Verlander, Astros look to close out series at home


October 29, 2019 - 10:15 AM

Justin Verlander (35) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 4 of the American League Division Series on Oct. 8. DIRK SHADD/TAMPA BAY TIMES/TNS

WASHINGTON (AP) — George Springer shook his head at the mere mention of Houston Astros teammate Justin Verlander’s past October trouble, the only pitcher in baseball history to go 0-5 in the World Series.

“We wouldn’t be here without him,” Springer declared. “I don’t care what individual stats say.”

Then, as if to emphasize the point, the Astros outfielder repeated himself: “We wouldn’t be here without him. So I’m glad that we’re handing the ball to him. We’ll see what happens.”

Verlander will get a chance to make people forget his postseason struggles, including losses in win-and-advance games in this year’s AL Division Series and Championship Series, if he can help Houston clinch a second championship in three years. The 36-year-old right-hander will start Game 6 at home against Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.

“He’s prepared. He’s ready for this moment. We’ve been communicating back and forth throughout the whole series on how we were going to make an adjustment to what we were seeing and how we were going to attack,” said Gerrit Cole, Verlander’s rotation-mate and chief AL Cy Young Award competition this season.

“It’s going to be business as usual for him. He’s going to set the tone for us,” Cole said. “Hopefully we can back him up with some runs, and play some great ‘D.’”

Cole gave up just one run in seven innings and struck out nine as the Astros grabbed a 3-2 series lead Sunday night by beating the NL wild-card Nationals 7-1.

Springer, Carlos Correa and rookie Yordan Álvarez all delivered two-run homers — celebrated with elaborate handshakes and hearty hugs — for the team that led the majors with 107 wins in the regular season.

The hootin’ and hollerin’ carried on in the mini-cafeteria in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park.

It’s really been rousing to be on the road so far: Only two other times in baseball history did the home team fail to win any of the first five games of a World Series.

The Nationals won the first two games in Houston by a combined score of 17-7, before the Astros switched everything around and took all three games in Washington by a total tally of 19-3.

The Nationals entered the weekend having won 18 of 20 games, which was the best streak the team had posted since moving from Montreal to Washington in 2005. Then they went 0-3 at home.

“We’re just going back there,” Nationals outfielder Juan Soto said, “trying to do the same thing we did before.”

Now comes Monday’s break in the best-of-seven series, before Houston asks Verlander to try to end the World Series.

“Our confidence is great. We believe he’s going to be at his best tomorrow,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said Monday at Minute Maid Park. “He loves this big stage. He loves being relied upon.”