Houston Astros’ starter Zack Greinke cruised through 6 1⁄3 scoreless innings on 67 pitches on Wednesday night, with one hit and one walk allowed, and a 2-0 lead over Washington’s Nationals in Game 7 of the World Series.
Anthony Rendon stepped in with one out in the seventh, however, and hit a 1-0 changeup out to left field to cut the Astros’ lead in half, and a five-pitch walk to Juan Soto in the next at bat ended Greinke’s outing after 80 pitches overall.
If the Astros’ starter hadn’t walked Soto, would manager A.J. Hinch have lifted him there?
“I don’t know,” Hinch said after the game. “I mean, I don’t know. I didn’t leave him in. But I’m not sure what I would have done. There’s no real what-ifs and things like that.”
“Greinke is an unbelievable pitcher,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters in his own postgame press conference.
“I’ve seen him, I’ve been on other teams where we had to face him. It’s not an easy at-bat.
“He throws strikes, he throws strikes with all his pitches.
“When I played and faced guys like that, I would always call them a comfortable 0 for 4.
“Because you think you’re going to be on him, and you hit a ball and you don’t really get any good wood. And Soto getting the walk, but then Anthony hitting a big home run, I think that was, to me, that was the key. I mean, he really opened it up right there. I saw the guys, they felt like they had life, we’re down one. We still got a lot of game to play, and then you saw their bats getting better.
“But Greinke, man, he was incredible. Not only this time but the outing before he was really good.”
Will Harris, who’d given up his first run in 9 2⁄3 IP in the postseason the previous night, on a home run by Rendon, came on to face Howie Kendrick with Soto on and one out and gave up a two-run home run to right that put the Nationals up 3-2 in what ended up 6-2 win that earned Washington, D.C. its first World Series championship since 1924.
Harris gave up a single by Asdrúbal Cabrera as well before the Astros went to the pen again for right-hander Roberto Osuna, who got Houston out of the inning behind by one.
In hindsight, did Hinch pull Greinke early?
“I’m not sure it was early,” he said. “It was in the 7th inning and he was getting up into the 80s. We asked him to do more today than he had done, and pitched deeper into the game more than he had done in the entire month of October. I wanted to take him out -- a bat or two early rather than a bat or two late.”
“Kendrick and Cabrera was where I had really focused on Will Harris at that point,” Hinch explained.
“Will has been tremendous for us. I knew I had Osuna, I knew I had Gerrit [Cole] if need be.
“Will coming in to spin the breaking ball, he got the swing and miss, then he hit a ball off the foul pole in the right field and off they go.
“It’s a decision I’ll have to live with,” Hinch added. “I’ll think about it. And I don’t know what would have happened had I left him in.
“But that was kind of where I targeted based on where the game was going and what we had available to us.”
On the Nationals’ end, it was Rendon and Kendrick coming up big as they had throughout the season and postseason.
“Yeah, you know, there’s guys in a big moment you want up there. And those are two guys that when a big moment arises, you want them up there,” Martinez said.
“And they’ve come through all year long for us in big ways. They have the knack to just stay calm and do what they need to do. And you saw that tonight.”
Add in Soto’s walk, which set Kendrick up with the opportunity to put the Nationals on top, and the course of the game changed in just three at bats in the seventh inning in Game 7.
“You look at Rendon, who has no heartbeat,” Martinez said. “He’s just the same guy every day, every play, every second. And then you look at Soto, who’s a 20-year-old -- well, a 21-year-old now, he had his first beer tonight, which is kind of nice ... but you look at a 21-year-old kid that’s just out there having fun like he’s playing stick ball in the backyard.
“That’s who he is. He loves the moments. He loves going up there and picking up his teammates.
“Like I said, you add Howie in there, you add -- even [Ryan Zimmerman] — you know, who missed all this year and all of a sudden he comes back and we’re playing for something and he’s just part of it. He just stepped up and wanted to be a part of it and came up with some big hits of his own.
“I’m so proud of all these guys and what they’ve done. I’ve asked them to do things that they, I’m sure, are not comfortable, and they did them, no questions asked. [Patrick] Corbin being one of them. Corbin pitched out of the bullpen. Today we were thinking he would get one inning. He went out for one inning, we asked him if he could go out another inning, he said, yeah.
“Asked him again if he could go out for a third inning, he says, ‘Whatever you need.’
“After the third inning I said, I think we got you covered. Great job. That’s what I get with that bunch of guys.”
Kendrick, whose grand slam in the 10th inning in Game 5 of the NLDS put the Nationals on top for good in the decisive 7-3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, came up big again with the eventual game-winning hit in Game 7 of the World Series, capping off a bounce-back season the 36-year-old veteran, who suffered a torn Achilles early in the 2018 campaign.
“I saw him last year, he came in last year, he knew he was out for the year,” Martinez said of the injury.
“This guy worked unbelievably last year to get back and then come to Spring Training.
“When he showed up at Spring Training we thought he wasn’t going to be able to do much.
“He played. He was ready to play from day one. He was ready to go and I had to kind of ease his way, to say, ‘Hey, look, one, you’re not a spring chicken anymore. And two, We’ve got to ease your way back. We want you for the duration of the year.’
“A testament to how hard he worked. Howie is a true professional. You see him on the field what he does, but what he does in that clubhouse with those guys is unbelievable. And you can’t replace that. You really can’t. He’s been one of the heart and souls of this team.”
The heart and soul of the team gave the Nationals life late in Game 7, and Kendrick and his teammates claimed the World Series championship.