A Guest Post by Matt’s Bat’s Dad:
Standing along the railing on the third deck overlooking shallow left field, the air of victory hung so low over Nationals Park that we could almost taste it. Or maybe that was just the stale beer that the new friends we made in the cheap seats had been spilling all over themselves all night. For Nationals fans, victory was not to be ours last night, as the Cardinals pulled off a stunning, unprecedented upset in the 9th inning.
The Nationals started the game riding the momentum from Jayson Werth’s walk-off homer the night before in Game 4 of the NLDS. The Nats put up three runs in the first off a triple from Bryce Harper and a homer from the face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman. We tacked on another 3 in the third, this time with both Bryce and Beast Mode Michael Morse going yard. The team had already hit for the cycle, and the Cards’ starter was knocked out of the game after only going 3 1/3.
As good teams do, the Cards chipped away at the 6-0 lead, putting up runs in ones and twos over the Nats’ middle relievers. Edwin Jackson, pitching from the bullpen, gave up a run in the 7th. Set up man Tyler Clippard gave up a home run in the 8th, but the Nats put it right back with a score themselves in the bottom of the 8th. The Nationals went into the top of the 9th leading 7-5: a slim lead but enough to give Nats Town comfort that Drew Storen could shut it down again and seal our trip to the NLCS.
What happened next has already been widely reported. We were within 1 measly strike from winning the first round of the post-season playoffs…twice. Fans in the upper deck were high fiving and waiving their rally towels. Champagne must’ve already been wheeled into the clubhouse. This was it!
But it wasn’t.
The Cards scored 4 runs off our closer to recapture the lead and put up their own 2-run margin of error going into the bottom of the 9th.
The air had been sucked out of Nationals Park and no one could believe the epic choke we were witnessing. The top of our order went down quickly in the bottom of the inning, and the Nationals were handed a 9-7 loss and were kicked out of the Postseason.
This loss will haunt Washington all winter. Probably longer. What kind of Mississippi River water voodoo curse has St. Louis placed on Major League Baseball to pull off these ridiculous 2-out, 2-strike come-from-behind wins? The 9th inning of NLDS final game had all the drama of last year’s World Series Games 6 and 7, where the Cards battled back from certain death in similar down-to-their-last-strike fashion.
Who are these Cardinals with their magical post-season rally squirrels and dropped outfield flies ruled outs (infield fly rule????). How does a team with a mediocre season record– less than 90 wins on the backs of the lowly Cubs and even lowlier Astros– pull off stunning wins against the team with the best record in baseball? Two years in a row?!
Much of the Midwest regards itself of Cardinal Nation, and St. Louis is a baseball town. Over their Bud Lights, toasted raviolis and provel cheese pizzas, St. Lousians (St. Losers?) often can be heard musing about Musial and, oh, what about our 11 World Series rings? But this streak of improbable wins– it can’t be anything more than just dumb luck, right?–also creates backlash. Much in the same way people love to hate the Yankees for their winning records they deliver by buying talent in free agent auctions, there are plenty of folks in Dallas, Philadelphia and now Warsh-ington (there is no R in Washington, friends) with an axe to grind. Yes, you guys won again, but only through the flukiest of flukes.
Turning to the home team….The Nationals’ season exceeded wildest expectations. Four players named to the All Star Team. We were aiming for .500, but delivered the winningest record in all of baseball. We had hoped the new playoff format would win us 1 of the 2 wildcard spots, but instead clinched the National League East Division title. A team build from home-grown talent and a few shrewd acquisitions. 98 wins earned the hard way. Next year, with a healthy Stephen Strasburg, a no-longer-a-teenager Bryce Harper, and a full line-up with post-season experience, we will be there again. This is a team built to win for years through skill.
Our thoughts are with Drew Storen and his family, who, through Twitter and other social media, had become like family to us this year. I can’t imagine the toll a stunning loss like this takes on the psyche of a 20-something who has trained day-in, day-out for this exact situation. To be sooooo close, and then to lose it in front of 46,000 fans and millions more on TV. Nationals fans are behind Dreeeeeeewwwwwwww, and next year when the Nationals in the same situation, we all feel comfortable with Davey Johnson giving him the ball again to close the game.
Finally, after HUNDREDS of innings of baseball experienced live, on TV, on radio, and on computer screens, the Matt’s Bats family can now return to our normal lives. But it is mid-October, and only a mere 4 1/2 months before pitchers and catchers report and we get to do this all over again!