HOUSTON — It had been exactly five months since Gerrit Cole took a loss in a baseball game, a period in which he strung together 19 victories in one of the most remarkable streaks the game has seen.
It got to the point where fans of the Houston Astros almost felt a sense of entitlement, that every time Cole took the mound he would win. For much of the season that was the case, but the expiration date on his streak came at a most inopportune time.
The Washington Nationals, behind an effective performance from their own ace, Max Scherzer, stunned the Astros, 5-4, to win Game 1 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park.
It was the first World Series victory for a Washington team since the 1933 Senators, an American League club, won Game 4 of that year’s Fall Classic. They lost the Series to the New York Giants in five games and did not return to the postseason before moving to Minnesota to become the Twins in 1961.
But on Tuesday the Nationals, who moved to Washington from Montreal in 2005, beat one of the game’s best pitchers in his own park to end an 86-year drought for their city.
“It’s huge,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said. “They waited a long time to get to this position. I’m super happy to be a part of it.”
They scored five runs off Cole — two of them on home runs — as the Astros right-hander surrendered eight hits and lost for the first time since May 22 against the Chicago White Sox. During his unbeaten streak, Cole went 19-0 with a 1.59 earned run average, and his team went 23-2 in that span, including three straight wins in the postseason.
“He’s human, he was bound to lose one eventually, ” said George Springer, the Astros outfielder who missed a potential game-tying home run by inches in the eighth inning. “They got the hits when they needed them, but he’s our guy and when he gets the ball again I’m sure he will be ready to go.”
Indeed, perfection is rare in baseball, and the Nationals drove that point home by hammering Cole early. Ryan Zimmerman, the longest-tenured National, homered in the second inning, and Juan Soto, who turns 21 on Friday, homered in the fourth — the first of his three hits — to even the score, 2-2. It was the first time in 12 starts that Cole had given up two home runs in a game, and Martinez later said the first one had made him misty-eyed.
“First at-bat, to hit a home run and run around the bases,” Zimmerman said. “You’re kind of almost floating around the bases.”
If those homers weren’t shocking enough, Washington jumped on Cole again in the fifth inning. His first mistake was to walk Kurt Suzuki, the No. 8 batter. Then Victor Robles singled to left field, and one out later Adam Eaton, who came into the Series batting .194 in the postseason, slapped a broken-bat single to right field that enabled Suzuki to score and gave the Nationals the lead.
It was the first time Cole had trailed since Sept. 2, and the first time he had allowed as many as five runs in a start since his last loss, in May.
Cole had trouble commanding his breaking pitches, and his fastball was leaking off the corners, he said, and the patient Nationals hitters refused to chase them. Kevin Long, Washington’s hitting coach, noted that of Cole’s 104 pitches, the Nationals swung at 10 that were out of the strike zone.
“It wasn’t my sharpest game,” Cole said. “We had to get creative.”
He also lamented that in that pivotal fifth inning, he was not able to limit the damage to one run. Soto added to the tally by lining a ball off the wall in left field to push home two more runs and give the Nationals a 5-2 lead.
“Well, I mean, he’s really talented,” Cole said of Soto. “I’m not pleased with the double, but I threw him a good slider up and in, move on to the next pitch up and away. He stays back and drives it. A good swing on a good pitch. Good hitters do that.”
Despite the 5-2 deficit, the Astros put some fear into the Nationals once Scherzer departed. After all, the Astros have a knack for dramatic postseason wins, as the Yankees and the Dodgers know.
Taking no risks, Martinez brought in Patrick Corbin, the probable Game 3 starter, for an inning of scoreless relief. But the Astros took advantage when Corbin was replaced by Tanner Rainey. Springer whacked a leadoff home run and set a record: He has homered in five consecutive World Series games, dating to the Astros’ championship in 2017, to break a tie with Reggie Jackson and Lou Gehrig.
In the eighth, with Washington leading by 5-3 and a runner on second base, Springer drove a pitch from Daniel Hudson to deep right center field. Adam Eaton jumped, and just below the top of the wall the ball hit his glove and bounced back onto the grass — for a double that was inches from becoming a home run.
