prefer rule changes between the seasons rather than on the fly. The umpire at least arguably called the play correctly. Turner was running inside the line and interfered.

The extra first base idea is the obvious move here. It will look stupid for 6 weeks and then everyone will forget about it.

Rational Fan
2 years ago
Reply to  TKDC

1. He didn’t interfere – his foot beat the ball to the base.

2. Adding a base does nothing to solve the issue that righties will be pulled to the left side of the line naturally with their swing.

3. The rule wasn’t made to allow pitchers to throw at batters intentionally on their way to first.

Why do people continue to say he made the correct judgement? It may be your opinion but stating it as a fact is flat out wrong.

TKDCmember
2 years ago
Reply to  Rational Fan

Turners leg hit Gurriel’s glove, which kept him from catching the ball. The ball struck Turner almost simultaneously with Turner touching first. If Turner were a ghost, Gurriel would have possibly caught the ball before he reached first, as he would catch it closer to home plate.

The interference was with the glove of the first baseman, not with the thrown ball.

Joe Joemember
2 years ago
Reply to  Rational Fan

1. He hit Gurriel’s glove..
2. It would not change the distance the RHB is asked to run either way. It only prevents some collisions.
3. Rule was created for safety to prevent collisions.

The only thing unclear about rule regarding last night’s play is whether the last stride while running outside the running lane receives the same protection from interference call as the last stride exiting the running lane specified by the sentence: “The batter-runner is permitted to exit the threefoot lane by means of a step, stride, reach or slide in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base.”

RonnieDobbs
2 years ago
Reply to  HamelinROY

Ah yes… the continual march of MLB baseball towards slow-pitch softball rules. I used to thing that was an irrefutable argument not to implement a rule, but that has not proved to be the case lol.

If we actually want to fix the rule, then you can’t be out from getting hit by a thrown ball. You are not out at any other base by getting hit by a thrown ball. There is no good reason a runner cant run straight to first base. The solution is simplicity, not a giant book full of complex scenarios which is where this came from in the first place. One of the most fundamental drills that a catcher works on is throwing inside and outside of first base – you can throw around runners. Peacock had a huge lane to the inside of the bag – pitchers are terrible at defense and that was just a bad play by Peacock. I think a better 1B may have caught that ball as well – a left-handed 1B certainly would have. Look at how far back Gurriel’s glove is when he catches the ball. I think that is just a tough play and less than stellar defense. If the play is made, then I don’t think anyone calls that play anything but when the glove comes flying off and the circus music starts playing calls get made sometimes.

Worst things about that Turner replay:
#1 -How long it took. That was clearly someone trying to interpret the rule, not a replay.
#2 – The call didn’t get reversed. All that for nothing.
#3 – The bad call on the field. This actually wouldn’t have been that big a deal without the MLB’s demonstration of the world’s worst replay process on national television.