Column: Nats reclaim history after Game 1 win

October 23, 2019

They say you never have a second chance to make a first impression. When it comes to recent World Series history, they — whoever they are — are right.

The Nats had to win Game 1. Yes, they were facing the best starter on the planet right now, who hadn’t lost since May 22, which was also the last time he gave up more than four runs.

Yes, it took everyone in the bullpen pitching beyond their prescribed roles. Yes, it took some extra luck, maybe a Will Smith reprise, to keep the late lead.

It didn’t matter. They had to win. And they did.

In the last 20 years, the road team was just 7-13 in World Series Games 1. Of the 13 teams that lost, only two went on to win the World Series, the 2016 Chicago Cubs and 2017 Houston Astros, both in seven games. Of the seven that took Game 1, only one — the 2002 San Francisco Giants — failed to win the series.

That’s right: 2-11 vs. 6-1.

As we’ve discussed, the history of the eight previous teams to sweep the championship series is not bright.

But now, instead of staring down the barrel of the history of those other eight teams, the Nats are in the company of those ’95 Braves. No matter what happens Wednesday night — when, by the way, they have a guy with a career 1.10 postseason ERA taking the mound — they will have the chance to win the World Series on their home field, without ever coming back to Houston.

On the flip side, there are those 2017 Astros. They lost Game 1, on the road, and came back to win the World Series in the full seven games in Los Angeles. They also won Games 2 and 3. The last team to lose the first two games of a best-of-seven playoff series and still win were the 2004 Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. The last team to lose the first two at home and still win was the 1996 New York Yankees in the World Series.

A lot will rest on Strasburg to put the Astros in such a hole. Patrick Corbin threw 21 pitches. Tanner Rainey threw 19. Daniel Hudson threw 21. Sean Doolittle threw 19. Almost all were high stress. It’s fair to wonder how much everyone will have coming back on 24 hours’ rest.

But all of that was worth Game 1. The Nationals needed it, and they got it.

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