A run scored to make it 5-4, but Hudson got Jose Altuve to line out to right, and then Sean Doolittle got Michael Brantley to line out to Soto in left to strand the potential tying run at second.
It was the Astros who had taken the first lead of the game, striking quickly against Scherzer in the first inning when Yuli Gurriel lined an inside pitch off the wall in left field for a two-run double.
The Nationals got within one run in the top of the second when Zimmerman rocketed a 96-mile-per-hour fastball over the wall in center field.
“That got us going,” said Mike Rizzo, the general manager and architect of the Nationals. “That kind of showed that we can beat him and get to him. Your longest-tenured veteran starts it and your youngest superstar finishes it.”
Zimmerman had played in 19 postseason games, but like his team, he had never made it past the division round of the playoffs until this year. Now he and the Nationals have taken not only Game 1 but also home-field advantage.
Still, the Astros have been in this position before and won. They lost Game 1 of the 2017 World Series, and they lost Game 1 at home against the Yankees in this year’s American League Championship Series.
They will send Justin Verlander to the mound in Game 2 against Stephen Strasburg for another matchup of aces. Yet the Nationals have proved that no matter who pitches, and no matter how long the unbeaten streak, they can still pull out a win.
“You can have the best season in the world, ” Eaton said. “But if you don’t perform on this stage in seven games, I don’t think it really matters.”
James Wagner contributed reporting.
Benjamin Hoffman provided live updates and analysis from Game 1, as it happened:
Here’s what you need to know:
- Bottom 9th: Sean Doolittle Closes Things Out
- Top 9th: Astros Keep It Close
- Bottom 8th: Nationals’ Lead Is Down to One
- Top 8th: Another Hit for Soto, but No Runs
- Bottom 7th: Rainey Gives Up a Solo Shot
- Top 7th: Cole Stays Strong
- Bottom 6th: Scherzer Gives Way to Corbin
Sean Doolittle started the ninth by striking out Alex Bregman with a 94-mile-per-hour fastball that Bregman simply waved at. Yuli Gurriel flied out to center, leaving things up to Carlos Correa, and Houston’s shortstop flied out to center to end the game.
Joe Smith was on the mound in the ninth for Houston and he needed just one pitch to retire Ryan Zimmerman on a grounder to short. Smith struck out Kurt Suzuki and got Victor Robles out on a pop to short.
The Astros have three more outs to get back into this game.
Houston keeps chipping away, but still trails, 5-4.
The rookie Kyle Tucker came in as a pinch-hitter for Martin Maldonado and he singled to center off Daniel Hudson. Aledmys Diaz seemingly flied out harmlessly to center, but when Victor Robles was not quick with a throw, Tucker showed some hustle by tagging up and advancing to second, with Robles’s throw inexplicably going behind Tucker, to first base.
That brought up the postseason hero George Springer, who took advantage of the runner in scoring position by doubling off the wall in right-center, sending Tucker home and making it a 5-4 game.
After Jose Altuve flied out to right for out No. 2, Sean Doolittle came in to relieve Hudson, and he got out of the inning when Michael Brantley lined out to left.
Both teams are now into their bullpens, with Washington still leading, 5-3.
Will Harris came on in relief of Gerrit Cole, and he quickly retired Anthony Rendon on a pop-out to second. After Juan Soto singled on a grounder to center, Howie Kendrick lined out to right. With Asdrubal Cabrera up, Soto stole second, becoming just the fifth player in the last 20 years to homer and a steal a base in a single World Series game. But Harris was unfazed, and he got out of the inning by striking out Cabrera.
Houston’s deficit is down to two runs after George Springer hit his 14th career postseason home run.
The hard-throwing Tanner Rainey came on in relief of Patrick Corbin, and Springer turned Rainey’s 99-mile-per-hour fastball into a 428-foot home run to center that got the crowd in Houston right back into the game.
