Two for the road: Can the Washington Nationals come back in Houston?

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 25: Trea Turner #7, Asdrubal Cabrera #13, Anthony Rendon #6 and Ryan Zimmerman #11 of the Washington Nationals look on during a pitching change during Game 3 of the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Friday, October 25, 2019 in Washington, District of Columbia. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 25: Trea Turner #7, Asdrubal Cabrera #13, Anthony Rendon #6 and Ryan Zimmerman #11 of the Washington Nationals look on during a pitching change during Game 3 of the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Friday, October 25, 2019 in Washington, District of Columbia. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /
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Only six teams have done what the Washington Nationals must do, win the final two games on the road to win the World Series.

Having lost three straight World Series games at home, the Washington Nationals flew to Houston Monday hopeful of rallying on the road.

The Washington Nationals know they can win two straight in Houston because they just did it last week in Games 1 and 2. Houston ace Gerrit Cole, who pitched seven innings during the Game 5 win, will have limited if any availability for further duty. That’s the good news. The bad news is that coming back from a 3-2 deficit on the road is still a daunting challenge.

In World Series history, 17 teams have come back from a 3-games-to-2 deficit to win the final two games and capture the game’s ultimate title. But only six of those teams did so on the road, only one of them since 1980. That sole exception was the 2016  Chicago Cubs, who ended their 108-year Series drought by beating the Cleveland Indians twice at Cleveland’s Progressive Stadium.

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And even the Cubs weren’t coming off three straight home losses. They won Game 5 in Chicago, giving them some bit of a boost entering the final two games. In fact, no team has ever won the last two World Series games on the road after dropping three straight at home.

Aside from the 2016 Cubs, the only other teams to have won the World Series on the road after trailing 3 games to 2 were the 1926 and 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, the 1952 and 1958 New York Yankees, and the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Can the Washington Nationals extract some hope from how those teams managed to overcome the formidable odds they faced?  There are no easy formulae for rallying on the road. But here’s a synopsis of how the six teams that did come back on the road managed to do so.

1926 Cardinals. The Cardinals rode their ace, Grover Cleveland Alexander, to a 10-2 sixth game victory over Bob Shawkey, a veteran who was a spare part on the Yanks’ roster. One day later, in a matchup of mid-rotation starters, Jesse Haines led Waite Hoyt 3-2 through six innings, then Alexander covered the final three innings.

1934 Cardinals. In this case, the Cardinals rode into Detroit with their two aces, Dizzy and Paul Dean, ready. Paul, who had beaten Tiger ace Tommy Bridges 4-1 in the third game, beat Schoolboy Rowe, Detroit’s other ace, 4-3. Dean also pushed across the winning run with a seventh-inning base hit that broke a 3-3 tie. One day later, Dizzy – seeking his own second Series win – benefitted from a seven-run third inning outburst against No. 3 Tiger starter Elden Auker. By the end of the 11-0 rout, Tiger fans were throwing fruit and vegetables at Cardinals players.

1952 New York Yankees. This was a road series for the Yankees in name only since their ‘road trip’ involved nothing more taxing than a subway ride to Brooklyn. Again, the Yanks at least had the benefit of pitching advantages. Their two best starters, Allie Reynolds and Vic Raschi, pitched on full rest against Billy Loes (Brooklyn’s No. 2) and Joe Black, the Dodger closer forced into a Game 7 start. Black was chosen ahead of Dodger ace Carl Erskine, who had pitched a Game 5 complete game victory two days earlier. Erskine did pitch two innings in relief during Game 7, but by then it was too late.

1958 New York Yankees. The Yanks overcame the toughest circumstance of all. Not only did they have to defeat the defending World Series champion Braves twice in Milwaukee, but they also faced the Braves’ two aces, Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette, who had already provided all three of Milwaukee’s series wins. In Game 6, 22-game winner Spahn pitched into the 10th inning but lost when Gil McDougald homered off him.   One day later, Bill Skowron’s three-run home run defeated Burdette.

1979 Pittsburgh Pirates. In Game 6, Pirate ace John Candelaria shut out the Orioles 4-0, scattering seven hits. One night later, Willie Stargell’s sixth-inning two-run homer broke up Scott McGregor’s scoreless pitching and the Pirates won 4-1. Four Pirate pitchers combined to hold the Orioles to just four hits.

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2016 Chicago Cubs. The Cubs hit Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin with seven runs in the first three innings of Game 6 and breezed home 9-3. Game 7 was tougher. Chicago twice seized a lead only to see Rajai Davis’ eighth-inning home run tie the game. Following a rain delay, Chicago won in the 10th inning.