WASHINGTON — The Houston Astros opened the 2019 World Series with Gerrit Cole on the mound, followed by Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. But the first starter to earn a victory in the quest for a championship was rookie Jose Urquidy.

What the right-hander lacked in star power, he made up in grit and creativity during Game 4 on Saturday, mixing his pitches well to keep the Washington Nationals off balance as the visiting Astros earned an 8-1 victory.

Urquidy, with just a handful of major league outings to his credit, eased the burden of a bullpen game, dominating over five scoreless innings in Game 4, leveling the series at 2-2 with Game 5 set for Sunday in Washington.

“(Urquidy) was working really hard there to mix it up,” Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said on MLB Network after collecting his third consecutive multi-hit game in the series. “The fastball and change-up played really good today. I’m happy he threw five innings the way he did it, because obviously we needed that.”

Robinson Chirinos hit a home run for the second consecutive game, and Alex Bregman hit a grand slam and drove in five runs as the Astros picked up their second straight victory after losing the first two. Bregman and Michael Brantley each had three hits.

A team meeting after the Astros lost the first two games of the series has done the club wonders.

“It was (a meeting) about bringing the guys back to what we have been doing all year,” Chirinos said on MLB Network. “… It was about reminding the guys of what kind of team we are. It was a short meeting, it was a really good meeting, and I feel like it was a perfect time to do that meeting after the second loss.”

The Astros planned on stringing together appearances from their relievers in Game 4, using the 24-year-old Urquidy to kick things off. Instead, the right-hander gave his team some length, allowing just two hits and no walks while striking out four. Five more relievers finished off the final four innings.

After four World Series games, no team has won at home. The last time the road team won the first four games of a World Series was in 1996, when the Atlanta Braves faced the New York Yankees, who won the final two games of the series.

The Astros’ victory Saturday ensures the series will head back to Houston for a Game 6 on Tuesday. Game 7, if necessary, would be Wednesday in Houston.

After sitting at 19-31 on May 23 and coming all this way, the Nationals insist they won’t fret about a losing two consecutive World Series games.

“We’ve been here pretty much all year,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “We have two of our big horses (Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg) going in the next two games. We haven’t hit in the last couple of days, but I have confidence we’ll bounce back. … I just told the boys, ‘Hey, we’re in the World Series, about to play Game 5 tied 2-2. Who would have thought that in the beginning?’”

Bregman drove in his first run of the game in the first inning on a single to center field, Houston’s third straight single. Yuli Gurriel made it four in a row with an infield single for a 2-0 lead. Chirinos hit a two-run home run to left off Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin for a 4-0 lead in the fourth.

Corbin (1-3 this postseason) gave up four runs on seven hits over six innings, with two walks and five strikeouts. Nationals starters have gone at least five innings in each of the team’s 14 postseason games.

Juan Soto put the Nationals on the scoreboard in the sixth inning with a run-scoring groundout before Bregman crushed his grand slam to left field in the seventh off right-hander Fernando Rodney.

Urquidy (1-0), the third Mexican-born pitcher ever to start a World Series game, had just nine career appearances and two victories before the playoffs started. His five innings Saturday were more than the 4 1/3 innings he pitched in his two previous playoff appearances combined.

Urquidy’s 15 outs and 67 pitches in Game 4 were key after the Astros needed 4 1/3 innings from five relievers in their Game 3 victory.

“What a day to bring his best,” said Chirinos, who caught Urquidy’s first major league outing on July 2. “I feel like tonight was the best I have seen him since he got called up to the big leagues.” — Reuters