So much happens during the World Series -- and there's always another game to look ahead to until the final one -- that a lot of small, important plays get lost in the big-picture takes. Two plays, quickly forgotten in aftermath of Stephen Strasburg's mastery and Anthony Rendon's brilliance and Howie Kendrick's home run and Max Scherzer's gutsy effort, helped swing the World Series to the Nationals.
In Game 6, the Nationals led 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning, but Strasburg was teetering a bit as the Astros put runners on second and third with one out. The bullpen was starting to scramble. Strasburg struck out Jose Altuve on three pitches, but Michael Brantley connected with a 1-1 fastball:
Brantley hit it hard -- 102.7 mph -- but right to shortstop Trea Turner, who was playing on the second-base side of the bag in a shift, even though Brantley isn't a hitter teams always shift on. A lot of attention was given to the Altuve strikeout -- he fanned with an off-balance swing on an 0-2 curveball in the dirt -- but if Brantley's ball goes through, the Astros take a 4-3 lead and who knows how the rest of the game unfolds?
In Game 7, the Astros had Scherzer on the ropes early, with several hard-hit balls. Yuli Gurriel led off the second inning with a home run and Yordan Alvarez and Carlos Correa followed with hard singles. Robinson Chirinos popped out on an ill-advised bunt and Josh Reddick grounded out with the runners moving up. George Springer then swung at a 3-0 fastball:
Again, the ball was hit hard: 105.2 mph. Again, the Nationals were in perfect defensive position, with Juan Soto dropping to his knees to catch the sinking line drive. If that ball falls, it's 3-0 Astros and who knows how the rest of the game unfolds.
During the regular season, teams hit .635 on balls with an exit velocity of 100 mph or greater. In the World Series, the Astros hit .521 and the Nationals .517. That was especially damaging to the Astros, as they had 48 balls in play of 100 mph compared to just 29 for the Nationals. But all series we kept seeing the Nationals in the right place at the right time and making some great defensive plays (Anthony Rendon in particular). That was no accident.