The next year, Washington faced Game 7 of the World Series in Pittsburgh. Yes, hockey’s Capitals have played six decisive games — all in best-of-seven series — over the past five seasons. A generation ago, basketball’s Bullets (now the Wizards) won the city’s only championship in that sport by beating Seattle in Game 7 of the 1978 NBA Finals. But this will be Washington’s first all-or-nothing baseball game since the 1925 Senators couldn’t hold an eighth-inning lead and fell to the Pirates.
Friday’s Game 5 comes two rounds before the World Series. But it is, in essence, the reason the Nationals have played those 166 previous games, over which they have the best record in the sport.
Jayson Werth ended a 1-1 tie game in dramatic fashion by hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 4 of the NLDS. The win kept the team alive and forced a Game 5 against the St. Louis Cardinals Friday night.
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“We’ve worked extremely hard to get home field advantage for the playoffs,” Rizzo said. “It’s come to fruition that we get home field advantage in Game 5, an elimination game.”
For that game, the Nationals will hand the ball to pitcher Gio Gonzalez, the perma-smiling left-hander who won 21 games during the regular season and is a strong candidate to win the Cy Young Award as the National League’s best pitcher. “It’s still loose in the clubhouse,” Gonzalez said before Game 4, even as the Nationals faced elimination. It is exactly how the Nationals expect Gonzalez to approach his task Friday, with the season again in the balance.
“I’ve never seen a happier person in my life, any time of the day,” Zimmerman said.
That is the sense that pulsed through the home clubhouse. There is, at least, one more game to play. Be happy about it.
“We’ve got a chance to win the series tomorrow,” Werth said. “What a difference a day makes.”
Werth smiled through his beard. He has endured these moments, back when he played on contending teams in Philadelphia. Most of the Nats have not. What to expect?
“You have no idea,” closer Drew Storen said. “You just go into it, and you don’t really think about it.”
So try not thinking about it, Washington, over the endless hours before Gonzalez fires that first pitch. The season will either live Friday night, or it will die. There will be joy or there will be doom. And for the first time in nearly 90 years, this city will have to deal with it, one way or the other.