Rainey recovered to strike out Jose Altuve on a slider in the dirt, but Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman both walked. Daniel Hudson came in to face Yuli Gurriel and got the first baseman pop out to second. Carlos Correa hit a grounder to short that Trea Turner couldn’t handle well, loading the bases for the 22-year-old Yordan Alvarez. But the powerful Alvarez struck out to end the inning.
Gerrit Cole was back out to start the seventh and he still looked strong, striking out Victor Robles on four pitches. Trea Turner made him work for a second out, drawing eight pitches before striking out, and Adam Eaton flied out to right, giving Cole his first perfect inning of the night.
Cole has thrown 104 pitches and, with lots of activity in Houston’s bullpen his day is either done or nearly done.
Patrick Corbin, typically Washington’s No. 3 starter, came on in relief of Max Scherzer — his fourth relief appearance of this postseason — and he did his job well, bridging Washington to its regular relievers for the final three innings.
He started things off with a strikeout of Yuli Gurriel, who had no chance on a devastating 84-mile-per-hour slider. After Yordan Alvarez, who is quickly heating up after a terrible N.L.C.S., singled on a line drive to right, Corbin struck out Martin Maldonado with another terrific slider. Aledmys Diaz came in as a pinch-hitter for Josh Reddick, but Corbin got him to ground out to second to end the inning.
Gerrit Cole only needed to face three batters in the sixth, even if he did not quite match Max Scherzer’s perfection of the previous half-inning.
Asdrubal Cabrera lined out with a soft single to left center, causing a stir of activity in Houston’s bullpen, but Cole induced a 4-6-3 double-play off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman. Cole then got a third out when Kurt Suzuki flied out to second base.
The game finally has a perfect inning, thanks to Max Scherzer.
Michael Brantley lined out to center, Alex Bregman grounded out to short and Yuli Gurriel struck out.
Hopefully Washington fans enjoyed it, as Scherzer is now up to 112 pitches. His season-high was 120 and he was only allowed to throw more than 110 seven times.
A few singles, some heads-up baserunning, and a booming double have the Nationals leading Gerrit Cole and the Astros.
The Nationals put pressure on Cole immediately. Kurt Suzuki drew the first walk of the day from Houston’s co-ace, and Victor Robles followed with a single on a sharp grounder to right. Trea Turner lined out to right, but showing some aggressiveness, Suzuki advanced to third after the catch.
That proved to be a key decision, as with runners on the corners and one out, Adam Eaton laced a single to right, sending Suzuki home.
Anthony Rendon broke his bat on a hard grounder to third that Alex Bregman tried to turn into a double-play, but even with a clean turn at second base, Houston only got the out at second thanks to Rendon running hard out of the box. That left runners at the corners with two outs for Juan Soto, who smacked a double off the wall, bringing both runners home.
Howie Kendrick then smoked a ball that looked like it would send at least one more run in, but Cole got bailed out by a thrilling diving catch from Carlos Correa to end the inning.
This is easily Cole’s worst start since May 22, when he took a loss to the White Sox that preceeded one of the most dominant stretches by a starting pitcher in recent memory.
It’s not as if either starter has truly faltered, but considering how dominant both of them typically are, the fact that there has not been a 1-2-3 inning yet today is at least somewhat surprising. That streak continued for Max Scherzer in the fourth.
The slumping Yordan Alvarez led off with a single on a hard grounder up the middle, continuing that surprising run of imperfection.
After Martin Maldonado flied out to left for the first out, Josh Reddick tried to argue that his bat had made contact with Kurt Suzuki’s glove on the first pitch he saw. The umpiring crew disagreed and three pitches later, Reddick flied out to shallow left.
Scherzer walked George Springer, putting two runners on for Jose Altuve, but Washington escaped the jam when Houston’s second baseman grounded out to first to end the inning.
The bullpen should get ready though. Scherzer is up to 96 pitches and his day will end soon.
On the second pitch of the inning from Gerrit Cole, Juan Soto tied the game, 2-2, with a 417-foot homer to left-center.
