Ailing Suzuki delivers big swing as Nats near title

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Washington Nationals’ Kurt Suzuki is congratulated after hitting a home run during the seventh inning of Game 2 of the baseball World Series against the Houston Astros Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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HOUSTON (AP) — Kurt Suzuki is beat up physically, with a sore back and other ailments after grinding behind the plate from spring training through late October.

All of that would be worthwhile for the 36-year-old Washington Nationals catcher to finally get a World Series ring.

“I’ve waited 13 seasons for this, for this moment to be able to play in the World Series,” Suzuki said. “I kind of joked around with a lot of guys in the training room the other day, ‘Man, I’ve got energy now’ … It kind of pumps you up, especially waiting how long I did.”

Suzuki believes pitching and defense ultimately win championships, and he certainly has done his part in the squat. In Game 2, he added his first RBI this postseason, a tiebreaking solo homer off Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander to spark a bat-around seventh inning.

“I can’t remember the last time I barreled a ball up like that,” Suzuki said with a smile, his two young sons sitting in his lap. “Felt like months ago. Probably was months ago.”

The Nationals went on to a 12-3 win Wednesday night to take a 2-0 lead before even playing their first World Series game at Nationals Park. Game 3 is there Friday night.

“His homer was awesome,” said third baseman Anthony Rendon.

Before becoming the first Hawaiian-born player to hit a home run in the World Series, Suzuki had already saved a run with a big defensive play after the Nationals went ahead 2-0 in the first inning.

Jose Altuve had a one-out double in the Astros’ first, and then took off for third on an attempted steal with the Washington infield shifted a bit. Suzuki made a perfect throw to a moving Rendon for the tag. Michael Brantley then had a two-out single before Alex Bregman tied the game with two-run homer.

“I don’t really get surprised when people try to run on me … 36 years old, I’m getting old now,” Suzuki said, again with a smile.

Suzuki’s body has been battered by run-saving blocks on pitches in the dirt, the kind that got the appreciation of Nationals starter Max Scherzer after they won Game 1 of the World Series.

“I was having to make pitches out of the stretch from the first inning on. I just stayed with (Suzuki),” Scherzer said after throwing five innings. “He called some big-time pitches for me and blocked some big-time pitches too, especially with runners on third base.”

With so much mental effort put into game-planning with his own pitchers, the offensive side of the game can suffer. Suzuki went into Game 2 of the World Series hitting only .043 (1 for 23) this postseason before going 2 for 5.

Of course, he also scored the tiebreaking run in Washington’s 5-4 win in Game 1. He drew a leadoff walk in the fifth and later ran home on Adam Eaton’s single that made it 3-2 and put the Nationals ahead to stay.

The catcher didn’t play Game 1 of the NL Championship Series after a scary moment in Game 5 of the NL Division Series, when Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler hit him on the left wrist with a 94 mph fastball and the ball shot up and knocked off his helmet as the ballpark went silent.

After falling to the ground and grabbing his face, Suzuki walked off his under his own power. He was back behind the plate three days later.

Just part of the grind.

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