Astros Hold Off Nationals to Win Game 3 of the World Series

WASHINGTON — In baseball, as in many team sports, plane rides are so much more than transportation. They can be critical incubators for things like team bonding and strategy sessions, where players can work through important issues.

The Astros’ flight on Thursday from Houston to Washington — which came after they began the World Series with two uncharacteristically sloppy losses at home — provided a chance for them to gather their thoughts at 30,000 feet and remember who they really are.

“We were just trying too much, like trying to be a hero,” said Robinson Chirinos, the Astros veteran catcher, who on Friday hit a home run in Game 3 of the Series. “That’s something we talked about on the plane. Let’s have a good approach, good at-bats as a team, and don’t try to do too much.”

The Astros got off the plane and executed their plan almost to perfection, beating the Washington Nationals, 4-1, and avoiding a three-games-to-none hole from which no team has ever recovered in the World Series.

“We knew that we had to stop the bleeding tonight,” said Alex Bregman, Houston’s third baseman, “and we did.”

In a slow, plodding affair, the Astros got a short, but effective outing from Zack Greinke, who then handed the ball to his teammates in the bullpen and watched as they pitched four and one-third scoreless innings to revive Houston’s chances for a second title in three seasons.

“It was easier for them than it was for me,” Greinke said.

Jose Altuve led the offense with two doubles and scored twice on clutch hits by Michael Brantley. Carlos Correa also doubled and scored, and Chirinos’s home run in the sixth inning provided more than enough insurance on a night when the Washington offense sputtered and gagged.

Saturday was the first World Series game in Washington since the old Senators lost to the New York Giants in 1933. The city’s fans had high expectations as their team went into Game 3 with eight consecutive postseason wins. With one more, they would have set a record. But they went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position and allowed Greinke to navigate out of dicey situations in virtually every inning he pitched.

Greinke was pulled with two outs in the fifth inning after his 95th pitch was rocketed into the right-field corner by Asdrubal Cabrera. It was Cabrera’s 18th hit in 40 lifetime at-bats against Greinke, and the duel between them was among the few fascinating things about the game.

Cabrera singled in his first at-bat, and in the third inning came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. Greinke struck him out that time with a slow, looping curveball. Greinke fooled Soto with a similar pitch, using the hitter’s aggressiveness against him, with a runner on third base in the fifth.

All the while, the Astros were making their hits count and putting pressure on the Nationals to regroup — without the benefit of a meeting at 30,000 feet.

“We had a great attitude and a great mentality and confidence that we were going to go out there and win today like we did,” Altuve said. “It feels good because when you win games like this it creates momentum for us.”

The Nationals did not score against Greinke until the fourth inning, when the right-hander walked Ryan Zimmerman to start the frame. Greinke struck out Kurt Suzuki, the catcher whose home run off Justin Verlander in Game 2 started a six-run rally for Washington.

But then Victor Robles ripped a hard-bouncing ball down the third base line that barely eluded Bregman’s glove. The ball rolled all the way to corner, and Robles had a triple, with Zimmerman scoring ahead of him.

Martinez elected to leave Sanchez in the game to bat, and he struck out on a bunted foul ball. Then Greinke made a nice fielding play to get Trea Turner out.

Game 3 started just as Game 1 had, with the Astros jumping to a 2-0 lead.

With one out in the second inning, Correa doubled to left field. That was the third ball that the Astros had hit sharply off Sanchez, although the first two went for outs. Josh Reddick followed with a sharp single to left, and Correa scored the first run of the game. Reddick went to second on a wild throw from left field by Soto. Sanchez got out of the inning, but the Astros had taken charge in a way they desperately needed.

Soto made another defensive gaffe in the third inning, when the Astros added another run. Altuve lined a double into the left field corner, and Soto let it zip past him, allowing Altuve to advance to third base.

Then Cabrera bobbled a bouncing ball hit up the middle by Brantley. Altuve scored on the play, and Brantley was safe at first with nobody out. Sanchez got the next three batters out to avoid further trouble, but the sloppy play was alarming to many of the fans, who had become used to crisp baseball from their Nationals.

James Wagner provided live updates and analysis from Game 3, as it happened:

Joe Ross sped the pace of play back up with a 12-pitch top of the frame. He used his power sink and breaking ball to get a ground out, pop out and fly out. Will Harris made just as quick work in the bottom half, needing 14 pitches. He fanned Juan Soto on three pitches. Soto is 0 for 3 with a walk and two strikeouts.

Yan Gomes took over for Suzuki at catcher. Suzuki had received a quick visit from the trainer in the previous inning. He may have simply left the game for matchup purposes; Gerardo Parra pinch hit for him against a right-handed reliever in the sixth inning.

In the battle of the bullpens, the Astros have the more talented options but the Nationals have performed better so far this World Series. Brad Peacock started the frame but walked two of the three batters he faced. Will Harris relieved Peacock and got the final two outs with a strikeout and groundout. The Nationals are 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position and have stranded 10 base runners.

The bottom half of the inning alone took nearly 30 minutes.

The Astros pushed their lead to 3-1 when Jose Altuve, who has hit balls hard off Sanchez all night, doubled. He scored when Michael Brantley worked a good at-bat and got some help on some borderline low pitches that home plate Gary Cederstrom called balls. Ahead 3-1, Brantley got a pitch over the plate and singled to right field.

