It is not often you get to celebrate after you get your ass kicked, but last night the Washington Nationals did just that. The team came out punch-less with only five hits scattered across nine innings. But it didn’t matter. As Ryan Zimmerman told reporters in between gulps of booze, their play in the previous 159 games allowed them to take a night off.
Aside from the fact that this team brought playoff baseball to Washington for the first time in 79 (!) years, it has accomplished a tremendous amount more. Playing under the duress of injury, Steve Watch, and the promotion of one of the game’s most-hyped prospects, Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson guided a squad with “no offense” and “young pitching” all the way to a division title it had no business winning.
The Nationals took hold of first place early this spring and didn’t let go the rest of the way. Much like their baseball brethren in Baltimore, most of baseball thought they were a cute story and nothing more. The offense was too inconsistent. The pitching was too raw to continue shutting down opposing lineups. Once the Phillies got going, Washington had no chance. None of that happened.
Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman anchored a rotation that sparkled from March to finish. Ryan Zimmerman fought his way through an early slump and a shoulder injury to compile a damn fine season. Mike Morse and Jayson Werth came back from serious injuries to bolster a lineup that was basically Adam LaRoche and a 19 year-old for two months.
Ah, and let’s not forget about Bryce. He has more dingers (22) than birthdays (19). Left behind by Mike Trout, Harper quietly held his spot in the lineup all year long while contributing shutdown defense in the outfield. He struggled in July but got hot when it mattered most late in the season. Now, we get to see what he can do in the postseason. Unfairly or not, Trout will be at home watching.
Six months ago I sat at Nationals Park and watched Washington take on Boston in an exhibition game. The expectations for both of those two teams could not have been more different. Last night, in nearly the exact same spot, I took it all in — the packed crowd, the scoreboard watching, the anticipation of having something to celebrate. One look at that stadium and the score of the Boston game on the out-of-town scoreboard told me just how far the Nats have come. The expectations have changed; there is still much more work to do. But for today, take it all in. This is special.