Cole proceeded to breeze through the rest of the lineup, as Howie Kendrick flied out to right and Asdrubal Cabrera and Ryan Zimmeran both struck out, but it is a whole new ball game.
The score is still 2-1 Astros, but Max Scherzer’s lack of efficiency is becoming an issue.
After Jose Altuve flied out harmlessly to right, Michael Brantley lined a cutter to right for a single and Alex Bregman struck out on a huge cut at a 95-mile-per-hour fastball.
Yuli Gurriel proceeded to hit a pop to center that Victor Robles was playing too deep to corral. Robles, a 22-year-old center fielder, was shaken up on his dive for the ball, but then the game was delayed to determine if Brantley had been physically stopped from attempting to run home by Houston’s third base coach, Gary Pettis. It did appear that there was some illegal contact between Pettis and Brantley, but no call was made.
After play resumed, with runners on second and third with two outs, Carlos Correa struck out to end the inning.
In what should be a troubling differential for Washington, Scherzer is up to 69 pitches through three innings, while Cole is at 42.
Gerrit Cole worked around a two-out single to record a scoreless inning.
He got Victor Robles to pop out to first and Trea Turner to ground out to third, but with two outs Adam Eaton singled on a liner to left that a diving Alex Bregman very nearly snared at third base. Washington’s M.V.P. candidate, Anthony Rendon, then flied out to center to end the mild threat.
Max Scherzer had little trouble getting out of the second even if he is having a hard time keeping his pitches in the strike zone.
Yordan Alvarez drew a leadoff walk ahead of a fly out to right by Martin Maldonado. Houston’s No. 9 hitter, Josh Reddick, managed to get Scherzer to throw six pitches but popped out to Trea Turner in very shallow center field. Scherzer then froze George Springer on a terrific changeup to end the inning.
Ryan Zimmerman, the face of the Nationals essentially since the team arrived in Washington, homered to center on the second pitch he saw in a World Series game, narrowing the Nationals’ deficit to 2-1.
Gerrit Cole had started things off by retiring Howie Kendrick on a grounder to short and then kept Carlos Correa busy by inducing a pop-up from Asdrubal Cabrera that Houston’s shortstop also handled.
Up stepped Zimmerman, who joined the Nationals late in the 2005 season — the year they moved from Montreal. He launched a 96-mile-per-hour fastball 413 feet for just the second run against Cole this postseason.
Cole was able to recover, inducing a grounder from Kurt Suzuki to — who else? — Correa, to end the inning.
Houston, which came in as a heavy favorite, took a quick 2-0 lead off Washington’s Max Scherzer thanks to Yuli Gurriel’s two-out, two-run double off the wall.
Houston’s leadoff batter, George Springer, drew a seven-pitch walk and on Scherzer’s next pitch, Jose Altuve singled to left. Scherzer pulled off quite a feat in striking out Michael Brantley on three pitches, but he was wild on his third pitch to Alex Bregman and Springer was able to advance to third.
Scherzer finished a strikeout of Bregman on a vicious slider, but with runners on the corners and two outs, Gurriel lined a 1-2 fastball off the wall in left, bringing both runners home.
Carlos Correa struck out to end the inning, but not before Scherzer had spotted Gerrit Cole a 2-0 lead — which is more runs than Cole has allowed so far this postseason.
Gerrit Cole quickly had to deal with a runner in scoring position, but nothing came of the Nationals’ brief threat.
Trea Turner led off the game with a sharp grounder to short that Carlos Correa couldn’t field cleanly, leading to an infield hit. On the next pitch, Turner stole second, just barely beating Martin Maldonado’s throw. Adam Eaton popped out to third on a bunt attempt and Anthony Rendon struck out, bringing up Washington’s powerful youngster, Juan Soto, who struck out swinging on a 99-mile-per-hour fastball.
Playing in Houston, the Nationals will have a designated hitter for the game, and they went with Howie Kendrick, who won the M.V.P. Award in the N.L.C.S.
