Now this is a serious World Series throw-down.
Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke vs. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin — all of them All-Star starters, still pitching at their peak.
It's a mound meeting that every fan can enjoy, the Houston Astros against the Washington Nationals.
Capital hill, indeed.
"We've got the best pitcher in the world going. And then after that, we've got the best pitcher in the world going, too. And then after that, we've got the best pitcher in the world going, too," Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. "It's going to be a lot of fun."
Bregman and fellow MVP candidate Anthony Rendon certainly did their parts to make this the Year of the Home Run. And José Altuve lit up Minute Maid Park with his walk-off homer to beat the Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
But the focus of this Fall Classic is right on the rotations. Houston opened as a 2-1 favorite at the Las Vegas sportsbooks.
Cole is set to throw the first pitch on Tuesday night in Houston. He led the majors with 326 strikeouts, was second to Verlander in the big leagues with 20 wins and topped the AL with a 2.50 ERA.
He also is 19-0 in his last 25 starts. That includes 3-0 in the playoffs so far, allowing one earned run in 22 2/3 innings while fanning 32.
Cole was acquired by the Astros a few months after they won the 2017 World Series. He has fit in fine with his Houston teammates and also has gotten acquainted with some of the Washington aces — the teams share the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches spring training complex in Florida.
"I know a few guys in their rotation, and I'm personally excited that they're in this position, and I'm just very excited to get in there," Cole said late Saturday night.
"They've worked their tails off. I know a lot of the guys on the team, and I know how they prepare," he said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Like when he faces Washington's big bopper.
"Anthony Rendon is one of the greatest hitters in the game right now," Cole said. "There's no real way to get him out. You just kind of hope that he misses some balls or he scorches them right at your guys, I guess.
"I've been watching him since I was in college. It's very unique what he's been able to do and he's just a pleasure to watch play."
The clubs saw each other back in February when they played in the exhibition opener, and Scherzer gave up a homer to the first batter of the game.
Now, eight months later, they meet for real. The 107-win Astros trying to capture their second crown in three years, the wild-card Nationals making their Series debut.
"The World Series comes through Houston. I like the sound of that. I think it should be that way for many years to come," Bregman said.
No slight to Bregman and other big hitters here: Altuve, the ALCS MVP, postseason star George Springer and top shortstops Trea Turner and Carlos Correa. And not to overlook the young stars on this stage for the first time, rookies like Juan Soto and Yordan Álvarez.
Yet in an era when teams search for new pitching strategies — witness the Astros' parade of relievers in Game 6 of the ALCS — the two clubs left figure to rely heavily on their starters.
Fine by Houston manager AJ Hinch.
"Philosophically, whether it's about the new-age opener or pulling guys third time through, most of the people that support that haven't had Verlander or Cole on their team," he said.
The Nationals stack up just fine, too. Consider their staff includes Aníbal Sánchez, who took a playoff no-hit bid into the eighth inning.
The Astros, who began as the National League expansion Colt .45s in 1962, led the majors in setting a franchise record for wins. Their playoff path was more of a struggle, beating wild-card Tampa Bay in the deciding Game 5 of the AL Division Series and then stopping the 103-win Yankees on Altuve's pennant-winning homer off Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning.
The Nationals, who started out as the Montreal Expos in 1969, took the reverse route.
A season after letting slugger Bryce Harper leave as a free agent, the Nats were just 19-31 in May. The slow start prompted speculation that manager Dave Martinez would be fired and management would sell off stars at the trade deadline.
Instead, the Nationals bounced back. They earned a playoff spot, eliminated the favored Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Division Series and swept the surging St. Louis Cardinals behind NLCS MVP Howie Kendrick.
For Washington, the city gets its first World Series since the Senators played in 1933. For the Nationals, the old October question: rest or rust?
The Nationals will have a full week between games while the Astros get only two days off. A fact on this: Boston had two more days of rest last year and beat the Dodgers. But before that, the past nine champions were the clubs that had less rest.
Martinez isn't worried.
