By HAL McCOY
The Houston Astros made a strong and stern statement Friday night: “We’re not done yet. You can put away those brooms.”
After losing the first two games of the 2019 World Series at home, the Astros strolled into enemy territory, Nationals Park, and stopped the Washington Nationals, 4-1.
It was no easy task.
Washington occupied bases all night long, like the seats on a full Boeing 777 flight. But they couldn’t get them home.
The Nationals had runners on base in each of the first six innings, but could find home plate only once. They were 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 runners in the first six innings.
The Astros pecked away to win this one, scoring single runs in the second, third, fifth and sixth.
They collected 11 hits, with the top three in the order — George Springer, Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley — each producing two hits.
Altuve, the biggest little man in baseball, had two doubles and scored two runs. Brantley drove in two runs.
The Astros grabbed an early 2-0 lead by scoring a run in the second and third off Washington starter Anibal Sanchez.
Carlos Correa pulled a one-out double in the second and scored on Josh Reddick’s single. It became 2-0 in the third when Jose Altuve doubled and took third on left fielder Jose Soto’s error. Altuve scored on Michael Brantley’s infield hit that glanced off pitcher Sanchez.
Meanwhile, Washington stranded five runners in the first three innings against Houston starter Zack Greinke.
They had the bases loaded with two outs in the third when Greinke struck out Asdrubal Cabrera.
The Nationals broke through for a run in the fourth, an inning that began with a walk to Ryan Zimmerman after Greinke had him 0-and-2. Plate umpire Gary Cederstrom aided Zimmerman by missing a strike three call.
Greinke struck out Kurt Suzuki on three pitches, but Victor Robles pulled the first pitch he saw for a run-scoring triple to the left field corner and it was 2-1.
With the potential tying run on third and one out, Washington manager Dave Martinez permitted Sanchez to bat. He struck out trying to bunt and Trea Turner grounded out to the pitcher.
The Astros retrieved that run quickly in the top of the fifth off Sanchez. Jose Altuve pulled his second straight double into the left field corner with one out and scored on a single by Michael Brantley and Houston led, 3-1.
Washington’s Adam Eaton, a Springfield native and Miami (O.) University product led the fifth by poking a 0-and-2 into left field for a single. With two outs, Asdrubal Cabrera yanked a full count double to right. The ball was hit so hard Eaton was no able to score.
But that hit ended Greinke’s night and Houston manager A.J. Hinch brought in Josh James to face Ryan Zimmerman with the potential tying runs on base. James jumped ahead 0-and-2 and forced Zimmerman to eat dirt on a high inside fastball.
Zimmerman fouled off a pair of 2-and-2 pitches and the drama built when the count went to 3-and-2. Then Zimmerman went down swinging. At that point, after five innings, the Nats were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
Adam Eaton made a diving catch to save a double on Josh Reddick to start the sixth. Sanchez’s next pitch, though, was pulled to left by Robinson Chirinos off the left field foul pole, a home to give Houston a 4-1 lead.
After the home run, Sanchez issued a one-out walk to pinch-hitter Kyle Tucker and his night was done. He was replaced by Fernando Rodney, the oldest player in the majors at 42 and the pitcher who wears the crooked hat..
Tucker stole second and continued to third on catcher Suzuki’s throwing error. Rodney walked George Springer on a full count, putting runners on third and first with one out.
Springer stole second, putting two runners in scoring position with one out. Altuve grounded to third and Tucker was caught off third in a rundown, but the runners advanced to third and second.
The Nationals walked Brantley intentionally, filling the bases for clean-up hitter Alex Bregman, who could be the American League MVP, but has been mostly silent in the post-season.
It worked. Bregman chopped an inning-ending ground ball to shortstop.
Brad Peacock started the sixth for the Astros and after striking out pinch-hitter Gerardo Parra, he walked Victor Robles and pinch-hitter Matt Adams, both on full counts.
Will Harris replaced Peacock and he struck out Trea Turner, bringing up Adam Eaton, 5 for 10 in the Series at that point. Eaton grounded out to first, ending another Nationals threat.
Wright State University product Joe Smith made a major contribution in the eighth with his submarine delivery. He gave up a one-out single to pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick. But he retired the other three, including strikeouts of Ryan Zimmerman and Victor Robles.
Closer Roberto Osuna arrived in the ninth and went to 2-and-0 and 3-and-2 on Trea Turner before he flied to the base of the right field wall. Then Adam Eaton struck again, a bloop single to left field, his second hit to go with a walk.
Anthony Rendon swung at the first pitch and popped it up for the second out. Juan Soto, celebrated — if that’s the word — his 21st birthday by striking out to end it. Soto was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.
The Nationals struck out 13 times and stranded 12 runners.