What Soto, Nats rocking Cole means for this World Series

HOUSTON — With Max Scherzer facing Gerrit Cole in Game 1 of the World Series, we had grand visions of an epic pitchers’ duel between the three-time Cy Young winner and the hottest pitcher on the planet.

We didn’t get that. We got something better: a reminder that as much as we try to script what will happen in a baseball game, you can never predict what will happen in a baseball game.

The Washington Nationals beat the Houston Astros 5-4 in an action-packed thriller as the two starters combined to allow seven runs and 13 hits over their 12 innings. Juan Soto and George Springer performed heroic feats of strength, and the Nationals’ bullpen huffed and puffed to the end but managed to prevent Washington’s lead from being blown, immediately flipping the script in a World Series in which the Astros entered as the biggest betting favorites since 2007.

This game will be remembered for 20-year-old super sophomore Soto twice beating Cole in the matchup of the phenom of phenoms against the ace of aces. Soto crushed a 417-foot home run to the opposite field in the fourth inning, then lined a two-run double with two outs — opposite field again — off the wall below the Crawford Boxes in the fifth inning. The first blow tied the score at 2, and the second capped a three-run rally to give the Nationals a 5-2 lead.

The unbeatable Cole, riding a streak of 19 consecutive winning decisions stretching back to May — the Astros hadn’t lost a game started by Cole since July 12 — proved beatable after all. Soto, who hit .188 with seven strikeouts in the Nationals’ sweep in the NLCS, proved why he’s too good to go into any extended slump. Before the game, Astros manager AJ Hinch discussed facing the Nationals’ lineup with a 12-man pitching staff of all right-handed pitchers. “Soto is going to be a big part of this series,” Hinch said. That’s not particularly prescient — Soto, after all, is Washington’s cleanup hitter — but there is little doubt that the Nationals’ lineup needs Soto to produce. They beat the Cardinals without him doing much, but they’re unlikely to beat the Astros if he hits .188 again.

Soto led off the fourth. He took a slider for a ball and then jumped on a 96 mph fastball up in the zone, hitting the ball into an area of Minute Maid Park where few lefties not named Yordan Alvarez have gone this season.

Soto became the fourth-youngest player to hit a World Series home run:

Andruw Jones, Braves, 1996: 19 years, 180 days

Miguel Cabrera, Marlins, 2003: 20 years, 187 days

Mickey Mantle, Yankees, 1952: 20 years, 352 days

Juan Soto, Nationals, 2019: 20 years, 362 days

His two-run double came in the fifth with two outs and runners at the corners. Cole fell behind 3-0, but elected to go after Soto and the youngster lined a 3-2 slider over Michael Brantley‘s head.

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