• 63°

Nats lead Astros 2-0 as World Series finally returns to DC

By Ben Walker

AP baseball writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — Walking off the field after the final out, Juan Soto smiled as he approached manager Dave Martinez and held up a pair of fingers.

“Two more,” Soto told his skipper.

By then, Minute Maid Park was nearly empty and mostly silent, except for a small clutch of fans behind Washington’s dugout.

Suffice to say, it will look and sound a lot different Friday night at Nationals Park.

Halfway to a World Series championship in a city that hasn’t claimed the crown since 1924, Washington has watched everything go its way in taking a 2-0 lead over the discombobulated Houston Astros, who were heavily favored at the start.

Not that anyone expected exactly this.

Those taut, tense pitching duels that were set with aces Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg on the mound?

Nope.

“Just about when we all predict what this is supposed to be about, the game will show you that you know maybe a little bit less and less the more you’re around it,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said.

Instead, the biggest star so far is a hitter — Soto, still in his first full season and already with a knack for clutch knocks.

It was Soto’s eighth-inning hit that rallied the Nationals past Milwaukee in the NL wild-card game. He then hit a tying home run off Clayton Kershaw in the eighth during the deciding Game 5 of the Division Series.

Soto was just getting warmed up, apparently.

He’s 4 for 7 with a homer and two doubles in the World Series, driving in three runs and scoring three and also stealing a base. And those shakes and shimmies he does at the plate, no wonder it’s called the Soto Shuffle.

And how’s this for timing — his 21st birthday is Friday, when Aníbal Sánchez is scheduled to start for the Nationals against Zack Greinke. It will be the first World Series game in Washington since 1933 with the Senators.

Just imagine the party Soto’s adoring crowd will throw at pumped-up Nationals Park.

“It’s going to feel amazing,” he said. “I can’t wait for it to happen.”

Soto and the Nationals wrapped up a 12-3 romp Wednesday night and made the Astros look awful in the process.

“Clearly, the Nats have outplayed us, bottom line. They came into our building and played two really good games,” Hinch said. “We’re going to have to try to sleep off the latter third of this game. I don’t want to lump this into a horrible game; it was a horrible three innings for us.”

Kurt Suzuki got the ball rolling — flying, rather — by leading off the seventh inning with a tiebreaking home run off Justin Verlander. Things quickly turned messy for Houston, and the Nationals pulled away with late homers from Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor.

“Not in a million, billion, gazillion years did I ever think I’d homer in the World Series,” Eaton said.

It hasn’t been that long since a team overcame this kind of deficit in the World Series, but it’s been a while.

Only three of the past 25 teams to drop the first two games at home under the 2-3-2 format have rallied to take the title. The last to do it was the 1996 New York Yankees against Atlanta.

The Astros led the majors with 107 victories and now need to win two of three to merely send the matchup back to Houston.

“You can’t dwell on two games not putting everything together. Something goes our way, one ball goes our way, one line drive finds a gap instead of going at somebody, and everything changes,” Verlander said.

“Things didn’t go our way,” he said. “We don’t have time to feel bad about ourselves. Reset and come into an environment that we know is going to be pretty crazy and be ready to play baseball like we know we can.”

Fact is, the Nationals know what they can do, too. They’ve won eight in a row this postseason and 18 of 20 overall dating to the stretch run.

Not bad for a team that clearly remembers when it was 19-31 and things didn’t look too promising.

Comments

Crime

Man faces kidnapping, assault charges after woman escapes at Webb Road Flea Market

Local

Natoli promoted to assistant county manager, will retain human resources director title

Education

Attendance restriction lifted for RSS graduation ceremonies

Business

Rowan Chamber of Commerce will host in-person Power in Partnership on Thursday

Business

Rowan EDC will undergo name change, alter board requirements with updates to bylaws

Nation/World

Israel strikes Gaza tunnels as truce efforts remain elusive

Nation/World

Supreme Court to take up major abortion rights challenge

Nation/World

Biden boosting world vaccine sharing commitment to 80M doses

Crime

Man charged for stowing away on Norfolk Southern train, impeding railroad operations

Local

Group will protest treatment of Georgia woman during 2019 traffic stop

Crime

Man overdoses at Piedmont Correctional Institute

Crime

Sheriff’s Office: Two men escape from jail, found in bushes on Fulton Street

Ask Us

Ask Us: When will North Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue be resurfaced?

Local

Political Notebook: Rowan’s lawmakers pass 140 bills into the opposite chamber before deadline

Local

Police chief to present use of force policy; city manager to present 2021-22 budget

Crime

Blotter: Rockwell man arrested on charges of felony larceny, possession of stolen vehicle

Coronavirus

CDC director says mask turnaround based solely on science

News

Catawba College hosts three in-person commencement ceremonies

Local

With high case loads causing numerous staff departures, Child Protective Services seeks more positions

Education

Livingstone College graduates celebrate ‘crossing the finish line’ during commencement celebration

Coronavirus

Rowan sees 4 new COVID-19 deaths as mask mandate lifted, vaccines administered continue decline

Local

Spencer is latest town updating its development ordinance

Local

Salisbury native Kristy Woodson Harvey makes NY Times bestseller list

Local

Board of Commissioners will convene for third time in May