WASHINGTON, DC – Two games into the World Series, Juan Soto was knocking the ball all over the park and the Washington Nationals were gleefully pounding the Houston Astros.
Soto hasn't had a hit since, and the Nationals have lost all the momentum they garnered in Houston.
In helping Washington to 5-4 and 12-3 victories, Soto went 4 for 7 with two doubles, a homer and three RBIs. Unfortunately, the Nationals and their young cleanup hitter seemingly forgot to pack any punch in their bats for the trip home.
And now, after scoring just two runs in the last two games, Washington finds itself in a series tied at two games apiece.
"I don't think we're swinging the bats all that poorly," outfielder Adam Eaton said. "There's plenty of guys who lined out."
Before the Nationals played Game 3 on Soto's 21st birthday Friday, Washington manager Dave Martinez quipped, "He's been really good. I just hope he hits at the age of 21."
He hasn't yet.
Soto went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts that night, Washington was hitless in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position and Houston secured a 4-1 victory.
On Saturday night, Soto went 0 for 3 and the Nationals mustered only four hits in an 8-1 defeat. Washington was 1 for 9 with RISP, the lone hit a line drive by Anthony Rendon off reliever Will Harris in the sixth inning that loaded the bases with one out for Soto.
During a postseason in which Soto got the key hit in a wild-card win over Milwaukee and brought Washington back with a homer off Clayton Kershaw in Game 5 against the Dodgers, the Nationals seemed poised to put a huge dent in Houston's 4-0 lead.
Soto hit the first pitch to first base, an unsatisfying RBI groundout that preceded an inning-ending strikeout by Howie Kendrick. It was a sequence that typified how things have turned for Washington — not just because Soto suddenly can't hit but because Kendrick's grand slam propelled the Nationals past Los Angeles in the deciding game of the NLDS.
"They've been pitching great the last two days," Nationals shortstop Trea Turner said. "I don't think it's a matter of us having bad at-bats or whatever it may be. We've got runners on base; we just haven't gotten big hits."
On a team known for standout starters Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, the Astros have been getting solid pitching from a variety of relievers.
Five pitchers combined to allow two hits over the final four innings Saturday night, lowering Houston's ERA in the postseason to 3.63.
A pitcher known mostly for his work out of the bullpen, José Urquidy, fired five innings of two-hit ball without a walk in a rare start.
"He kind of went against his percentages," Eaton said. "When you go in with a game plan of kind of working off his scouting report and he goes the direct opposite, by the time you make the adjustment it's too late."
PITCHER WITH A BAT
Washington's Game 5 starter, Max Scherzer, is more talented at the plate than most pitchers. He hit .243 last season and owns a respectable .193 career batting average.
"When you get in the box you want to contribute offensively, whether it's getting a bunt down or moving a runner or just trying to find a way to get on base," Scherzer said. "I love the hitting aspect of the game. I love that I get to hit."
Cole homered three times over five seasons with Pittsburgh, but he's not exactly brimming with enthusiasm over the prospect of stepping into the batter's box against Scherzer in Game 5.
"I think I fall in line with pretty much everyone else, that it's probably not the most enjoyable experience of all time," Cole said.
Friday night's game lasted more than four hours and stretched into Saturday morning before the final out was made.
That's a long time for a nine-inning matchup.
"We're in the World Series," Martinez said. "I know a lot of it has to do with TV, commercials, and things of that nature."
Even from the dugout, a game like that is tough to watch without the aid of caffeine. Unfortunately for Martinez, he's been forced to cut back on coffee following a recent heart procedure.
"I can't drink caffeine anymore, but a couple cups of coffee would have done wonders for me during the game," he said with a grin.
He probably could have used a shot or two of espresso Saturday night for a game that lasted 3 hours, 48 minutes and ended shortly before midnight.
COOL WITH GOMES
Scherzer has developed a strong rapport with catcher Kurt Suzuki in terms of "just being in sync of what pitch to throw," the three-time Cy Young Award winner said.
With Suzuki nursing a hip injury and unlikely to play Sunday night, Scherzer doesn't mind at all firing the ball at catcher Yan Gomes.
"Yan is very astute to the game of being able to watch what's going on and how I sequence guys and what we want to do," Scherzer said. "He's catching (Saturday night) so he's going to be able to see whatever is going on, get his feet wet."