By HAL McCOY
The Washington Nationals, like Mississippi mosquitoes, just won’t go away.
For the fourth time in the 2019 post-season, the Nationals played a game that if they lost, their season was over.
And Elimination Game No. 4 ended the same way as the previous three, a pressure-packed, gut-wrenching victory for the Nats.
The Houston Astros needed only to win Game 6 Tuesday night and they would be World Series champions for the second time in three years. And they had Justin Verlander on the mound.
The Nationals, though, behind their own amazing starter, Stephen Strasburg, posted a 7-2 victory over the Astros. That tied the Series at three games apiece with the winner-take-it-all game Wednesday night.
Strasburg received ample help from third baseman Anthony Rendon, ironically a Houston native. He punctured the Astros for five RBI with a run-scoring single, a two-run home run and a two-run double.
Washington’s win in Minute Maid Park was the sixth straight game in which the visiting team won. The Nationals had just lost three straight at home and seemed doomed.
With Washington’s win, the 2019 World Series became the first of the major sports playoff with multiple-game series in which the visiting team won the first six games.
It never happened in Major League Baseball, never happened in the National Basketball Association and never happened in the National Hockey League.
And there was spicy action, too. It resulted in Washington manager Dave Martinez’s ejection, the first manager to get kicked out of a World Series game since Atlanta’s Bobby Cox in 1991.
Washington jumped on Verlander in the first inning for a run. Trea Turner led the game with an infield roller and was called out at first. But replay/review revealed he was safe.
Springfield native Adam Eaton bunted Turner to second and Turner scored on Anthony Rendon’s weak ground ball through the empty right side against the shift.
That 1-0 lead lasted only until Houston came to bat and scored two off Strasburg. George Springer led the inning with a double, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Jose Altuve’s sacrifice fly.
With two outs in the first, Alex Bregman clubbed a home run to give Houston a 2-1 lead.
That, though, was it, for Houston. Strasburg not only slammed the door, he put a couple of Yale locks on it, too.
After giving up two runs and two hits in the first, he gave up no runs and three hits over the next 7 1/3 innings. He left with one out in the ninth after throwing 104 pitches, walking two and striking out seven.
And he carried his team on his boulevard-wide shoulders into the deciding Game 7.
The Nationals took a 3-2 lead in the fifth when they pounded two home runs off Verlander.
The first was a one-out blast by Eaton, his second of the Series and he was 7-for-20 after the home run. With two outs, 21-year-old Juan Soto nearly put one up there with a space shuttle, a 413-foot drive into the upper deck.
When Houston’s Bregman homered in the first, he carried his bat all the way to first base and handed it to the first base coach. When Soto hit his, he theatrically did the same thing, handing his bat to his first base coach.
For the season, counting the post-season, Verlander has been ripped for 44 home runs.
It stayed 3-2 until a controversial seventh inning. It began with a single to right by Yan Gomes.
Trea Turner nubbed one in front of the plate. The throw eluded first baseman Yuli Gurriel, knocking off his glove, and whizzed into right field, putting runners on third and second with no outs.
But plate umpire Sam Holbrook ruled that Turner ran inside the base-line, impeding Gurriel’s chance to catch the throw. Turner was ruled out and Gomes had to return to first base.
Then confusion reigned. Umpires spent nearly five minutes chatting with New York. The play was not reviewable. Umpires were getting clarification of the rule.
When the review ended, the Nationals wanted to protest the game. They were told it was an umpire’s judgement call and the game could not be protested.
Things settled down for everybody but relief pitcher Will Harris, who had just come into the game and stood a long time on the mound.
When play resumed, Eaton popped up on the first pitch for the second out, but Rendon crushed a two-run home run for a 5-2 lead. Harris had appeared in 11 previous games and had not given up a run, let alone a home run.
When the inning ending, Washington manager Dave Martinez bolted from the dugout to confront the umpires. Coach Chip Hale had to physically restrain Martinez several times. Martinez was ejected.
After that, Strasburg went back to work and was close to perfection. His only problem after the first emerged in the fourth when Washington still trailed, 2-1.
With two outs, he took a slight walk on the wild side, walking two straight, the second on four straight pitches — his only walks of the game. He doused that mini-fire by striking out Carlos Correa.
Rendon put it out-of-the-question in the ninth with a two-run double, his fifth RBIs, to make it 7-2.
Houston’s Justin Verlander has been Rookie of the Year, MVP, a Cy Young winner, thrown three no-hitters and owns a World Series ring.
But with his loss Tuesday, he is 0-and-6 for his eight World Series starts. Go figure, just like it is one big go figure that the visiting team has won six straight games.