The Washington Nationals have won the National League pennant.
It’s been 31,419 days since the last time Washington played in the World Series. In those 86 years and 8 days, two major league teams left the nation’s capitol. Another returned after 12,242 days in 2005. The shocked the baseball world starting 50-31, but finished an even .500. Then, the losing began and continued until 2012.
Four division titles followed by first round exits. This year, after late-inning heroics in the play-in game and Game 5 of the National League Division Series, the Nationals swept the St. Louis Cardinals to win the first NL pennant in D.C. history.
The Nats came back from a 19-31 start this season, losing only 38 more games along the way. Left for dead, they were six outs away from elimination in the play-in game. They came back and beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the 8th inning a wild swing of maybe 15 minutes long.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, winners of 106 games, took a 2-1 lead in the NLDS. Backs to the wall, DC won the final two games, including two Game 5 home runs by Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, onback to back pitches off of Clayton Kershaw. Howie Kendrick’s grand slam won the first playoff series for Washington since 1924.
The magic continued behind the starting rotation of Max Scherzer, 2009 1st overall pick Stephen Strasburg and free agent acquisition, Patrick Corbin. Game 1 though, Anibal Sanchez shocked the St. Louis Cardinals with 7 ⅔ hitless innings. The Redbirds never recovered – Scherzer followed it with 6 no-hit innings of his own. Strasburg won DC’s first home NLCS game. Patrick Corbin, staked a 7-0 lead, struck out 12 in his 15 outs. St. Louis stormed back with 4, but the Nats bullpen, a nightmare for most of the season, held the line. At 11:08 p.m., rookie Victor Robles squeezed his glove on a Tommy Edman popup to center to deliver the pennant.
The season has been remarkable.
Kendrick, the super sub, won the NLCS MVP. Playing more throughout the season after tearing his Achilles tendon last year, he hit .344 at age 36. The “at this point in my career, I’m not an every day player” recovered from a dreadful first four games of the postseason to win the first round and lead the way in the second. He’s earned a week off.
The much-maligned Davey Martinez kept the team together. The players did not revolt to his in-game management, his stunts involving camels or smashing cabbages. Seemingly, Martinez recognized that the culture of a team doesn’t come from the top down, but from the players themselves. Scrap heap acquisitions like Fernando Rodney and his bow and arrow celebration and especially Gerardo Parra’s “Baby Shark” and dancing lightened up a traditionally tense clubhouse. Martinez deserves credit for realizing his tactics were not working and letting the team find its own culture.
When October came around, Martinez outmanaged his opposition, especially LA’s Dave Roberts. Deploying starters from the bullpen, Martinez emphatically managed to the situation, not by numbers. It’s as if a switch had been turned on, a stunning reversal from the first 200 games of his career. He realized the GM Mike Rizzo had made starters the strength of the team and embraced total utilization.
Lastly, the face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman reaches the Fall Classic 14 years after being the first draft pick since baseball returned. He’s been along for the ride with us longer than anyone else in uniform. It’s going to incredible to hear his name introduced on October 25 in Nationals Park.