As soon as Max Scherzer determined that the spasms in his right trap and neck, which cropped up over the last few days, would keep him from making his scheduled start in Game 5 of the World Series with the Houston Astros, he sent Joe Ross a text message telling him to start preparing for the outing.
“When I was coming to the park today,” Scherzer explained, “I knew there was just no way I was going to be able to get ready. I gave him a text to tell him, ‘Hey, get ready, you’re going to be starting today. There’s no way I’m going to be able to start.’”
Ross, 26, started in Game 4 of the NLDS, in an abbreviated outing in which he gave up three hits, two walks, and four earned runs in 2 2⁄3 innings in which he threw 55 pitches, and came out of the bullpen in Game 3 of the Fall Classic, tossing two scoreless on 19 pitches, but the starting assignment in a 2-2 World Series?
Scherzer said he was confident that Ross could get the job done, but he was clearly not at all happy with the way things turned out.
“I mean, I’m as disappointed as I possibly can be not to be able to pitch tonight. It’s Game 5 of the World Series,” Scherzer said.
“I’ve pitched through so much crap in my career that that would be easy to pitch through at this point. This is literally impossible to do anything with.
“So for me, I still have faith in everybody in this clubhouse.
“Watching Joe Ross pitch the other night, I thought he looked extremely polished in what he was able to do.
“So in our clubhouse we just believe the next guy up can always get the job done. Right now it’s come down to Joe.”
Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez talked before the game about what his expectations were for Ross considering he’d been used sparingly since the end of the regular season.
“He’s starting the game,” Martinez said. “We’re going to let him go as much as he can go.”
As for what was realistic to expect?
“We’re going to let him go as much as he can,” the manager reiterated. “I’m assuming he can get up to that 75, 80-pitch mark.”
Astros’ skipper A.J. Hinch told reporters that they learned about the change the same time everyone else did, but they were doing what they could to prepare for a different starter.
“I think it just affects our preparation a little bit because we got a late notice that they scratched their starter,” he explained.
“It’s happened before to us. So we’ve got to get to working on our game plan against Ross as opposed to what it was against Scherzer.”
Ross took the mound in Nationals Park, after receiving a rousing ovation when he walked out to the bullpen to warm up, and gave the Nationals a total of five innings on the hill in which he threw 78 pitches, giving up five hits, two of them two-run home runs, with nine ground ball outs from the 20 batters he faced, and the Astros, who were up 4-0 when he was done, cruised to a 7-1 win, their third in a row in Nationals Park.
Joe Ross’s Line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 2 HRs, 78 P, 48 S, 9/1 GO/FO.
“I thought he did really well, I really did,” Martinez said of Ross’s outing after the loss. “I told him, Hey, we want to keep him right about 80 pitches and he gave us five good innings.
“And I said, ‘Hey, you need to be ready to pitch in a few days again. I said, You did a great job.’”
The first of the two home runs Ross gave up would have been enough for the Astros, who held the Nationals to three runs combined in their three wins in the nation’s capital, after they’d dropped the first two games of the series in Minute Maid Park.
What changes did they make that turned things around for the Astros after the back-to-back losses?
“We didn’t tweak anything,” Hinch said after his team went up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
“We just continued to play the series. We have experience in series, in seven-game series. We know on the front end you can’t assume anything when you’re ahead and on the other end you can’t assume when you’re down.
“I don’t think we tweaked anything, but we started to bring our personality back, we started to bring our run production back. We started playing from ahead, that was the key for us, this three games in Washington. And subsequently we -- our pitching staff decided not to give up very many runs. And combine those things and we come away with three wins.”
As for the Nationals? What changed once they got back home to D.C.?
“You’re facing some pretty good pitching right now,” Martinez said. “We’ve just got to keep battling. These guys, they’re not going to quit, I can tell you that right now.
“We got a day off tomorrow, come back Tuesday. And I truly believe these guys will get after it again Tuesday.
“I told them, I said, ‘I know we’re going to go 1-0, but we’re going to play Game 7.’ I believe that. So keep pushing.”
“We’re going to go to Houston and win that first game and get to Game 7,” he added.
“I told them the focus is Game 6. We’ve got Stephen Strasburg on the mound. I like our chances, you know, keeps us in the ball game. Who knows what can happen.”