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No longer the favorites, the Astros can only hope history doesn’t repeat itself

World Series

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

You know, there is actually a reason why they bother to play the games and not just make assumptions about how they might turn out.

Consider the dynamic duo of Houston Astros starters, Gerrit Cole and Jason Verlander, who both came into the postseason with more than 300 strikeouts.

The popular notion was the Washington Nationals would have an impossible time dealing with them in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series in Houston this week.

Perhaps the Nationals might get lucky – bloop one here, bounce another through there – and come away with one win. But beating two Cy Young candidates on consecutive nights in their house would be next to impossible.

Well, what do you know? The Nationals, the first team representing the nation’s capital to play in a World Series since 1933, became the first team to win the first two games of the World Series on the road since the 1999 New York Yankees.

In a textbook show of clutch hitting and their own power pitching, the Nationals disassembled the mystique of Cole and Verlander in business-like fashion over the last two nights to bring the series home with the real possibility it might not have to return to Texas.

All the Astros need to do is win four of the next five against an opponent which has been nearly impossible to beat since the All-Star break. The Nationals have won 84 of their last 124 games, by far the best in the Major Leagues.

Houston won 107 games during the regular season, so it’s certainly possible. Still, the odds are against them: The past 11 teams, 17 of the last 18 teams (so sorry, 1996 Braves) to win the first two games of the World Series eventually popped champagne bottles.

That’s not to say it isn’t possible. The 1986 Mets lost Games 1 and 2 to the Red Sox at Shea Stadium before rallying to win. But not since the 1996 Yankees has a team lost the first two games of a World Series and come back to win.

“We lost two games before during the regular season. Everyone in here knows how to bounce back,” said Astros third baseman Alex Bregman. “Lot of baseball left in this series. We’re going to go to Washington with our heads held high. Ready to go and get after it. We’ve lost two games before. I remember when we lost three in New York and next thing you know we’re in the World Series in ’17. We’ve been here before.”

History tells us no team with at least 107 wins has made the World Series then lost since the 1969 Orioles, who won 109 games, then were trampled in five by the Miracle Mets of Tom Seaver, Cleon Jones and Gil Hodges.

It just doesn’t happen. A season of statistical superiority usually doesn’t crash and burn within a week when the title is on the line.

But it didn’t look that way on Wednesday night when the Nationals turned the tension of a 2-2 game off like it was a spigot. Before anyone knew it, Washington was off to an improbable 12-3 win to take command of the series.

And now the thought process has changed. No longer is this series a case study of how the Nationals could win a seven-game series with Cole and Verlander front-loaded to attack.

Now it’s about how the Astros can win four knowing they’ll have to deal again with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, let alone Anibal Sanchez in Game 3 on Friday in Washington with Patrick Corbin waiting for his call.

World Series

(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

We remind you again, the Nationals have won 18 of 20 and eight in a row during the postseason.

“When everyone goes back to 19-31 (where the Nationals were at the start of the season) they were saying we need to fire Davey [Martinez] or trade so and so, we need to clean house or clean the front office out whatever it might be,” said Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon. “We kind of got our attitude and said, ‘Screw everybody, we’re not worried about what’s going on outside our clubhouse.'”

That’s likely the attitude bubbling up within the Astros on Thursday.

“We have a great ballclub,” said Verlander. “We’ve had plenty of ups and downs during the season and obviously it’s magnified in the World Series, when you’re not clicking on all cylinders. I don’t think anyone should go home tonight feeling bad about themselves. We don’t have time to do that.”

Here’s something to chew on from ESPN: Verlander and Cole became the first teammates to win 20 games during the regular season but lose Games 1 and 2 of a World Series since Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers in 1965 against the Twins. You’ll note, thanks to Koufax, the Dodgers won that series in seven games.

“We’ve already talked as a team,” said Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. “We’ve got to go out there, keep our heads up and play good baseball. Take care of business. We’re such a great team that we’re not going to let a 2-0 deficit get to us.”