Shortly after midnight on Wednesday, Washington Nationals reserve center fielder Roger Bernadina disappeared into the deep and angular recesses of center field in Houston’s Minute Maid Park, only to emerge with scuffed pants, the baseball and a grin.
During the ensuing hysteria on social media sites, Nats fan Andrew Shapiro wrote that his favorite team was blessed by “black magic.” Adam Bayes decided the catch “summed up the season.” And Jay Anderson argued that “when you win games like this, a World Series almost seems like destiny.”
That sentiment coursed through the region on Wednesday, as the Nats won for the fifth straight time and Washington’s crush on its first winning baseball team in 43 years deepened. Whether this relationship blossoms into the sort of romance New York had with the Mets in 1969 or Boston with the Red Sox in 2004 remains to be seen, but it’s certainly becoming something more memorable than a summer fling.
“I’m pretty much 100 percent in the camp that I think this [Nats] team is special,” host Eric Bickel said on 106.7 The Fan. The region’s other sports-talk station, ESPN 980, ran a poll asking if Bernadina’s catch was the best in franchise history.
Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner wrote on his blog about the emotions of a pennant race, joking that “my early impression is that it is equal parts pleasure and agony.” And fans working on consecutive nights of Nats-shortened sleep prepared for another week of games outside the Eastern time zone. After wrapping up their series in Houston on Thursday night, the Nats move on to Arizona and San Francisco before returning to Washington.
“This weekend with the West Coast [trip] is probably gonna be the death of me,” said Kristy Anderson, a 33-year-old public health advocate from Arlington. “But if you go to bed early, you miss plays like the last two nights. . . . It’s just a really exciting time to be a Nats fan right now. It’s uncharted territory.”
Indeed, Bernadina’s extraordinary catch fit into a season’s worth of unexpected entertainment. Monday night, Washington won in 11 innings when a bunt by newcomer Kurt Suzuki was mangled so badly by the Astros that Bernadina scored from first base. Saturday against the Miami Marlins, the Nats trailed by two runs four separate times before rallying for six runs in the eighth inning. The previous Sunday, the Nats erased a four-run deficit in Milwaukee, tying the game in the ninth and winning it in the 11th.
“I mean, they keep coming back; there have been four or five times where, in the past couple seasons, I would have just completely written them off,” said Potomac native Adam Mael, a 22-year-old fan now living in Ann Arbor, Mich. “I can tell you that the past few years, a lot of games like that I would have turned off in the third inning.”
A more cynical fan might take a more cynical view. Washington, after all, has baseball’s best record, while the Astros have comically stumbled to the National League’s worst mark. Shouldn’t the Nats have polished off such a bumbling foe without the extra-inning tension and the post-midnight dramatics?