If you were going to predict that the Nationals were going to win the last game of the 2019 MLB season and become World Series champions with two outs in the eighth inning, down by two runs against Josh Hader in the Wild Card game I would’ve told you that you were crazy.
Hell, if you told me that the Nationals were going to even sniff a chance at the Wild Card spot on May 23, tied for the fourth worst record in baseball sitting just two games in front of the Miami Marlins for last place in the National League, I would’ve laughed right in your face.
The Nationals defied the odds time and time again during the 2019 season with comeback win after comeback win somehow the Nats, who loved to flirt with heartbreak, ended up as Kings of the (Capitol) Hill (no pun intended) Wednesday night defeating the Astros in a World Series winner-take-all Game Seven that turned out to be closer than what the box score indicated four run World Series clinching victory.
Mid-season, the Nationals decided to ditch the three-and-a-half year motto of “One Pursuit” that had stuck with the team since former manager Dusty Baker’s first season with the club in favor of a newer and more grittier motto of “Stay in the Fight.” The motto change sent a message to both the players and fan base that the front office and coaching staff wasn’t ready to give up on the 2019 season despite the club’s 19-31 start.
The underlying themes of the 2019 season consisted of passing around and smashing a head of lettuce into the ground in the clubhouse after big wins early in the season, finger and baby sharking after hits when Gerardo Parra arrived and reignited the clubhouse, dugout dances after home runs and the Howie Kendrick and Adam Eaton Car Enthusiasts Club.
The Nats, who had World Series or bust expectations every year since the 2013 season, played the role of the underdog during the entirety of the 2019 season. After the ugly start, many fans and writers, including myself, wrote the Nationals’ season off in June and expected to watch the Wizards, Capitals and Redskins on a nightly basis in October rather than have the chance to root the Nationals onto a World Series victory.
The Nationals exceeded expectations and united the DMV as one during this playoff run. The club was able to unite the die-hard fans, casual fans and even the “Baseball is Boring” crowd that would be confused by something as simple as the infield fly rule. Not only did the Nationals just win on the biggest stage, they always seem to have a flair for the dramatic.
The Nationals played in five, count ‘em, five elimination games and won them all. It’s not just the fact that Washington won those elimination games, it’s how they won five straight elimination games after failing to just string two wins together to move on to the NLCS in previous postseasons.
How did they win those games? By coming from behind and taking the lead late in each of those games.
The Nationals, no stranger to comeback wins, found themselves trailing 2-0 with just a single hit in the game in the seventh inning against Astros starter Zack Greinke who was sitting at an unusually low 69 pitches entering the seventh inning. It appeared that the Nationals were going to head back to D.C. without a World Series trophy and extending their postseason woes for an eighth straight season that has dated back to the 2012 NLDS.
Enter: Anthony Rendon. The 29-year-old franchise cornerstone stepped up to the plate in these same types of situations before. In Game Five of the NLDS, Rendon brought the Nationals within one run after homering off of Clayton Kershaw in the eighth inning.
Before his seventh inning at-bat during last night’s game, Rendon strode to the plate cool, calm and collected in the seventh inning or later in the Nationals’ five elimination games seven times. In those pressure filled situations, Rendon had previously produced a walk, a double, a homerun, a double, another home run, another double, a third home run and a fourth double.
This time, Rendon swung at Greinke’s 1-0 pitch and deposited another home run in the Crawford boxes in left field to quiet the Houston crowd who knew that they were in trouble.
Greinke then issued a walk to Juan Soto which prompted Astros manager A.J. Hinch to remove Greinke from the game and replace him with Will Harris who had given up a home run in Game Six to Rendon in the seventh inning.
Howie Kendrick, who started the postseason as a playoff scapegoat with a base running blunder and defensive errors in the first five games of the NLDS, became a postseason hero with a 10th inning go-ahead grand slam in Game Five of the NLDS and was named NLCS MVP. The 36-year-old utility man, came off an injury plagued 2018 season and hit .344 in 344 at-bats gave the Nationals and their fans a chance to cheer once more.
Kendrick swung and drove a well placed fastball by Will Harris that just got out of the ballpark by clearing the wall by maybe just 10 feet and hit the foul pole to put the Nats up for good.
After picking up three more runs in the eighth and ninth inning to put the Nats up 6-2 Daniel Hudson, who quickly recorded two outs in the ninth, threw a 3-2 slider to strikeout Michael Brantley to end the game and ultimately closed the book on the 2019 season.
The Nationals wrote their own improbable story after starting the season with a record of 19-31. The Nationals used the doubters as fuel to propel the team to their first ever World Series title.
As Davey Martinez once said, “Bumpy Roads Lead to Beautiful Places.”