In the year 2008, things seemed a bit simpler. The Philadelphia Phillies owned the best record in the National League and went on to win the NLDS, the NLCS, and then the World Series, all convincingly. And then the tides began to turn in 2012. All of the sudden, the field of four became five. The Wild-Card team, instead of waiting patiently with the rest of the league, had to play a game to decide their fate against another contender. And while many cried out that it unfairly punishes the teams who normally got a free pass into the Divisional Series, something different happened this time around.
Down Half Street lies the Navy Yard Metro Station. Board a train 81 days from April to October and the train will be packed with fans dressed in red, white and blue, bearing the names of Strasburg and Harper. Ride it for long enough, and you’ll eventually reach Branch Avenue, the final stop on the line before turning around and starting all over. Only one team out of thirty is lucky enough to be the team that can happily leave the train before Branch Avenue, the stop known as the World Series. The Nationals were not that team this year.
The train that looked to be going the perfect speed, to for the first time, finish ahead of everyone else, couldn’t. On Wednesday, October 7th, the San Francisco Giants eliminated the Washington Nationals from postseason contention. The Nationals managed a meager 9 runs in four games, and lost the series in four games after being heavily favored to advance to the next round.
Maybe you should blame the loss on Tanner Roark giving up the home run in the eighteenth inning to Brandon Belt in Game Two. Maybe you should blame Gio Gonzalez for giving up two runs in four innings, or Aaron Barrett for throwing the wild pitch that created the winning run. Maybe you should blame Matt Williams for not taking Barrett out of the game soon enough. But excepting the two youngest and brightest stars on the team, the blame rests on the offense.
The Nationals offense all year long thrived on the ability of the tag-team combo of Denard Span and Anthony Rendon to get on base, and then for Adam Laroche, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper or Wilson Ramos to drive them in. All of them hit higher than .258 in the regular season. In the Postseason, Adam LaRoche hit .056 and Desmond had the highest average in the top seven spots excepting Harper and Rendon at .167. Harper and Rendon combined to bat .331. However, even when Harper and Rendon got on base, nobody drove them home, as the Nationals lost one-run game after one-run game.
While the pitching wasn’t as superb as it had been in the months leading up, giving up 2.25 runs a game should be a recipe for success. However, the bats completely died in the five day break between Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter and Game one of the NLDS. While Harper and Rendon showed incredibly promising signs, the rest of the team continued to go quietly each and every time, letting hanging breaking balls fall in for a strike, swinging at balls in the dirt and popping up consistently. While Game 3 showed momentum changing, the Nationals simply couldn’t ride Bryce Harper alone to the next round. Errors they hadn’t made all year proved costly the one time it truly mattered. And instead of something escapable to run away from, the World Series station passed, and Branch Avenue became a reality with Ramos’ groundout to end the game.
And so the train turned around and went back. Half Street was just a blur in an underground tunnel. The signs proclaiming that the Nationals had reached the postseason had quietly disappeared. The government offices were no longer red, and back to their normal states. And even on a day where the temperature was warm and the sun was out, the chills of winter were blowing, not to stop for a long, long time. The train pulled into the airport, and the team left, all going their separate ways. And for the train itself? It will sit underground for the winter and avoid the cold. And one morning in April, it will pull out of the station, starting another journey.
This was the team that made D.C. dream. We cheered with them, cried with them, and sung “Take on Me” with them. 2012 was an incredible year for the Nationals.
As Strasburg dealt like an ace on thursday, striking out twelve and giving up one run over 6.2 innings, the Nats finally backed him up with a win, adding on to Werth’s early inning home run with a Harper walk with the bases loaded, to load them up once again for Desmond, who immediately teed off and gave the Nationals their second grand slam in two nights. (Just some perspective, it took them nearly three months longer to get one grand slam in 2013.)
But last night’s game shouldn’t be why fans with Curly W’s on their caps should be excited. On Wednesday, they didn’t have the ace of the 2013 season, Zimmermann. They had some odd replica of him, who didn’t have his A-game – or his C-game, and was hit early, giving up five runs in less than three innings. The bullpen came in, dominated the Marlins to one run over the next seven innings, and slowly, but surely, the Nats chipped away. After Harper’s moonshot that was fair by about seven inches, singles and sacrifices brought the Nats to a tie game by the eighth inning. And sure enough, the comeback kids did it once again, loading up the bases so Werth could send a home run into the Marlins’ bullpen, a type of home run he last hit in that Game 4 of the NLDS.
Comebacks have begun to become a staple of this season. But as the Braves continue to plague the Nats, the question remains, will the Nationals be able to come back and win against the Braves?
The signals are mixed. They’ve been the rally boys in the first and third series of the year, but the Braves gave them trouble last time. We’ll wait and see, starting tonight, but it’s not an option to not bring this atmosphere to Turner Field… or there’s no division title in D.C.
A few weeks ago, MASN announced VIA Twitter a big contest. You had to answer the question “Why should you throw out the first pitch on April 5th?” – the most creative answer would get to throw out the first pitch, on April 5th.
I entered with a video of me playing the guitar and a slideshow, covering “Take on Me” by A-ha, with lyrics including
“Please let me… (See you later)
Throw that pitch (See you later)
I would probably… Throw it better than John Walllllllll!
Unbelievably, a couple days ago, I got a Twitter message from MASN, letting me know I would be the starter on April 5th. As you can probably guess, I was pretty happy.
After spending the next couple days perfecting my windup and getting my arm loose, I got to Nationals Park. I was greeted by the woman who ran the contest, Olivia, and a member of the Nats PR Department, Julia. They took me down onto the field, where I watched the Braves finish batting practice and hung out.
After what felt like twenty minutes but what was really an hour, I was called onto the mound to throw my pitch. Here was the result.
All in all, even though the Nats lost 6-2, it was an incredible experience. Thank you so much to MASN and Twitter for giving me this incredible opportunity.
Note: I will not be previewing the NL or the Nationals this year. You all know what I think will happen, but for a quickie:
NL WEST: Dodgers
NL CENTRAL: Cardinals
NL EAST: Nats
WILD CARD: Braves, Pirates
NLDS: Dodgers over Pirates, Nats over Cardinals
NLCS: Nats over Dodgers
World Series: Nats over A’s.