HOUSTON (AP) — At this rate, AJ Hinch might never issue another intentional walk the rest of his life.
Hard to blame the Houston manager for his decision Wednesday night, and the mess that followed in Game 2 of the World Series.
But it did seem as though the baseball gods were getting the last laugh.
Because right after Hinch ordered an intentional pass for the first time all year — the Astros were the only major league team to go through an entire season without one since they’ve been tracked — things went awry against Washington.
“Ironically, I thought it was our best chance to limit their scoring,” Hinch said, “and instead it poured gasoline on a fire that was already burning.”
As soon as clutch-hitting slugger Juan Soto shucked his bat and trotted to first without seeing a pitch from Ryan Pressly, loading the bases with two outs and Washington ahead by a run in the seventh inning, Houston kept flubbing.
All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman couldn’t corral a grounder, then threw away another. Star shortstop Carlos Correa was late covering a base. There was a wild pitch, too.
It was perhaps the poorest inning of the season for the 107-win Astros, and came at the most inopportune time.
The result: The Nationals swiftly added five more runs and were well on their way to a 12-3 win and a 2-0 Series lead.
“It was a crazy inning. We couldn’t get the out,” catcher Martín Maldonado said.
“We couldn’t put an out away by strikeout or a groundout right to somebody. It was one of those innings of bad luck,” he said.
Kurt Suzuki’s leadoff homer in the seventh off Justin Verlander put the Nationals up 3-2. By the time Suzuki grounded out to end the inning, there were sarcastic cheers from the fans, many of them already in the aisles and heading out of Minute Maid Park.
All season, Hinch’s aversion to intentional passes had been something of an amusement to statheads. The Astros hadn’t issued one since Aug. 17, 2018, when reliever Héctor Rondón put on Oakland’s Jed Lowrie.
“We see the downside of it. Clearly I think there’s a lot of downside given that I haven’t done it all year,” Hinch said after this loss.
Intentional walks became an official statistic in 1955. The Astros set the record for fewest last year with only four, then lowered it even more.
“Some of it is comfort with what I’ve learned on adding runners on base for free,” Hinch said late this season, explaining why he eschewed the strategy.
But no doubt, no one imagined that one free runner would turn into something like the Nationals put together after Soto’s stroll.
Washington manager Dave Martinez, meanwhile, wasn’t surprised to see it.
“I had a feeling once first base was open,” he said.
Howie Kendrick kept things going, driving in a run with an infield single that kept eluding Bregman.
“I went to my left, reached for it and was kind of falling a little bit over and I should’ve came up with it,” Bregman said. “I will moving forward.”
Two more scored on a single by Asdrúbal Cabrera, and two more came home when Ryan Zimmerman bounced an infield single that Bregman threw past first base.
“Clearly that inning didn’t go (our) way, nor did the next inning, nor did the next inning after that,” Hinch said.
All after that little walk in the park.
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