WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – To help capture how magical the Nats’ 6-5 walk-off win was against the Braves in the first half of their doubleheader on Tuesday, you have to look at how miserable they’ve been all season against their NL East rivals.
Entering Game 1, the Nats had lost 12 of their 16 head-to-head matchups against Atlanta in 2013, and somehow, were even worse against closer Craig Kimbrel.
The closer, 47 saves to his name, had completely shut the Nats out, awarding them exactly zero runs through eleven appearances this season.
As of Wednesday morning, Kimbrel had given up three runs to the Nationals, with each of them coming – against all metrics – in the bottom of the ninth of an unlikely Nats rally.
With runners on second and third and one out, Denard Span – who had earlier extended his hitting streak to 26 games – stepped up to the plate and launched a rocket through the legs of shortstop Andrelton Simmons, bringing home runners Jeff Kobernus and Anthony Rendon for the walk-off.
Washington would go on to win the second game handily, 4-0.
“I’m telling you boys, a great night’s sleep,” Davey Johnson jubilated to the Junkies on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday morning. “I got up at 6 o’clock this morning and couldn’t’ wait for the day to start!”
Winning 27 of their last 37 games dating back to Aug. 9, the Nats have essentially reversed an entire summer of lowered expectations, bringing themselves within 4.5 games of the second Wild Card spot in the National League – and a chance to make the playoffs, if there ever was one.
“Everybody knows we gotta win,” Johnson said. “Basically, we gotta win out. And the good news is, Cincinnati’s playing Pittsburgh six more times. So anything can happen. We just need to take care of business right here. The Marlins come into town, we need to whip up on them and finish some business tonight against the big bad Braves.”
Nats diehards, who really never have stopped watching the Nats this summer, would tell you they’ve looked on with tempered enthusiasm – as their ballclub took series against the Phillies, Marlins, Mets, the Phillies again, and now the Braves, all in the month of September – because the Nats waited so long to mount their playoff push, and their fate was no longer solely in their hands.
Even still, when Cincinnati dropped a pivotal game to the Brewers last Friday, to let the Nats to within 4.5 games of their previously comfortable Wild Card position, even those diehards were taken aback by the thought of – if however unlikely – the chance to close the gap with sixteen dogfights remaining.
And now, although the Nats have jockeyed for position with the Reds within a one-game margin around that 4.5 game buffer, and have yet to close that gap, they’ve also just made a statement against their nemesis, and now have eleven games left to the Reds’ ten to conjure up some more magic. They have a chance.
With Cincinnati staring down the barrel of a six-game death match against the Pirates – who are just 1.5 games their best – the Nats do not control their own destiny.
But if they keep winning, they have a chance. Four and half games out, and they have chance.
Humans stepped foot on the moon on a chance. The Nats made their first playoff appearance in 2012 on a chance.
With eleven games left on their schedule – including a three game series and one final shot at redemption against the Cardinals – the Nats now have a chance to make the playoffs.
Tuesday’s ninth-inning rally was a microcosm of their season. Nobody expected them to come back from two runs down against Kimbrel.
Anything can happen.