WASHINGTON Nationals fans everywhere must have awakened Thursday morning and asked themselves, “Did I just dream that?”
Stop pinching yourself. The Nats really, truly are World Series champions.
This fall, in the midst of one of the Redskins’ most dispiriting seasons ever, area sports enthusiasts found solace in an unlikely place.
Before they won Game 7 in Houston Wednesday night, the Nationals had a history of underperforming. Since 2012, they often were seen as possible World Series contenders—only to swoon in October.
This season began with low expectations. The Nats lost superstar Bryce Harper to the Philadelphia Phillies over the winter via free agency. Then they dropped 31 of their first 50 games. Before Memorial Day, the 2019 season already seemed doomed.
But then everything changed. For the last 112 games of the regular season, nobody in the majors was much better. The Nats went 74–38 and made the playoffs as a wild card.
Then they put the “wild” into wild card.
They beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the elimination game when Juan Soto’s hit—with two out in the eighth inning—turned a 3–1 deficit into an eventual 4–3 win.
They eliminated the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers when, on the road in Game 5, they got to the great Clayton Kershaw for two home runs by Anthony Rendon and Soto in the eighth, then won it in 10 innings on Howie Kendrick’s grand slam.
After all that drama, their subsequent sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series seemed almost preordained, as did their first two wins, on the road, against the mighty Houston Astros in the World Series.
Then, of course, came the homecoming hangover: three losses at Nationals Park. Ghosts of Washington’s dismal baseball past stirred.
First, there were the original Senators (1901–1960). They did win a World Series in 1924 and got to two others, but Washington was often, to recycle the shop-worn quip, “first in war, first in peace and last in the American League.” The team moved to Minnesota in 1961 and, of course, almost instantly became a winner.
The new, expansion Senators were equally hapless. They left for Dallas in 1972 where, as the Texas Rangers, they eventually achieved a measure of success.
Then, after a 33-year drought, came the Nats. Immigrants from Montreal in 2005, it took them seven years to reach the playoffs, but until this fall they had never won a postseason series.
And now this.
The Nats didn’t just win the World Series. They made history. They became the first team in Major League Baseball to win two playoff elimination games after being down three or more runs. They became the first to win five elimination games after trailing their opponent. They became the first to win all four World Series games on the road.
Here’s to all the Nats, baseball’s oldest team. Here’s to veterans like Kendrick, Max Scherzer and especially Ryan Zimmerman, who has been a Nat since Day One, drafted back in ’05. Here’s to Dave Martinez, the Nats manager who was a likely candidate for unemployment in May. Here’s to Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, a No. 1 draft pick who, unlike Harper, stuck around for the good times and was 5-0 in the playoffs this year. Here’s to the kids like Victor Robles and Soto, who give Nats fans hopes for the future. And here’s to the Virginia connections: Zimmerman and Sean Doolittle (both U.Va.) and Daniel Hudson (Virginia Beach and Old Dominion).
On top of everything else, what a great moment this is for Fredericksburg, whose very first minor-league team in 2020 will be, as part of the Nationals’ farm system, the breeding ground for future heroes.
Pinch us again.