WASHINGTON — From the moment George Springer jumped on the game’s third pitch for a single, then quickly swiped a base, to the way he and his teammates sprinted off the field after the final out a little past midnight Saturday, the Houston Astros were suddenly aggressive and energetic.
And suddenly right back in the thick of this World Series.
Yes, the Fall Classic finally showed up back in Washington, 86 years later — and, sparked by Springer and José Altuve, the Astros finally showed up in the Fall Classic.
Springer had two of Houston’s four steals, Altuve doubled twice before scoring each time, Zack Greinke repeatedly worked out of trouble, and the Astros made sure they wouldn’t go quietly despite looking listless twice at home, beating the Nationals 4-1 on Friday night to cut their Series deficit to 2-1.
“We’re pretty good, too,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “It kind of re-establishes us.”
Houston can even things up in Game 4 on Saturday night at Nationals Park. Washington will start $140 million lefty Patrick Corbin, while Hinch said he’ll go with rookie José Urquidy.
“We didn’t panic,” Altuve said.
Washington’s eight-game winning streak, tied for the longest in a single postseason, ended with a sloppy performance in the first Series game hosted by the nation’s capital since the Senators lost to the New York Giants in 1933.
A sellout crowd of 43,867, dressed mostly in red for the occasion, soaked it all in, standing in unison at key moments, booing ball-strike calls that hurt their team, chanting “Let’s go, Nats!” often and even getting to do their “Baby Shark” sing-and-clap-along when that children’s tune blared as a walk-up song in the sixth.
“It was electric,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “The boys in the dugout, they were fired up.”
But the wild-card Nationals were unable to move one win from a championship, undone by an inability to come through in the clutch: Birthday boy Juan Soto, MVP candidate Anthony Rendon and Co. were 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position, leaving 12 runners on base.
“Tonight we were a little bit aggressive outside the strike zone,” Martinez said. “We took balls I thought we should hit, uncharacteristic of what we’ve been doing.”
How big was this win for Houston?
No team ever has come back after dropping the first three games of a World Series.
“Not the script you’d want to write to start out a World Series,” said reliever Will Harris, who retired all five batters he faced Friday. “We believe in each other in there. We know we have obviously a very talented, capable team.”
That’s why several Astros players gathered for a private meeting following their 12-3 loss Wednesday.
“Some guys said some things that a lot of us maybe were thinking in our head, but it’s sometimes nice to hear them out loud,” Harris said. “And the biggest thing was we didn’t want anybody feeling sorry for themselves coming here, because that’s not going to accomplish anything.”
After playing what might have been their worst baseball of 2019, the Astros played like the club that led the majors with 107 regular-season wins.
And, not surprisingly, Altuve was in the middle of a lot of it. He doubled in the third and fifth, coming home on singles by Michael Brantley.
“José’s the heart and soul of what we do,” Hinch said. “It was his turn to be a catalyst.”
Greinke, the 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner, allowed seven hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings, but managed to yield just one run. He was followed by five relievers who combined to give up two hits and zero runs the rest of the way.
Josh James earned the win, striking out Ryan Zimmerman with two aboard to end the fifth.
“Huge,” Hinch said.
Roberto Osuna heard boos when he entered in the ninth, then got three outs for a save.
Josh Reddick delivered an RBI single in the second, Robinson Chirinos homered off the foul-pole screen in the sixth and Houston scored four runs in 5 1/3 innings off Aníbal Sánchez. The 35-year-old righty had taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning of his previous start; Springer got to him right away.
Sánchez went sprawling off the mound to try to make a play, but couldn’t. All part of a rough night in which he got so upset by a couple of ball calls that he asked plate umpire Gary Cederstrom, “Where was that one?”
Sánchez also barely avoided taking a ball to the face, getting his glove in the way just in time. Another Houston hit came when Springer sent a comebacker off reliever Joe Ross’ foot.
In sum: After the Nationals could do no wrong for so long, things went awry.
They made two errors and at least three other misplays on what were ruled hits. Washington catcher Kurt Suzuki left in the sixth with a right hip flexor problem. Soto, serenaded by fans in left field to celebrate his 21st birthday, was charged with an error for a wild throw home, let another ball trickle past his glove and went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts at the plate.
He went down looking to end the game.
“Nobody,” Washington outfielder Adam Eaton said, “thought this was going to be easy.”
Astros: Urquidy found out after Game 3 that he will start Saturday; he only threw 41 innings during the regular season. Hinch is prepared to rely heavily on his relievers, saying: “Every World Series game is a bullpen game, mostly, at some point.”
Nationals: Corbin will be making his seventh appearance of this postseason, a third start to go along with four outings out of the bullpen. He is 1-2 with a 6.91 ERA, including one scoreless inning in relief during Game 1 of the World Series.