Column: Nats’ historic win includes Martinez blowing a gasket with an ump

October 30, 2019

Getty Images/Mike Ehrmann

We are in uncharted territory, all of us.

With their 7-2, Game 6 win in Houston, keeping their season alive, the Washington Nationals are now the first team in the history of the four major American sports to win the first two games of a seven-game playoff series on the road, lose the next three at home, then go back on the road again and win Game 6.

But the history made Tuesday night won’t likely be remembered as much as the way it all went down. A series that seemed like it might whimper quietly into winter was suddenly shot through the heart with a syringe full of adrenaline in Game 6. What had been a classically taut, tense pitchers’ duel between aces Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander turned quickly into a circus in the seventh inning and threatened to go off the rails entirely.

With the Nats ahead 3-2, Yan Gomes at first base after a leadoff single, Trea Turner tapped a ball out in front of the plate down the third base line, which Brad Peacock barehanded and threw to Yuli Gurriel at first. As Turner lunged for the bag, he took Gurriel’s glove with him, the ball trickling away and leaving runners at second and third with nobody out.

But home plate umpire Sam Holbrook called Turner out for interfering with Gurriel, ruling that he was outside the designated running lane to the outside of the baseline. After a lengthy review — including some hilarious commentary by Turner about MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre — the call was upheld.

Anthony Rendon made sure that wasn’t the story of the game two batters later, hitting a two-run home run that put the Nats ahead 5-2.

But manager Dave Martinez wanted to play the game under protest nevertheless. When he was informed, heading into the seventh-inning stretch, that MLB would not allow that, any question of how Martinez was is balancing his recent heart issues with the stress of the World Series stage was resoundingly answered.

Martinez blew a gasket, erupting out of the visitor’s dugout at Minute Maid Park.

Did he get tossed right as the crowd finished singing “one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ballgame?” Yes he did. Did he go back for more, forcing bench coach Chip Hale to dig his cleats into the turf and use every ounce of strength to keep Martinez from causing lasting physical harm to an official? You betcha.

Maybe we should have known it was a good omen that the series would see its final game, though. It all went down in the seventh inning. Turner, right in the middle of it all? No. 7.

Through the turmoil, there was the calm dominance of Strasburg. He finished 8.1 innings on just 104 pitches (to become the first pitcher ever to go 5-0 in a postseason) and wouldn’t rule out the possibility we might see him again Wednesday night. His quiet mastery gives way to the hurricane coming in Game 7.

Max Scherzer will throw until his neck bursts through his jersey or the Nationals are champions, whichever comes first. Scherzer started this series, battling not-top-notch stuff through five innings and keeping the Nats alive until the offense could come to his rescue. He had to watch his team’s last chance to win a World Series home game go up in flames when he couldn’t even dress himself Sunday, much less pitch a Major League Baseball game.

Now, Scherzer will be fighting his own body, snorting and snarling until he can’t lift his right arm anymore.

Because of the peculiar way Game 6 went down, every hand really will be on deck. The Nationals only used Sean Doolittle for 11 pitches; Will Harris threw just five for the Astros. Gerrit Cole might see action on two days’ rest. Every other major piece is rested and ready, and will be standing on alert for whatever madness is to come.

Obviously, if the Nationals win Game 7 on the road, it will be the first time any team has won all four road games to win a title. But it’s already a first just to be playing in a Game 7 at all, after sweeping the NLCS, the only other best-of-seven series in franchise history.

The Astros, meanwhile, have now put their fans through the agony of failing to close out a playoff series in every round of the 2019 postseason. They did so twice against the Rays, losing both road games in Tampa. They did so again against the Yankees, falling in Game 5 in the Bronx.

But they didn’t lose a put-away game at home until Tuesday night. When they won their 2017 title in seven games, they did it at Dodger Stadium.

As much as baseball is a game of historical comparisons — of trying to make sense of things through the context of nearly a century and a half of Major League play — Wednesday is already guaranteed to bring something new, for the Nationals and for baseball.

As fans of the game, what more could we ask for?

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