"These guys have played unbelievably. I think they needed a break. Some guys really needed a break," he said. "Heal their bodies a little bit."
Altuve blasts Astros
into World Series
HOUSTON (AP) — Jose Altuve, the 5-foot-6 driving force of Houston, delivered a swing that will play in Astros' highlights forever.
Altuve homered off Aroldis Chapman with two outs in the ninth inning and Houston outlasted the New York Yankees 6-4 Saturday night to advance to the World Series for the second time in three years.
"That's one of the best moments of postseason history," Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
In a bullpen Game 6 with a back-and-forth finish, DJ LeMahieu hit a tying, two-run shot off Astros closer Roberto Osuna in the top of the ninth. Altuve answered with a two-run drive to left-center, setting off a wild celebration at Minute Maid Park and earning himself AL Championship Series MVP.
"Beautiful game," Altuve said.
Astros ace Gerrit Cole was waiting to pitch a potential Game 7 on Sunday. Instead, the postseason star — undefeated since May 22 — can be lined up for Game 1 at home against the NL champion Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
Yuli Gurriel hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and flashy outfield defense helped Houston's relievers defeat the Yankees and their vaunted bullpen.
It almost fell apart in the ninth. Gio Urshela singled off Osuna leading off for his third hit of the game, and LeMahieu put a ball into the first row of seats in right field — inches over the glove of leaping George Springer — to tie it at 4.
Altuve, a sparkplug touted as Houston's heart and soul, didn't let this one get away.
"I get asked to describe Jose Altuve all the time," manager AJ Hinch said. "I think MVP is what he is."
The teams combined to use 14 pitchers in a drawn-out game that lasted 4 hours, 9 minutes.
Houston's Will Harris, who got four outs over the sixth and seventh innings and has yet to allow a run this postseason, was glad Houston's bullpen got to show its stuff.
"We have a lot of guys with a lot of pride that are really good at their jobs," he said. "And I was excited for the opportunity for us to prove that today."
The defense helped. Right fielder Josh Reddick dived for Brett Gardner's liner for the second out of the sixth. An inning later, left fielder Michael Brantley laid out for Aaron Hicks' shallow floater and doubled off Aaron Judge at first.
Gurriel, a holdover from Houston's 2017 championship team, was 1 for 20 to start the ALCS before his drive in the first inning. He jumped all over a high-and-tight fastball from opener Chad Green, and his shot into the Crawford Boxes was his first connection this postseason.
It's the third time Houston has eliminated New York in the past five postseasons. The Astros won the 2015 wild-card game in the Bronx and beat the Yankees in seven games in the 2017 ALCS before winning their first title.
"I feel like we are on equal footing with them," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "Unfortunately, sports can be a little bit cruel for the team that goes home."
Washington is seeking its first championship in the 51-season history of the Montreal Expos/Nationals franchise. The original Washington Senators won their only championship for the nation's capital in 1924 and last reached the World Series in 1933 before becoming the Minnesota Twins for the 1961 season.
Gary Sánchez had an RBI single in the second and Urshela homered in the fourth for the Yankees.
Alex Bregman gave the Astros an insurance run with an RBI on a forceout in the sixth inning.
Brantley's double play elicited one of the loudest ovations of the night — before Altuve's blast — from the sellout crowd of 43,357 which included Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan and Craig Biggio and Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook, who watched from the front row in personalized orange Astros jerseys.
New York was 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position and 3 for 24 over the final five games of the series. The franchise lost its fourth straight ALCS after falling in 2010, 2012 and 2017. The Yankees will go without a World Series appearance in a calendar decade for the first time since the 1910s.
"The work never ends," Boone said. "And we'll continue to try and I guess close that gap."
Altuve doubled off Green with one out in the first inning and Bregman drew a walk with two outs. After a short visit to the mound, Gurriel knocked the next pitch into the seats in left field for a 3-0 lead. The runs were Houston's first with two outs in the series.
Houston had been 4 for 40 with runners in scoring position before that big swing.
Brad Peacock, who threw eight pitches in a scoreless eighth inning Friday night, became the fourth pitcher ever to finish a postseason game and then start the next day, and the first since 1924.
He needed seven pitches to retire the side in the first before running into trouble with two outs in the second. Josh James ended the inning by striking out Gardner.
Ryan Pressly had another gutsy escape, too. He hurt his right knee again fielding a bases-loaded grounder by Didi Gregorius but limped over to tag him for the final out of the third. Pressly, who grimaced as he went toward the dugout after one pitch, had arthroscopic surgery on the same knee on Aug. 22 and returned Sept. 20. Pressly also got two strikeouts with the bases loaded in Game 4.
He said that some scar tissue broke off on the play but that he'll be ready to go this week.
"It's the World Series," Hinch said. "It will be all hands on deck."
MLB Postseason Baseball Glance
Tuesday, Oct. 1: Washington 4, Milwaukee 3
Wednesday, Oct. 2: Tampa Bay 5, Oakland 1
Houston 3, Tampa Bay 2
Friday, Oct. 4: Houston 6, Tampa Bay 2
Saturday, Oct. 5: Houston 3, Tampa Bay 1
Monday, Oct. 7: Tampa Bay 10, Houston 3
Tuesday, Oct. 8: Tampa Bay 4, Houston 1
Thursday, Oct. 10: Houston 6, Tampa Bay 1
N.Y. Yankees 3, Minnesota 0
Friday, Oct. 4: N.Y. Yankees 10, Minnesota 4
Saturday, Oct. 5: N.Y. Yankees 8, Minnesota 2
Monday, Oct. 7: N.Y. Yankees 5, Minnesota 1
Washington 3, L.A. Dodgers 2
Thursday, Oct. 3: L.A. Dodgers 6, Washington 0
Friday, Oct. 4: Washington 4, L.A. Dodgers 2
Sunday, Oct. 6: L.A. Dodgers 10, Washington 4
Monday, Oct. 7: Washington 6, L.A. Dodgers 1
Wednesday, Oct. 9: Washington 7, L.A. Dodgers 3, 10 innings
St. Louis 3, Atlanta 2
Thursday, Oct. 3: St. Louis 7, Atlanta 6
Friday, Oct. 4: Atlanta 3, St. Louis 0
Sunday, Oct. 6: Atlanta 3, St. Louis 1
Monday, Oct. 7: St. Louis 5, Atlanta 4, 10 innings
Wednesday, Oct. 9: St. Louis 13, Atlanta 1
LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
(Best-of-7; x-if necessary)
Houston 4, N.Y. Yankees 2
Saturday, Oct. 12: N.Y. Yankees 7, Houston 0
Sunday, Oct. 13: Houston 3, N.Y. Yankees 2, 11 innings
Tuesday, Oct. 15: Houston 4, N.Y. Yankees 1
Wednesday, Oct. 16: Houston at N.Y. Yankees, ppd.
Thursday, Oct. 17: Houston 8, N.Y. Yankees 3
Friday, Oct. 18: N.Y. Yankees 4, Houston 1
Saturday, Oct. 19: Houston 6, N.Y. Yankees 4
Washington 4, St. Louis 0
Friday, Oct. 11: Washington 2, St. Louis 0
Saturday, Oct. 12: Washington 3, St. Louis 1
Monday, Oct. 14: Washington 8, St. Louis 1
Tuesday, Oct. 15 Washington 7, St. Louis 4
(Best-of-7; x-if necessary)
Houston vs. Washington
Tuesday, Oct. 22: Washington at Houston, 8:08 p.m. (Fox)
Wednesday, Oct. 23: Washington at Houston, 8:07 p.m. (Fox)
Friday, Oct. 25: Houston at Washington, 8:07 p.m. (Fox)
Saturday, Oct. 26: Houston at Washington, 8:07 p.m. (Fox)
x-Sunday, Oct. 27: Houston at Washington, 8:07 p.m. (Fox)
x-Tuesday, Oct. 29: Washington at Houston, 8:07 p.m. (Fox)
x-Wednesday, Oct. 30: Washington at Houston, 8:08 p.m. (Fox)