But there were more immediate issues Monday night. What Atlanta’s loss ensured for this year’s Nationals: a best-of-five National League Division Series starting on Saturday or Sunday, Washington’s first postseason baseball game in 79 years. What the victory ensured for Washington’s fans, some of whom have long memories of the bad baseball played by the Senators — who departed once in 1961, were replaced, then left again in 1971 — and the no-baseball period before the Nationals arrived, was the chance to put that sorry past behind and replace it, for perhaps the next month, with the playoffs.
“I know a lot of guys have been through a lot here,” said Werth, whose signing as a free agent before 2011 signaled that, internally, the Nationals believed they were close to contending. “It’s great for all of them, for everyone in there.”
Not long after, Zimmerman stood on the field, ski goggles draped around his neck to protect his eyes from the sting of champagne, worn at the advice of Werth. He is the kid the Nationals made their first-ever draft selection, back in 2005 out of the University of Virginia. He is the one who signed not one, but two contract extensions to stay with what looked to be a hapless franchise. He is the player whose picture adorns the back of the mammoth scoreboard.
“I love this town, obviously,” Zimmerman said. “They gave me a chance, took a chance on me at a young age, and they let me come right in and put me right in the middle of it.”
The middle of it Monday night was bedlam. After the players retreated to the home clubhouse, where they first started dousing each other, they came back out on the field, and the true celebration began. Gonzalez sprinted into the outfield. A whole crew headed down the left field line, high-fiving the crowd and each other, unbridled joy all around.
“What a journey,” Mark Lerner said.
There is pain in Washington’s baseball past. But Monday night showed there is both possibility and pleasure in its present, and its future.