By Bob Nightengale |
The Washington Nationals are bringing the World Series trophy back to the nation’s capital for the first time since 1924.
The Nationals, with a stunning 6-2 victory over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park, pulled off one of the most dramatic turnarounds in baseball history to win the World Series.
You believe in Cinderella stories?
The Nats are your team.
They lost every game at home during the World Series.
They won every game on the road.
And they went 5-0 in elimination games.
“These guys they battled,” said Game 7 starter Max Scherzer. “It was the next guy up. Everybody gave it their all.”
The Nats never quit. They were 12 games under .500, 19-31 on May 24, and folks in Washington were calling for manager Dave Martinez’s head.
They stormed back to win a wild-card berth, beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild-card game, came back to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in 10 innings in the deciding Game 5 of the NL Division Series, swept the St. Louis Cardinals, and then came back to win the final two games of this Series.
They were eight outs away from losing Game 7, only for hometown kid Anthony Rendon to hit a solo homer, and two batters later, Howie Kendrick to hit the go-ahead winner.
The game defined the Nats season, down but never out, and just when the situation looked most dire, they came through time after time.
They scored 12 runs in the first six innings of these seven games; and 21 in the final three.
Simply, they refused to quit.
The Nats may have been the oldest team in baseball this year, averaging 31.7 years of age, but the way they jumped around on the field at Minute Maid Park, celebrating their long-awaited title, it looked like a college frat house party.
Who knows how Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators celebrated Oct. 10, 1924?
There was no TV. No laptops. No internet. Not even Twitter.
But this memory will be etched forever in Washington history.
It ends the second-longest drought in baseball history, behind only the 108-year wait for the Chicago Cubs between 1908-2016.
The District had the Washington Senators that never won.
It had a second Senators franchise that never won.
It had a 33-year drought with no team.
And along came the Nats, the franchise moving from Montreal in 2005.
“The dream came true,” said Ted Lerner, principal owner of the Nationals. “We did it for the fans of Washington and we look forward to success in the future.”
It had been 66 years since a Washington team had even finished within 15 games of first place until the Nats’ first division title, in 2012, and they had never won a single playoff series until this year.
In a battle of the fittest, they not only survived, but thrived, winning it all in dramatic fashion.
The Nats had been shut down all game by Zack Greinke, collecting nothing more than a single and a walk, as the Astros starter cruised for six innings.
Then, along came the fateful seventh.
Rendon, born and raised in Houston, and a diehard Astros fan, homered into the left-field Crawford Boxes, and the Nats were alive, cutting the lead to 2-1.
Greinke walked Juan Soto on five pitches, and manager A.J. Hinch summoned Will Harris, who had been brilliant this postseason.
Kendrick, the MVP of the NL Division Series with a grand slam in the 10th inning in the clinching victory over the Dodgers, took a 1-0 cutter, and smoked it high off the screen off the right-field foul pole.
The crowd of 43,326 went completely silent.
The unsung hero of the evening was Scherzer. He couldn’t even raise his right hand over his head three days ago, scratched in Game 5, and was pitching on sheer guts. He was hardly vintage Mad Max, but he kept the Nats in the game, pitching with barely more than courage.
He didn’t strike out a batter until the fourth inning, the longest period without a strikeout in a start since 2013, and ended the night with four walks and three strikeouts. It was the first time in 257 consecutive starts he had more walks than strikeouts, the longest streak in the live-ball era.
Still, the only runs he gave up were Yuli Gurriel’s leadoff homer in the second inning, and a two-out single by Carlos Correa in the fifth.
It was the first time two starters went at least five innings in a World Series Game 7 since Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling in the 2001 World Series with the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks.
In the end, it was the Nats’ $140 million man, Patrick Corbin, who pitched three shutout innings in relief.
And just like that, the Nats had knocked off the mighty Astros, who had won more than 100 games three consecutive years, winning a World Series and a pennant.
The Nats, built on old-school scouting with a mix of analytics, proved to the baseball world that this game still is played by human beings.
“That’s the reason we’re here – scouting and player development,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told MLB Network Radio after the game. “They sign ’em, we develop ’em. They get to the big leagues and they win championships.”
This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook.