Game Five: Washington Nationals bats grow Cole’d

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 27: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Houston Astros pitches during Game 5 of the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Sunday, October 27, 2019 in Washington, District of Columbia. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 27: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Houston Astros pitches during Game 5 of the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Sunday, October 27, 2019 in Washington, District of Columbia. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /
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Ace Gerrit Cole neutralizes the Washington Nationals to give the Astros a 3-2 series lead heading back to Houston.

The real Gerrit Cole – not the imposter who occupied Cole’s uniform during Game 1 — showed up and restored order to World Series Sunday night against the Washington Nationals. In so doing, by a 7-1 score, Cole sent the favored Houston Astros home with a 3 games to 2 lead.

The Astros now can wrap up the Series by winning either of two games on Tuesday or Wednesday at Minute Maid Park.

Cole was superb through seven innings of a game that was something of a letdown once it became known that Nationals ace Max Scherzer would not oppose Cole, as he had done in that first game. Scherzer reported to Nationals Park with a severely stiff neck and was scratched in favor of Joe Ross.

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Ross gave the Nationals all they could have asked for: five innings allowing four runs. Against Cole, however, all that meant was a 4-0 hole. The Houston ace finally did give up a run in the seventh, but he exited having allowed just three base hits and walking two while whiffing nine.

Cole got all the support he needed from a brace of two-run home runs. In the second, Yordan Alvarez, installed in left field by manager A.J. Hinch for his bat, demonstrated his manager’s genius by driving a home run into the center-field seats with Yuli Gurriel on base.  Two innings later Alvarez singled and trotted home on Carlos Correa’s line-drive homer. In the ninth, George Springer delivered off reliever Daniel Hudson with Martin Maldonado on base.

The Astros also scored in the eighth when Yuli Gurriel’s single drove in Springer.

Hinch wrote Alvarez into the lineup in left field despite his reputation as a defensive liability in order to take advantage of his bat. John McGraw used to say that the only important attribute for a left fielder was the ability to hit .330. If McGraw was right, Alvarez is a Hall of Fame left fielder. He went three-for-three Sunday, with two singles in addition to his homer.

In the field, he had one play, a fly ball hit right at him.

Speaking of not getting much action, that also describes the Washington Nationals attack against Cole. Washington hitters only really threatened him in two innings, the second and seventh.

In the second, Juan Soto and Howie Kendrick opened with base hits, giving Washington runners at first and third and none out at a point when they only trailed 2-0.

But the next hitter, Ryan Zimmerman, tried to do too much and struck out on three pitches outside the strike zone, the last two of which he took a cut at. Then Victor Robles bit at another Cole slider off the plate and succeeded merely in grounding a double play ball at Correa to end the inning.

With one out in the seventh, Cole homered to bring Washington within three runs, 4-1. After Cole fanned Kendrick, Cole walked Zimmerman on a 3-2 pitch that just missed the outside corner. Cole and his catcher Maldonado thought they’d gotten strike three, and vocally complained to plate umpire Lance Barksdale about the ball 4 call.

The next batter was Robles, who also worked the count to 3-2 and then also looked at a pitch just off the plate. This time, however, Barksdale rang Robles up for an inning-ending strikeout, enraging Robles, the Nationals bench and their fans.

The Series returns to Houston Tuesday for Game 6, with Justin Verlander scheduled to face Stephen Strasburg in a rematch of Game 2, won by the Washington Nationals.

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This was the fifth consecutive World Series game won by the visiting team, matching a record set by the Cubs and White Sox in 1906 and equaled by the Braves and Yankees in 1996. In both of those instances, the home team won Game 6 to wrap up the World Series title. That’s a good omen for the Astros.