Baby Shark has taken over Nationals Park, but it didn't help against the Astros in the first World Series Game in Washington D.C. in 86 years.
Jose Altuve is still the straw that stirs the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Michael Brantley's low-key excellance makes him one of the offseason's best signings. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve's powerful swing is a difference maker. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve brings real joy to the Houston Astros lineup. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman is as hard on himself as Jose Altuve is. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke knows the Astros give him a real World Series shot. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke is a different type of ace. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Zack Greinke does not love the attention or hoopla that comes with it, but he knows how to pitch. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Josh James, Gabby Lopez (Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan )
Michael Brantley is a hit machine. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Josh James didn’t knock the Baby Shark down, but he might as well have. For when the Houston Astros young flamethrower sends Ryan Zimmerman diving to the dirt after one of his 98 MPH fastballs gets away from him and strikes out the Nationals player icon four pitches later, an entire stadium sags.
The Washington Nationals threw one of the biggest, loudest, drunkest parties the World Series has ever seen. And the Astros turned the lights out — and left anyone who showed up at Nationals Park in a Baby Shark costume feeling silly.
Astros 4, Nationals 1. Now, the World Series has truly begun.
“This was Game 7 for us,” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa says in the visitors clubhouse. “We had to go out and win this game. And we were able to do that.”
The Astros win it with one of their most complete team efforts of the postseason. They win it with small ball, with infield singles, timely bloops and four stolen bases. They win it with a catcher who comes into the game mired in a 0-for-15 funk hitting a home run off the foul pole. They win it with clutch hits from Michael Brantley (who may have even smiled) and Josh Reddick. They win it with the unparalleled playoff brilliance of Jose Altuve. They win it with a bullpen that throws four and 1/3 scoreless innings, with Will Harris getting five crucial outs.
And they win it with Josh James maybe throwing the best changeup of his life.
“That was the biggest pitch, in general, of my career,” James says of the pitch that finally puts away Zimmerman to end the fifth, stranding two more Nationals in scoring position.
The rising (and rising) fastball that leaves Zimmerman face down in the dirt for several moments is just as memorable. Zimmerman looks a little like John Kruk bailing out against Randy Johnson. It is a World Series moment that’s going to be remembered a long time if the Astros come back and win this thing.
“I didn’t do it on purpose,” James says. “… Maybe it worked unintentionally, but I wasn’t trying to make him uncomfortable.”
There is uncomfortable — and then there’s Donald Trump locked in a room with the entire National Organization for Women leadership team uncomfortable.
“I think he was scared,” Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos says of Zimmerman’s dirt dive.
The Nationals might have reason to be frightened in general. For the 107 win team that is chasing a dynasty and its second title in three years is very much back in this World Series. Washington’s series lead has been cut in half to 2-1 — and one more Astros win in D.C. will guarantee them at least a Game 6 in Houston.
“Something that makes this team very special is we never give up,” Astros closer Roberto Osuna says.
Instead, the Astros turn that players-only meeting after the Nationals’ 12-3 Game 2 romp — a session driven by Altuve and Justin Verlander — into a hardened resolve. The Astros do not bludgeon the Nationals in this four hour and three minute marathon of a nine inning playoff game as much as they outsmart them. And out fight them.
“Those guys are amazing leaders,” James tells PaperCity when asked about Verlander and Altuve’s message. “Amazing guys in the clubhouse. To have them come out and be so calm — especially with Verlander having been to the World Series so many times — it just makes the whole team feel confident.”
This is how you flip a series — and ruin Baby Shark.
National Party Visions Dashed
They waited 86 years for the World Series to come back to Washington D.C. Nationals fans come in droves, most dressed in red, but more than a few in Baby Shark costumes too. Buzz Aldrin, one of the first men on the moon, throws out one of the ceremonial first pitches.
Yes, the Nationals are even trying to steal Houston’s space cred. No, the 89-year-old didn’t do a backflip a la Simone Biles. Not that many Nats fans would have been sober enough to notice.
It feels like a party worthy of Mardi Gras at this still newish ballpark along the Anacostia River in D.C’s Navy Yard neighborhood. And the Astros take delight in ruining it.
“We know what kind of team we have,” Correa says. “Nobody in here is pushing the panic button.”
Instead, the Astros jump on the Nationals like an Instagram influencer jumps on a free vacation.
With the game in a National League park, the Astros almost become a traditional National League team of yesteryear, small ball devotees. They steal and take the extra base at every opportunity. They’re opportunistic — scoring their first run on Reddick’s little bloop. Altuve scorches a double into the left field corner — and never hesitates on taking third when Juan Soto bobbles the ball. Altuve will score on Michael Brantley’s infield single.
It’s 2-0 Astros with the first World Series game in Washington D.C. since 1933 not even an hour old.
What a difference a day can make.
The Astros endured a nightmarish start to this World Series, losing two games at home with their two best pitchers starting — and getting branded as an arrogant organization by the national media after the Brandon Taubman debacle. Of course, Taubman is the Astros assistant general manager who thought the euphoria of Jose Altuve’s World Series worthy walkoff would be a good time to yell at female reporters about the controversial Osuna pickup — which led to his eventual firing.
In contrast, the Nationals are portrayed as the lovable underdogs, $197 million payroll and all. They even adopted the catchy (or annoying, depending on your point of view) children’s tune “Baby Shark as their anthem. And there are more than 43,000 people — most of them adults — breaking into the Baby Shark chomping move in the sixth inning of a World Series game.
Nats outfielder Gerardo Parra used “Baby Shark” as his walkup music as a joke to break out of a slump in June. Now, the Nats are moving more Baby Shark merchandise than a kids YouTube star.
But cute gimmicks don’t win World Series. Great teams do.
These Astros still believe they are one. Sometimes, that means banging out 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings against Washington playoff hero Anibal Sanchez. Sometimes, that means Springer turning into a more traditional leadoff hitter and stealing two bases. Sometimes, that means turning to a 26-year-old who has 11 career playoff innings on his resume to strike out the other team’s icon.
“He’s got the stuff,” Astros reliever Joe Smith says of James, who started the season in Double A and is ending it in the World Series. “That’s all that matters.”
Especially, if you’re lying in the batter’s box dirt, looking up at the Astros.
“He’s got a lot of velocity and strikeout repertoire,” Harris says of James.
Every World Series winner needs some unexpected standouts. The Astros are finding a few. Maybe, just in time. With more room to grow.
“As an offense, we haven’t been great at all,” Correa says. “And that’s good. Because when we get going, we’re scary.”
Baby Shark might want to hide. This World Series is just getting started.