Washington and Baltimore jointly accomplished something last year that hadn’t happened since 1976. And the neighboring cities did it twice for good measure.
The Redskins and the Colts competed together in the NFL in 1950 and from 1953-83 and only both made the playoffs in 1971 and 1976. The Senators and Orioles were American League rivals from 1954-71 and never reached postseason in the same season.
The NFL returned to Baltimore in 1996, but through 2011, the Ravens and Redskins never were playoff teams in the same year although the former reached postseason in 2000-2001, 2003, 2006 and 2008-2011 while the latter did in 1999, 2005 and 2007. Major League Baseball returned to Washington in 2005, but the Nationals and Orioles never even topped .500 during the ensuing seven seasons.
Then, all of a sudden in 2012, the Nats won the National League East crown with a major league-leading 98 victories, giving the nation’s capital postseason baseball for the first time since 1933 while the Orioles ended a 15-year absence from the playoffs by winning an AL wild card berth. Both teams were bounced in the division series, but it was still a first in the 26 seasons that each city has boasted a major league franchise.
Three months later, the Redskins won their first NFC East in 13 years while the Ravens – who lost in overtime at Washington in December — captured the AFC North en route to the Super Bowl championship.
Unless they meet in preseason or in the Super Bowl, the Redskins and Ravens won’t face each other again until 2015 thanks to the NFL’s schedule rotation under which interconference foes only play every four years.
In contrast, baseball’s interleague format matched the Nats and the O’s six times every season since they first squared off in 2006 with Baltimore owning a 23-19 advantage.
While each major league team will play 20 interleague games this year instead of 18, the natural rivals such as the Nats and O’s will play just four times instead of the usual six. And in an odd twist, those four games are being played consecutively this week with two in one team’s park and then the remaining two in the other’s stadium.
At 26-24, Washington came into the quartet of games against Baltimore four and a half games behind Atlanta in the NL East. At 27-23, the O’s began the I-95 contests three and a half games behind Boston and the New York Yankees in the AL East but just a half game behind Oakland for the second and final AL wild card spot.
The Battle of the Beltways began on Memorial Day with Baltimore’s 6-2 victory behind the pitching of Washington-killer Jason Hammel at Nationals Park. Last night’s starters were Baltimore’s Kevin Gausman, who had all of one big league start to his credit, and Washington’s Nathan Karns, just up from Class AA Harrisburg to replace the injured Ross Detwiler. Thanks to two home runs by first baseman Adam LaRoche and back-to-back shots by usual reserve outfielders Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina, the Nats romped 9-3.
The much more proven Jordan Zimmermann and Daren Haren of the Nats will tangle with Chris Tillman and Freddy Garcia of the O’s tonight and tomorrow, respectively, at Camden Yards in what will be the cities’ final athletic confrontations – barring a Super Bowl XLVIII showdown – until next baseball season.
In the mean time, the O’s will seek their first World Series title in 30 years beginning with their first postseason series victory since Davey Johnson managed them past Seattle in the 1997 AL Division Series. That same man will be in the Nats’ dugout trying to bring Washington its first World Series triumph since 1924 in what’s expected to be the last of his 17 years as a major league skipper after 12 seasons as a second baseman.
Johnson won his first ring with Baltimore in 1966, his first full season. It would be fitting if he won a fourth and final one, a second as a manager, as he leaves the game 40 miles down I-95. If that’s going to happen and the Nation’s Capital and Charm City will have repeat playoff teams, Johnson and his ailing and underachieving Nats have a lot of work to do over the next four months.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin