HOUSTON – Juan Soto and the Washington Nationals quickly derailed the Cole Express.
A 20-year-old prodigy with a passion for the big moment, Soto homered onto the train tracks high above the left-field wall and hit a two-run double as the Nationals tagged Gerrit Cole and the Houston Astros 5-4 on Tuesday night in the best-of-seven World Series opener.
“After the first at-bat, I just said, ‘It’s another baseball game,’ ” Soto said. “In the first at-bat, I’m not going to lie, I was a little bit shaking in my legs.”
Not even a history-making home run by postseason star George Springer — and another drive that nearly tied it in the eighth inning — could deter Washington.
Ryan Zimmerman, still full of sock at 35, also homered to back a resourceful Max Scherzer and boost the wild-card Nationals in their first World Series appearance — tres bien for a franchise that began as the Montreal Expos in 1969.
Otherworldly almost all season, Cole looked downright ordinary. Trea Turner singled on the second pitch of the game and the Nationals were off and running, ending Cole’s 19-game winning streak that stretched back 25 starts to May.
“I didn’t have my A-game tonight,” Cole said.
Not what Cole or anyone at Minute Maid Park expected, especially after he led the major leagues in strikeouts, topped the American League in earned-run average and finished second in the big leagues in victories to teammate Justin Verlander.
Cole had dominated in the AL playoffs, too.
Yet it was a further testament to an eternal truth about baseball: It doesn’t matter what you do the whole season if you don’t get it done in October.
“I think he’s been so good for so long that there builds this thought of invincibility and that it’s impossible to beat him,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “So when it happens, it is a surprise to all of us because we’ve watched for months this guy completely dominate the opposition.”
Soto finished with three hits and a stolen base. Three days shy of his 21st birthday, the wunderkind left fielder also snared Michael Brantley’s try for late, tying hit.
The MVP when Houston won its first crown in 2017, Springer set a record by connecting in his fifth straight Series game to make the score 5-3 in the seventh. But reliever Daniel Hudson threw a fastball past rookie Yordan Alvarez with the bases loaded to end the inning.
In the eighth, Springer put a charge into a drive to deep right-center field, and it appeared as though he might’ve hit a tying, two-run homer. Springer took a couple hops out of the batter’s box to watch, and had to settle for an RBI double when the ball hit off the glove of a leaping Adam Eaton.
Heavily favored at the start, the 107-victory Astros will try to get even Wednesday night when Verlander faces Stephen Strasburg in another matchup of aces.
Scherzer slipped in and out of trouble for five innings.
Projected Game 4 starter Patrick Corbin threw a scoreless sixth for the Nationals. Springer connected off Tanner Rainey for his 14th career postseason home run before Hudson fanned Alvarez on three pitches.
Sean Doolittle retired Jose Altuve and Brantley to strand Springer at second in the eighth, then closed to give the Nationals their seventh straight victory and 17th in 19 games dating to their September playoff run.
The Nationals had a week off after sweeping St. Louis in the NL Championship Series, and answered worries about whether the layoff would result in rest or rust.
Leading the way was Soto, whose eighth-inning hit in the wild-card win over Milwaukee sent the Nationals on their path.
Fearless at the plate, he’s already become one of those rare players — like Springer — who seems to turn pressure into production.
“He’s got kind of the ‘it’ factor,” Hinch said of Soto.
Soto seemed overmatched when he fanned on Cole’s 99 mph heater in the first inning. Turned out Soto — the third-youngest player to bat cleanup in a World Series game after Ty Cobb (1907) and Miguel Cabrera (2003) — was just getting warmed up.
Soto justified his place in the 4-spot, launching a leadoff drive in the fourth onto the train tracks to make it 2-all.
A while later, the ball was still resting there when the Nationals rallied. Eaton hit a tiebreaking double in the fifth and one batter later, Soto doubled with two outs for a 5-2 lead.
• The assistant general manager of the Astros apologized for using “inappropriate language” after a Sports Illustrated report said he repeatedly yelled toward a group of female reporters about closer Roberto Osuna during a clubhouse celebration.
Osuna was suspended for 75 games last year for violating MLB’s domestic-violence policy before being traded from Toronto to Houston.
Assistant GM Brandon Taubman, according to SI, shouted “Thank God we got Osuna!” and made similar remarks several times, including an expletive, after the Astros eliminated the New York Yankees from the ALCS Saturday night.
On Monday night, after the SI story was published, the Astros called it “misleading and completely irresponsible.” But one day later, Taubman said he was “deeply sorry and embarrassed.”