Nationals rout Astros to seize command of World Series

Houston (AFP)


Powered by a devastating six-run seventh inning, the Washington Nationals seized command of the World Series by routing Houston 12-3 Wednesday, moving halfway to the US capital's first title since 1924.

Kurt Suzuki, Adam Eaton and Michael Taylor smacked home runs, Asdrubal Cabrera drove in three runs and Stephen Strasburg pitched six strong innings as the Nationals grabbed a 2-0 edge in Major League Baseball's best-of-seven final.

Suzuki's solo homer off Houston's Justin Verlander opened Washington's seventh-inning fireworks and ensured the 36-year-old Astros ace would remain winless after a sixth World Series start.

"He doesn't make many mistakes and when you get a pitch to hit you can't miss it," Suzuki said.

The scene shifts to Washington for Friday's game three, the first World Series matchup in the US capital for 86 years.

Of the past 18 teams to seize a 2-0 World Series edge, 17 have won the title. Only three teams have dropped the first two at home and won the title -- Kansas City in 1985, the New York Mets in 1986 and the New York Yankees in 1996.

"Clearly the Nats have outplayed us, bottom line," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "They are halfway to a race to four wins. Clearly game three is very important for us.

"I don't think they are going to be planning the parade. They know we're going to make them fight for it."

The Nationals, who have won eight games in a row and 18 of their past 20 games, began play 50 years ago as the Montreal Expos before moving to Washington for the 2005 season.

Washington's only World Series crown came 95 years ago when the original Senators defeated the New York Giants in seven games. They would relocate to become the Minnesota Twins in 1961 and a replacement version would leave after the 1971 season to become the Texas Rangers.

The Nationals could match the 1914 Boston Braves as the only teams to win the World Series after falling 12 games below .500 during the season.

"We're here because the boys never gave up," Nationals manager Dave Johnson said.

Strasburg, a 31-year-old righthander, struck out seven while allowing only two runs on seven hits and a walk in improving to 4-0 in the playoffs.

Verlander took the loss for Houston, his fourth in six World Series starts, and fell to 1-4 in this year's playoffs.

The game was deadlocked 2-2 entering the seventh when the Nationals humbled the favored Astros with unlikely heroes.

Suzuki blasted a solo homer off Verlander to open the seventh. The Astros lifted the 36-year-old righthander after he walked Victor Robles.

Houston reliever Ryan Pressly walked Trea Turner, Eaton advanced the runners on a bunt sacrifice and Juan Soto was issued Houston's first intentional walk of the year to load the bases.

Then the Nationals, the most prolific scoring team when down to their final out in an inning, made the magic happen again with devastating results.

Howie Kendrick, hitless against Verlander, chopped an infield single to shortstop to score Robles for a 4-2 lead, keeping the bases loaded.

Cabrera, who struck out in three earlier at bats, singled to centerfield to drive in Turner and Soto for a 6-2 Washington lead.

Ryan Zimmerman singled to third and a throwing error by Houston's Alex Bregman allowed both Kendrick and Cabrera to score, boosting the Nats' lead to 8-2 before Pressley was removed and Josh James ended the inning.

The onslaught wasn't over. Robles struck out in the eighth but reached first after catcher Martin Maldonado dropped the third strike. Eaton then blasted a two-run homer. Soto walked and later scored on a Cabrera single for an 11-2 Nationals lead and Taylor added a solo homer in the ninth.

- Verlander makes history -

Turner walked and Eaton singled to open the game and Anthony Rendon followed with a two-run double to left field for a 2-0 Washington lead.

Houston's Jose Altuve reached base in his 22nd consecutive playoff game with a first-inning double but was thrown out trying to steal third base.

Michael Brantley followed with a single and Bregman then blasted a two-run homer to left, pulling Houston level at 2-2.

Verlander struck out four Nationals his first time through the batting order, Robles the last for his 200th career playoff strikeout. That broke the old record of 199 set by former Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz.

Strasburg and Verlander baffled batters from the second through sixth innings, the Astros stranding six runners in the span and Washington four, setting up the Nats' explosive seventh.