By HAL McCOY
The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros were familiar with each other before the season even began and probably didn’t need scouting reports before the World Series.
They share a spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., FITTEAM Ballpark at the Palm Beaches.
They played six exhibition games against each other this spring and Washington won four — not that that matters.
What matters is what is happening right now, the 2019 World Series between the Nationals and Astros.
Game One was Tuesday night in Houston’s Minute Maid Park. And with Washington’s Max Scherzer and Houston’s Gerrit Cole doing the pitching it was expected to be a mini-scoring pitcher’s duel.
Both pitchers were forced to work harder than a bricklayer in a thunderstorm in a game won by Washington, 5-4.
And it was Maximum Max Scherzer working the hardest to keep Houston from piling up the runs. He was in more trouble than a recidivist juvenile delinquent all night long.
He survived only five innings. He went to 3-and-2 counts nine times. He threw 112 pitches. The Astros put eight runners on base in the first four innings.
But only two scored and they came on Yuli Gurriel’s two-out, two-strike double in the first inning to give Houston a 2-0 lead.
Cole, who was 19-and-0 since late May, couldn’t protect that early lead, thanks to Washington’s 20-year-old Juan Soto.
It was fitting, though, that the first Washington run was provided by veteran Ryan Zimmerman, the first player drafted by the Washington Nationals.
Zimmerman cracked a two-out home run in the second, cutting Houston’s lead to 2-1.
Then it was Soto Time.
He nearly knocked the vintage locomotive off the top of the left field viaduct with a 413-foot home run leading off the fourth, tying matters, 2-2.
The Nationals struck for three runs in the fifth. Cole issued his first walk, a leadoff pass to Matt Suzuki. Victor Robles, asked to bunt, missed two attempts and then singled to right field.
That put runners on second and first with no outs. Trea Turner flied to right, sending Suzuki to third.
It was time for Springfield native and Miami University (Ohio) product to produce again. Eaton, waving a Phoenix bat manufactured in Plain City, Oh., shattered that bat. But the ball winged its way into right field for a run-scoring single. The hit broke the 2-2 tie and was Eaton’s fifth RBI in the post-season.
Soto struck again. With two outs, Soto ripped Cole’s 3-and-2 pitch off the left field manual scoreboard, a two-run double to give the Nationals a 5-2 lead.
After Scherzer left, Patrick Corbin pitched a scoreless one-hit inning.
Former Cincinnati Reds prospect Tanner Rainey, traded to Washington at this year’s trade deadline for Tanner Roark, pitched the seventh.
George Springer greeted him with a home run to deep center, Springer’s 14 career post-season home run and it was 5-3.
Rainey struck out Jose Altuve, but walked Michael Brantley on four pitches. He repeated his poor performance by slipping behind Alex Bregman 3-and-0 — seven straight balls. He threw two strikes, Bregman fouled off a 3-and-2 pitch, hen Rainey walked him, too.
That concluded Rainey’s short eventful night and manager Dave Martinez brought in Daniel Hudson with two on and one out.
Hudson induced a pop-up from Yuli Gurriel, but Carlos Correa beat an infield to shortstop to fill the bases.
Hudson, pitching for his third team this season and was acquired from Toronto at the trade deadline, put the fire hose on Yordan Alvarez, striking him on three pitches. That left the Astros down two runs.
At this point, the Astros had stranded 10 runners and were 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
Cole left after seven innings, displaying human qualities by giving up five runs, eight hits, one walk, two home runs and striking out just six.
Hudson returned for the eighth and gave up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Kyle Tucker. Aledmys Diaz flied to center and Tucker advanced go second. George Springer drilled one to right, off the wall, a ball Eaton nearly caught.
But it banged off the wall, a double that scored Tucker and it was a one-run game, 5-4.
Jose Altuve flied to right for the second out and Nats manager Martinez brought in left hander Sean Doolittle to face left handed Michael Brantley. It worked. Brantley lined out to left field.
Doolittle returned for the ninth and finished it quickly by striking out Alex Bregman, getting both Gurriel and Correa on fly balls to center.
So the Nationals, beating the best pitcher in this galaxy in his home park, take a 1-0 lead in their first World Series appearance.