- - Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Houston Astros didn’t look much like themselves in dropping two World Series games at home. So they resembled the Washington Nationals a bit in Game 3.

During his interview session on Thursday, Astros manager A.J. Hinch commented on the Nationals’ outburst in Game 2, noting that some hits “were pretty low contact, low velocity.” He didn’t mention the shaky fielding that Washington capitalized on, but we all saw it. A bobble here and an errant throw there, all of which helped put Houston in an 0-2 series hole.

But on Friday, the Astros were the recipients of good fortune and the punishers of bad mistakes, slowly building a lead and holding on for a 4-1 victory at frenetic Nationals Park.

Houston quickly made it clear that Washington starter Aníbal Sánchez would not reprise his last outing – a no-hitter through seven innings against St. Louis in the National League Championship Series. Center fielder George Springer led off with an infield single, a ball that Sánchez tried and failed to field cleanly.

No damage came as a result, but the Astros used a line drive and bloop single to score a run in the second. Thus a pattern was established, death by a thousand cuts and a string of lone runs.

There was no magic comeback this time. There will be no sweep. The 44,000 red-clad, towel-waving fans didn’t enjoy a victory in the city’s first World Series game since 1933. Nonetheless, a good time was had by all. Decibel levels remained high and seats remained filled until the not-so-bitter end.

If you overlook the fact that, you know, they lost, the Nationals did provide some enjoyable moments. Unfortunately, most of them were in the field instead of at the plate.

Center fielder Victor Robles crashed into the wall to rob José Altuve and right fielder Adam Eaton made a diving grab to steal a hit from Josh Reddick. Shortstop Trent Turner turned in a couple of nice plays, including one with a jump throw, capped on the other end by first baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s dramatic, sweeping scoop.

But across the diamond, the 107-win Astros reminded everyone why they had the majors’ best record. “We’re pretty good, too,” Hinch said after his team snapped Washington’s eight-game win streak and held the Nationals to their lowest output Oct. 3.

Just like Houston ace Gerrit Cole was bound to take a loss at some point after winning 19 consecutive decisions, Washington was due to come up short eventually, too. That’s why the loss doesn’t seem to faze anyone. The mantra of “go 1-0 today” has been drilled into the team and fan base so thoroughly, failing to meet the objective won’t be a big deal until it happens in an elimination game.

The Nationals can write off Friday as a bad loss against a good team, a lesson they’ve administered to Houston, St. Louis and the Los Angeles Dodgers along the way.

Washington didn’t hit with runners in scoring position (0-for-10), a deficiency that Houston exhibited in the first two games but corrected on Friday (4-for-10). The Nationals also committed two errors, including one by Juan Soto, who didn’t have a happy birthday. He mishandled Altuve’s third-inning double, allowing Houston’s diminutive spark plug to advance to third (and later score). In the second inning, Soto airmailed a throw to home plate, allowing Josh Reddick to advance.

He wasn’t much better at the plate, either, where he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. “He’s been really good,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I just hope he hits at age 21.”

Among the Astros’ 11 hits were three of the infield variety, including a couple that deflected off Sanibel. Two nights earlier, the Nationals caused havoc with some balls that didn’t reach the outfield. Friday it was Houston’s turn.

“It’s a game of breaks,” Houston left fielder Michael Brantley said. “When they make miscues and we can capitalize on it, it’s very important. We got some breaks tonight and the ball bounced our way. So that’s important, and hopefully we get a few more along the way.”

Hinch had promised his team would show up and not roll over. The Astros aren’t the Cardinals. Houston secured what essentially was a must-win, and the Nationals simply tipped their cap.

“Hey, we’ve still got a lot of baseball left,” Martinez said Thursday, which he could’ve repeated Friday. “We’ve just got to focus on today and go home, rest and get ready to play and go 1-0 again. That’s been the message all year. We don’t try to get ahead of ourselves.”

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

• Deron Snyder can be reached at deronsnyder@gmail.com.

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