It’s obviously hyperbole to say that a misplay on a tough grounder lost the Astros Game 2 of the World Series. But that six-run seventh inning from the Nationals that broke the 2-2 tie and led them to a 12-3 win was such an intense morale-sapper—for both the Houston team and the formerly rowdy crowd they had in the ballpark—that it’s hard not to look for simple answers that explain in more digestible terms how a game went south on such a cosmic scale.
What if Justin Verlander and his 98 pitches to that point didn’t come out to start the inning and immediately give up a lead-off homer to Kurt Suzuki? What if A.J. Hinch hadn’t bucked a year’s worth of strategy to issue his first intentional walk of the season, loading the bases by putting Juan Soto on first? And most importantly, what if, on the ensuing at-bat, Alex Bregman was able to field Howie Kendrick’s ground ball cleanly, and throw to first to end the inning with the Astros down just 3-2?
That’s by no means an easy play for the Houston third baseman—it was scored as an infield hit, not an error. But given that Kendrick is one of the slowest runners on the Nationals, it feels safe to say that, had that ball been hit a little closer, or had Bregman been a little faster, or had he even just managed to get a hold of it with a bit more than the edge of his glove, a lot would be different. Instead, the Astros were this close to escaping the bases-loaded jam with minimal damage.
“Anytime Alex gets to it I expect him to make the play, he expects to make it,” said manager A.J. Hinch during the post-mortem. “It was just a little bit out of his reach where he couldn’t catch it cleanly. And that kind of turned the entire inning.”
These playoffs have been a cruel one for Bregman in particular, who was easily the team’s best hitter of the regular season and has been on the receiving end of “M-V-P” chants from the Houston crowd. After Game 1, where he struck out three times, he was blunt about his performance: “I’ve been terrible this postseason.” But even though he turned it around at the plate with a two-run dinger in the first inning of Game 2, his heart-rending shortcoming in the field is the enduring image of the Astros’ 2-0 deficit. It’s not fair. And it’s maybe not even rational. But that’s how the World Series works.