WASHINGTON — From the time they gathered for spring training in February in West Palm Beach, Florida, the Astros were all-in on the most direct and easy-to-grasp of slogans.
It was “Take it Back,” which referenced the club’s collective disappointment about a five-game loss to the Red Sox in the 2018 ALCS after winning the franchise’s first title in 2017.
The Astros haven’t officially taken anything yet in 2019, but they’re taking as much momentum as one can imagine back to Houston. And with that, they’re one win from a second title in three years.
After somewhat shockingly dropping Games 1 and 2 of the World Series to the Nationals at Minute Maid Park, the Astros — behind seven standout innings from Gerrit Cole and two-run homers by Yordan Alvarez, Carlos Correa and George Springer — finished a three-game sweep at Nationals Park with a 7-1 win in front of 43,910 on Sunday night.
“I feel like these last three games, we really played like we want this championship,” Correa said.
On Tuesday night, the Astros, with Justin Verlander opposing the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg, will try to become the first team since the 1996 Yankees to win the World Series after falling in a 2-0 hole. The visiting team has won all five games in this series, matching what occurred in the first five games in 1996.
A Nationals team that couldn’t lose this postseason — posting eight straight wins before the middle three games of the World Series — now is struggling to be competitive. After outscoring the Astros 17-7 in the two games in Houston, Washington was outscored 19-3 in its three home games and managed only four hits in each of the last two.
“We know how quickly things can turn where momentum can shift in a series, especially in a series against a quality team like the Nats,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “We’re not going to take anything for granted.”
The Nationals didn’t score in Game 5 until the seventh, when Juan Soto’s homer off Cole made it 4-1. Yuli Gurriel’s RBI single in the eighth gave Houston a 5-1 lead and Springer’s two-run shot off Daniel Hudson in the ninth made it 7-1.
Alvarez hit a two-run shot off Joe Ross in the second and Correa — who declared after Game 3 that “we got our swagger back” — added another two-run homer off Ross in the fourth to make it 4-0. The Astros had 34 hits in the three games in Washington, including 10 in Game 5.
The Nationals, who went 1-for-21 with runners in scoring position in Games 3-5, were 0-for-2 in this one, but those were two key at-bats. After the Astros took a 2-0 lead in the second, Washington put runners on first and third with none out in the bottom of the inning on singles by Soto and Howie Kendrick. But Cole struck out Ryan Zimmerman and got Victor Robles to hit into a double play.
Cole was the Cole of the regular season, when he went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA. He allowed one run, three hits and two walks, striking out nine.
“He was unbelievable,” Springer said. “He brings an intensity, a tenacity, I don’t really know how to describe it. He showed up today and it was business from the time he got here until the time he came out of the game. He was lights-out. It was special to watch.”
Sunday night was supposed to be a rematch of Game 1, a 5-4 Nationals victory in which Cole, who had not lost a game since May 22, got roughed up for five runs and eight hits. But he did not face off against Max Scherzer as expected. Nationals manager Dave Martinez dropped a bombshell about 3½ hours before Game 5, announcing that Scherzer had been scratched because of neck spasms.
“He’s in ungodly pain,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters.
“I woke up this morning completely locked up. I couldn’t do anything, couldn’t even dress myself. I had to have my wife help me,’’ said Scherzer, who received a cortisone shot in his neck. He hopes it will make a Game 7 start possible on Wednesday night if the Nationals can win Game 6.
That seems like a long shot.
“I truly believe these guys will get after it again Tuesday,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “I told them, ‘I know we’re going to go 1-0, but we’re going to play Game 7.’ I believe that. So keep pushing.”