Houston now in a big hole in the series

Astros playoff report presented by APG&E: Houston's late-inning collapse hands Nationals a 2-0 World Series lead

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After a tightly-contested game early, the Washington Nationals exploded against Justin Verlander and Ryan Pressly in the seventh inning of the World Series, breaking a 2-2 tie that had been in place since the first inning. The six-run inning would avalanche to a barrage of runs, fueling them to the victory and 2-0 series lead, beating the Houston Astros 12-3 in World Series Game 2. Here is a recap of the game:

Final Score: Nationals 12, Astros 3.

Series: Nationals lead 2-0.

Winning Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg.

Losing Pitcher: Justin Verlander.

Nationals tag Verlander early, but Bregman answers for Houston

World Series Game 2 got out to a bleak start for Houston as Justin Verlander, much like in ALCS Game 5 against the Yankees, would get tagged with a disappointing first inning. Before he could record an out, he would allow a four-pitch walk, a single, then a two-RBI double to give Washington an immediate 2-0 lead to shock Verlander and the Minute Maid Park crowd. Verlander would at least stop the bleeding there, retiring the next three batters, including two strikeouts to finish the frame.

In the bottom of the inning, Jose Altuve tried to get Houston's offense going with a one-out double. He would attempt an aggressive steal of third with Michael Brantley at the plate next and get thrown out by a great throw by Kurt Suzuki of the Nationals. That would prove costly as Brantley would hit a single, which likely would have scored Altuve from second, but instead had just a runner on first base. Alex Bregman had other plans, though, ending his recent funk with a game-tying home run off of Stephen Strasburg, making it 2-2 and a new ballgame after one inning.

Both starters settle in before Nationals get a huge seventh inning

After the first inning where both clubs scored two runs, both Strasburg and Verlander would settle in over the next stretch of innings. The Astros had a chance in the bottom of the sixth, getting two on with one out, but Strasburg, over 100 pitches, would get the final two outs to keep the game tied, though that would be it for him in the game.

Verlander, meanwhile, was able to settle in after his first-inning troubles and manage his pitch count to get him into the seventh inning. The second pitch of that seventh inning would end up over the fence, though, on a solo home run by Kurt Suzuki to put the Nationals back in front 3-2. After a walk to the next batter, Verlander's night would come to a close without recording an out in the inning.

Pressly would come in to try and finish the seventh, but not before the Nationals loaded the bases before scoring on a bobbled groundball by Alex Bregman that would go down as a hit in the scorebook. That would give Verlander a fourth earned run on the night. His final line in Game 2: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 1 HR.

With the bases still loaded against Pressly, Asdrubal Cabrera would tack on two more runs to the lead with a two-RBI single, making it a 6-2 game. Pressly would continue to falter, advancing both runners a base on a wild pitch, then allowed both to score on a two-RBI single by Ryan Zimmerman, blowing the game open at 8-2. Josh James would come in for the final out of the inning.

Nationals take both games in Houston

Now in a six-run hole, the Astros would try to chip away against Washington's bullpen. Fernando Rodney would take over for Strasburg in the bottom of the seventh and worked around a leadoff walk for a scoreless inning. Meanwhile, the Nationals added two more runs against Josh James in the top of the eighth on a two-run homer by Adam Eaton, making it 10-2. Later in the same inning, after James could not finish it, Hector Rondon would allow an RBI-single to Cabrera to make it 11-2 before getting the third out.

After coming away empty in the bottom of the eighth, Chris Devenski would make his postseason debut to pitch the top of the ninth. He, too, fell victim to the Nationals after giving up a solo home run to Michael Taylor, who had taken over in center field in the previous inning, making it a ten-run lead for Washington at 12-2. In the bottom of the ninth, Martin Maldonado would get a solo home run to cut the lead back to nine runs, but Houston would come no closer.

Up Next: The World Series will now shift to Washington, D.C. for Games 3 and 4, and 5 if the Astros can avoid a sweep. Game 3 will be on Friday at 7:07 PM Central, and the expected pitching matchup is Zack Greinke for Houston going against Anibal Sanchez for Washington. The Astros will be in must-win mode to try and steal games on the road to get back into the series.

The Astros playoff report is presented by APG&E.

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Mattress Mack and the Astros host Pearland Little League at Wednesday night's game. Photo by LittleLeague.org

Sure, it’s impressive that the Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting Aug. 17 in South Williamsport, PA.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a 5-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70-mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record was Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. Born in the U.S.A. came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing. The executive asked why not? Well, you might want to listen to the words. Born in the U.S.A. is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly Yankee Doodle Dandy. You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year). The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is considered a slur for Asians).

Later I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA. I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

Play Centerfield by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

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