WASHINGTON — The Houston Astros were well aware of the predicament they faced when the arrived in the nation’s capital for Game 3 of the World Series.
If history was their guide, they figured to have little chance of winning their second title in three years after losing the first two games at home.
The Washington Nationals, meanwhile, didn’t have a care in the world. They had brought a World Series to a place where it had not been played since 1933 and they owned an overwhelming statistical probability of bringing a title to Washington for the first time since the Roaring Twenties.
Their fans could taste it. They packed Nationals Park and bellowed from the start of player introductions until the late innings, but somewhere between Houston and home, the Nats lost their mojo, at least temporarily.
They had won eight straight postseason games so maybe something had to give. The Astros dinked and dunked and came away with a 4-1 victory that didn’t exactly change the subject, but at least allowed them back into the conversation.
They still are at a decided disadvantage, but their chances of winning this thing improved from none to slim and the needle on the pressure gauge tilted just a little bit toward the Nationals.
Now, it becomes all about Game 4, which was already problematic for the Astros, who do not possess a rested starting pitcher to oppose Nats left-hander Patrick Corbin.
Houston manager A.J. Hinch was going to have a decision to make regardless of the outcome Friday night. Whether the Astros faced elimination Saturday or just the possibility of going down three games to one, Game 4 would be critical enough to warrant some crisis management.
He was tight-lipped during his pregame media session and made it pretty clear that he was unwilling to go back to Game 1 starter Gerrit Cole on three days rest, which left him with a bullpen game as his only option.
This is the era of the opener, but don’t be confused. The Astros started reliever Brad Peacock in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series and followed him with six more relievers to win the decisive game against the Yankees.
Technically, if it were an opener situation, the reliever would pitch an inning or two and be replaced by a starter who — in a perfect world — would pitch most of the game.
The speculation before Game 3 was that Hinch would likely start 24-year-old right-hander Jose Urquidy instead of Peacock and match up relievers the rest of the way. The fact that Peacock pitched during the middle innings of Friday night’s game probably took him completely out of consideration for the start.
Hinch finally confirmed Urquidy after the game and said that he would stay out there as long as he is effective.
"I don’t necessarily have a predetermined plan how many innings or how many pitches,'' Hinch said. “It’s Game 4 of the World Series and all things are being considered.”
This is just baseball at a time when good starting pitchers are treated like rare china. There was a time — which feels very long ago — when the best pitcher on a World Series team was expected to start Games 1, 4 and 7, if necessary.
In 1968, Detroit Tigers No. 2 starter Mickey Lolich didn’t throw his first pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals until Game 2, still started three games and pitched nine innings in each of them.
Those days are long past, of course, and we’ll never really know what Hinch would have done if the Astros had lost Friday night. He still might have emptied his bullpen with his team on the brink, but it’s hard to imagine Cole not begging for the baseball in that circumstance.
There still would have been the fair argument that the Astros were going to have to steal a win with an unorthodox pitching strategy at some point, so why take their top guys out of their normal routine to force the issue.
Now, they have an outside chance to push the Nationals into a corner if they can find a way to get even and send Cole to the mound on regular rest Sunday.