The Cardinals’ unyielding lineup beat up right-hander Tanner Roark over five innings. After Jayson Werth’s mammoth two-run homer in the first, Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright steamrolled them. The Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates both eked out victories, which put them both six games ahead of the Nationals in the NL wild-card race with five to play.
The team so many picked to win the World Series, 98-win darlings one year ago, had been mathematically eliminated. With five games left, the World Series or Bust Nationals had officially gone bust.
“You put the uniform on to win, and we didn’t get it done,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “So I feel bad for everybody.”
The Nationals retreated to a funeral-quiet clubhouse. Bryce Harper stared into his locker still wearing his full uniform — spikes laced up and the top button of his jersey fastened — 45 minutes after the last out. A clubhouse manager opened a soda can, and it echoed throughout the room. The television screens were black. Johnson sat in his office with two coaches. He sipped a glass of red wine; they took hauls from sweating bottles of Bud Light.
“We created this expectation. Nobody else,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “Two years ago, you would’ve said Washington Nationals, postseason, people would’ve laughed you out of town. The guys who are in here, for the most part, are the guys that created this atmosphere, created the expectations, and I’m proud to be a part of that.”
They reached this point after a desperate six weeks of trying to overcome the sluggish first four-and-a-half months of their season. They were 13-14 after April, 48-47 at the all-star break and 54-60 on Aug. 7. They have been the best team in baseball since, but they found their stride too late. They also faltered against top competition, going 14-29 against the five NL playoff teams.
Werth missed all of May except for two at-bats, and upon his return became one the best players in baseball. Harper began the year on an MVP course, then ran into two fences and either played hurt or not at all the rest of the way.
“I wasn’t there for a month,” Harper said. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m a game-changer or anything like that. But we’re a great team, and me being in this lineup is huge. I’ve got to try to be in this lineup every night.”