Sanchez coughed up another single, to Yuli Gurriel, but wriggled out of the inning when Carlos Correa grounded out.

Greinke has had traffic on the bases each inning and it drove up his pitch count. The dam finally broke in the bottom half of the inning. After Adam Eaton singled, Greinke got Anthony Rendon to fly out and fooled Juan Soto with his curveball. But Asdrubal Cabrera — remember that he has a good track record against Greinke — smoked a double to right field, putting two runners in scoring position.

Astros Manager A.J. Hinch yanked Greinke after that and called upon hard-throwing, command-challenged reliever Josh James. He and Ryan Zimmerman locked horns for an eight-pitch at-bat which included a high and inside 98-mile-per-hour fastball that sent Zimmerman diving to the ground. James prevailed by striking Zimmerman out with a change-up.

Greinke’s final line: one run, seven hits, three walks and six strikeouts over four and one-third hard-fought innings.

Sanchez had a 1-2-3 frame against the bottom of the Astros’ order, getting two strikeouts and a pop-out.

Greinke’s command problems have finally hurt him. He walked Ryan Zimmerman on seven pitches to lead off the inning. He jumped ahead of Zimmerman, 1-2, but missed with two change-ups. Two batters later, Victor Robles hammered a fastball down the heart of the plate into the left field corner for a triple. Zimmerman scored easily to trim the Nationals’ deficit to 2-1.

Greinke walked two batters over his final 43 2/3 innings in the regular season. He has walked three Nationals already in Game 3.

After Robles tripled, Sanchez stepped to the plate and did something puzzling: he tried to bunt twice and ended up striking out. Robles is fast and Greinke is a good fielder, so the strategy was unclear. Nationals Manager Dave Martinez stuck with Sanchez instead of using a pinch hitter, likely wanting to avoid his bullpen for one more inning.

Sanchez isn’t fooling the Astros, who were the best team at making contact during the regular season. Jose Altuve doubled on the first pitch of the frame and took third when Nationals left fielder Juan Soto bobbled the ball. He scored when Michael Brantley singled up the middle on a ball deflected by Sanchez. The Astros lead, 2-0.

Something to watch: the Astros weren’t particularly prolific in terms of stolen bases during the regular season. But Brantley nabbed second against Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki, who threw out just 5 of 50 base stealers during the regular season.

Greinke’s command has been shaky: he is through three innings on 65 pitches, compared to Sanchez’s 50. Trea Turner singled, and Adam Eaton and Juan Soto drew walks. But Greinke got away with a mistake over the middle of the plate to Anthony Rendon, who flied out, and he unfurled one of his trademark slow curveballs to strike out Asdrubal Cabrera to end the bases-loaded threat.

The Astros struck first against the Nationals as Sanchez fell behind batters and his pitches caught too much of the plate. He coughed up three straight hits: a Carlos Correa double, a Josh Reddick run-scoring single and a Robinson Chirinos single.

The Reddick hit was the key one in the frame: he flicked his bat at a split-finger fastball outside and put his head down as he took off for first base. Juan Soto, the Nationals left fielder, had a very slim chance of throwing out the speedy Correa at home plate. His throw certainly didn’t help; it went over the catcher Kurt Suzuki’s head.

Asdrubal Cabrera was starting at second base for the Nationals on Friday over Howie Kendrick, one of the team’s best hitters this postseason, because he was 16 for 37 in his career versus Greinke. In addition, Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said the team’s analytics showed Cabrera hit the ball in the air against Greinke, as opposed to Kendrick’s ground balls.

Cabrera and Ryan Zimmerman singled in the bottom of the second inning. But Greinke escaped the damage by striking out Suzuki and getting Robles to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Both teams got a base runner on but nothing from it. Anibal Sanchez gave up a leadoff infield single to George Springer and got to second on a stolen base. But Sanchez was aided by a five-catch by Victor Robles, who ranged deep to center, twisted his body and stretched his glove to rob Jose Altuve of a sure run-scoring double.

In the bottom half of the inning, Anthony Rendon doubled off Zack Greinke with two outs but that was it. Trea Turner, the Nationals’ leadoff hitter, had a loud out: his flyout was caught at the warning track by Michael Brantley.

Before the game, the mayor of Washington, Muriel Bowser, said “play ball” and Chad Cordero, an All-Star during the Nationals’ inaugural season in Washington in 2005, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Astros

1. George Springer, CF

2. Jose Altuve, 2B

3. Michael Brantley, LF

4. Alex Bregman, 3B

5. Yuli Gurriel, 1B

6. Carlos Correa, SS

7. Josh Reddick, RF

8. Robinson Chirinos, C

9. Zack Greinke, P

Because both teams lost the designated hitter playing in a National League park on Friday, one of the Nationals’ best hitters, Howie Kendrick, the M.V.P. of the N.L.C.S, is on the bench, and Asdrubal Cabrera is starting at second base.

Nationals

1. Trea Turner, SS

2. Adam Eaton, RF

3. Anthony Rendon, 3B

4. Juan Soto, LF

5. Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B

6. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B

7. Kurt Suzuki, C

8. Victor Robles, CF

9. Anibal Sanchez, P


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