1. Trea Turner, SS
2. Adam Eaton, RF
3. Anthony Rendon, 3B
4. Juan Soto, LF
5. Howie Kendrick, DH
6. Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B
7. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
8. Kurt Suzuki, C
9. Victor Robles, CF
The Astros went with a fairly typical lineup for them, with the only aberration being Martin Maldonado starting at catcher, thought that is typical in games started by Gerrit Cole.
1. George Springer, CF
2. Jose Altuve, 2B
3. Michael Brantley, LF
4. Alex Bregman, 3B
5. Yuli Gurriel, 1B
6. Carlos Correa, SS
7. Yordan Alvarez, DH
8. Martin Maldonado, C
9. Josh Reddick, RF
Every game of this series could potentially be a marquee pitching matchup, with both teams boasting three terrific starters. In Game 1, it will be Max Scherzer on the mound for Washington and Gerrit Cole starting for Houston. There is no doubt that Scherzer, with his three Cy Young Awards, is the more accomplished of the two, but if you limit things to this postseason, the Astros appear to have a razor-thin advantage.
In three starts, Cole has a 0.40 E.R.A. over 22⅔ innings, with 32 strikeouts and eight walks. Opponents have hit .132 against him and Houston won all three of his starts. Scherzer has started three games and appeared once in relief, putting together a 1.80 E.R.A. over 20 innings with 27 strikeouts and eight walks. Opponents have hit .134 against him and the Nationals also won each of his starts. The difference largely boils down to Scherzer having had a rocky first two innings in his wild-card round start against Milwaukee
The Nationals have a Most Valuable Player Award candidate in Anthony Rendon and the Astros have one in Alex Bregman, but the best postseason hitter between the two teams has been Houston’s Jose Altuve who has a .349 batting average, .767 slugging percentage and a postseason-leading five home runs, including a walk-off against the Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series to send the Astros to the World Series. Rendon has been rolling for Washington, slashing .375/.465/.594, but he has just one home run. Bregman has struggled some, with a batting average of .257, but has made up for that some by leading all postseason batters with 10 walks.
The Astros are heavy favorites to win the Series, with the Westgate SuperBook and other oddsmaking agencies starting them out as -220 favorites. By most measures the Astros are the biggest favorite in the Series since the Boston Red Sox took on (and swept) the Colorado Rockies in 2007, with Sportsoddshistory.com reporting that Boston was favored -240 that season. Houston had been -165 against the Yankees in the A.L.C.S. (which went to six games) and -300 against Tampa Bay in their division series (which went to a full five games). Washington was an underdog against the Los Angeles Dodgers in their division series but was favored, -140, in the N.L.C.S. against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Much will be made of this being the first World Series in Washington D.C. since 1933, but the Nationals have no connection to either Senators franchise — not the original American League team that played in Washington from 1901 to 1960 before becoming the Minnesota Twins, nor the expansion team that played in Washington from 1961 to 1971 before becoming the Texas Rangers. Instead, the Nationals get their franchise history from the Montreal Expos, a team that never advanced beyond the N.L.C.S. In 36 years of major league baseball being played in Montreal, the city hosted just five postseason games.
Even with interleague play, teams from the American and National Leagues, beyond regional rivals, simply don’t play each other very often. As a result, most World Series matchups are between franchises with relatively little history between them. But the Astros, as a result of their unusual shift from the N.L. to the A.L. in 2013, are the exception to that rule.
Houston has faced the Expos/Nationals franchise 451 times in the regular season and owns an impressive 244-207 record against them. Contrast that to last year’s matchup between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox: teams that had been around for a combined 253 seasons but had faced each other just 15 times. The record for regular season games between World Series opponents? The Astros and Dodgers, who were once N.L. West rivals, had already faced each other 711 times in the regular season when they met in the 2017 Series.
Benjamin Hoffman is a senior staff editor and regular contributor to the Keeping Score column in sports. He joined The Times in 2005. @BenHoffmanNYT • Facebook