By Mike Frandsen
We are who we thought we were. Lucy pulled the ball away from Charlie Brown again. When will we learn? This is Washington, D.C. Good things usually don’t happen in sports.
The Nats bitterly disappointed 45,966 towel-waving, standing, red clad fans who twice saw Washington one strike away from reaching the National League Championship Series.
That must have been a fun Metro ride home.
This loss, in D.C.’s first baseball playoff series in 79 years, was just as terrible as Game 4 was amazing. The jubilation felt across the District, Maryland, and Virginia when Jayson Werth hit the game-winning home run Thursday was turned around 180 degrees a day later. It was a punch in the gut.
The Nats’ epic collapse, first surrendering a 6-0 lead, then giving up four runs in the ninth inning to give Game 5 of the National League Division Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, will go down as one of the worst moments in D.C. sports history.
It was the biggest comeback ever in a winner-take-all playoff game.
Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, and Michael Morse hit home runs for Washington early on. Harper also tripled. Werth started it all with a double.
After that flurry of extra base hits against Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, the Nats’ bats went silent, scoring just one run after the third inning.
Nats 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez was just shaky enough to let the Cards back into the game, giving up three runs in five innings.
The ending was eerily similar to last year’s World Series, in which the Cardinals twice were down to their last strike with the score 7-5, about to lose to the Texas Rangers, before pulling ahead.
With the Nats up 7-5, Drew Storen hit the corners in the ninth, but he wasn’t getting any calls, and the Cards showed unbelievable patience, getting two walks in the process of scoring four runs.
Four of the Nats’ six pitchers gave up runs. Only Craig Stammen and Sean Burnett didn’t allow any runs, but they only pitched one inning between them.
Nats manager Davey Johnson, seemingly impervious to criticism, opted to pitch Game 3 starter Edwin Jackson in relief in the seventh inning. Jackson only gave up one run, but was coming off a Game 3 performance in which he got shelled for four runs in five innings. The Cards knew Jackson well because he pitched for them last year. It was an arrogant move by Johnson to put Jackson in the game, and the Nats paid for it. Reputations don’t win games.
The Nats should watch tapes of the Cardinals’ post-game celebration so they’ll know not to let up in the future. The hitters failed to hit and the pitchers failed to pitch after the third inning. They have now lived Yogi Berra’s famous line: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Only time will tell if the Nats will win the World Series in the near future, like the Redskins won the Super Bowl three years after a shocking season ending loss to the Dallas Cowboys in 1979. The Skins, led by Joe Theismann and John Riggins, were up 34-20 in the fourth quarter before losing, 35-34. The Redskins failed to make the playoffs, Harvey Martin threw a funeral wreath into the Skins’ locker room, and Riggins quit football for an entire year. Later, a Super Bowl victory after the 1982 season catapulted the Skins to three more Super Bowls in the next nine seasons, including two wins.
Another example the Nats can look to for hope is the University of Maryland basketball team. In 2001, the Terrapins blew a 22-point lead to Duke in the Final Four. The next season, the Terps won the national championship.
Or will the Nats become the Capitals – no championships in 23 playoff appearances, each choke seemingly building on the previous one? The Caps didn’t reach the Stanley Cup Finals until their 15th playoff season. Since then, the Caps have come up empty eight more times in the playoffs.
Perhaps a better comparison for the 98-win Nats, who had the best record in baseball, is that it takes teams a few years to win the World Series, and champions often don’t win with their best squads. The 1983 Baltimore Orioles won the World Series, but they may have had better teams in 1979 (102 wins) and 1980 (100 wins).
Between 2000 and 2005, the Cardinals made the playoffs five times, but didn’t win the World Series. St. Louis won it all in 2006. And the Cards only had 83 and then 90 wins in their two most recent World Series’ wins in ’06 and 2011. They won 100 or more games in 2000 and 2004 but didn’t win the titles those seasons.
In a strange way, the Nats didn’t deserve to win this game. They almost won it, but if they couldn’t hold a 6-0 lead, winning would have been almost like backing in. There is no clock to run out in baseball. That’s the beauty of the game.
The Nats may look on the 2012 season fondly at some point, but it will be a very long offseason. The loss was truly devastating for the team and its fans. Washington can only hope that in the future, the loss will be a blip on the radar screen on the way to multiple World Series championships.
Mike Frandsen is a freelance writer covering all things Redskins. His work can be found on Examiner.com.