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Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto hits a home run off Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander during the fifth inning of Game 6 of the World Series in Houston on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

HOUSTON — What it took for the Washington Nationals to play again, to have one last chance at a dream that’s wavered back into focus, was 25 outs from Stephen Strasburg, and a lined homer from Adam Eaton, and a towering homer from Juan Soto, and sidestepping a blown call from the umpires — when Trea Turner was ruled out for, well, running to first base — and Anthony Rendon lofting his two-run homer into the left field seats.

That was it. And now they have a shot to win the World Series in Houston on Wednesday night.

Because when it was all added up Tuesday, and the Nationals kept stretching fate, they beat the Houston Astros, 7-2, to force a Game 7 at Minute Maid Park.

Stephen Strasburg allowed just two runs, both in the first, in 8 1/3 dominant innings. Eaton went yard in the fourth, Soto did two batters later, and Rendon later hit a homer and double to collect five RBI and provide breathing room.

Washington has now won four elimination games this October and, with that, will fight for as long as the calendar allows.

Their season, their comeback from a 19-31 record in May, their push through the playoffs and this clash with the Astros, will come down to one game Wednesday night. It will decide everything. It will start, for the Nationals, with Max Scherzer on the mound.

They felt they’d needed just one good bounce — a bloop single, an Astros error, anything — to turn this series back around.

They had left Houston with a two-game lead last week, closing in on history, carrying belief. Then they returned in a hole, trailing 3-2, trying like mad to slow the Astros and start their engine again. But now they had Strasburg on the mound. They’d won all four elimination games he’s pitched in, going back to 2016, and it was fitting that he went out and nearly tossed his third career complete game. These Nationals will ride their rotation until the end.

And it was Strasburg who, not two weeks ago, best summed up Washington’s sprint through the postseason.

In the clubhouse after Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, after the Nationals clinched a World Series berth, Strasburg looked at the beer-soaked floor and squinted. He considered why some teams get a title chance and others don’t. That’s when this thought popped into his head: “You have a great year, and you can run into a buzz saw. Maybe this year we are the buzz saw.”

He was right for another two games. He was wrong when the series swung against Washington.

Then the Nationals came back to Houston, where they’ve yet to lose this October, and again looked like the team no one wants to face.

They took a quick lead, when Rendon singled in Turner in the first, but it evaporated. Strasburg’s first four pitches went like this: a double for George Springer, a wild pitch to move him to third, another ball in the dirt, then a sacrifice fly from José Altuve. The score was knotted again, just like that, then Alex Bregman crushed a homer to nudge the Astros ahead.

Springer ambushed a 94-mph fastball coming straight down the middle. Bregman got a nearly identical pitch, watched the ball arc through the air, and carried his bat to first base before dropping it into the dirt.

Strasburg settled into an unshakable groove, blanking Houston for the rest of the night, and the offense used that as a springboard. They scored just three runs across the three losses at their ballpark. Then they silenced the Astros’ crowd with a pair of fifth-inning swings, first on Eaton’s solo homer, and then with Soto’s before he mimicked Bregman and brought his bat down the line, too.

Then the game went totally sideways in the seventh.

The inning began with Yan Gomes poking a leadoff single to right field. Next came Turner, at the top of Washington’s order, and he hit a dribbler in front of the mound. Turner was a step from the base, and mid-stride, when Brad Peacock hit him with an offline throw. Turner advanced to second, Gomes to third. The Nationals led by a run and had a chance to grow their lead. But that’s when Sam Holbrook, the home-plate umpire, signaled Turner out for runner’s interference.

Washington manager Dave Martinez began screaming, the veins popping from his neck, his fists balled up as he pushed onto his toes for more volume.

The call was confirmed upon a long replay review. Turner stood at the lip of the dugout, staring at the crew, stepping onto the field before his teammates moved in the way to calm him down. And by the end of the inning, even after Rendon eased the drama by parking a Will Harris cutter in the seats, Martinez was ejected for continuing to argue Holbrook’s ruling.

Martinez was restrained by first base coach Tim Bogar and bench coach Chip Hale while charging at Holbrook. That left Hale to press the final buttons of the Nationals’ pitching plan. But Strasburg made that process very simple. He completed a gem at 104 pitches. He handed the ball to Sean Doolittle, to leave no doubt, and the closer shut the door. And the Nationals kept on breathing.

This sport, when stripped of its nuances, when whittled down to size, is really just a constant search for one more.

Pitchers work for hours, staring at video, leafing through scouting reports, even losing sleep, to throw one more strike. Batters stay in the cage, swinging until their hands sting, swearing they’re almost done, to find one more hit. Teams are no different, once individuals become a whole, once those hours add up to a season, and all that matters is earning one more chance.

So there were the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, in the twilight of October, boiling eight months of work into a final, simple task: They have to win one more game. That’s it.


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