“It’s actually a positive the way they’ve won those games,” disagreed Kevin Millar, a veteran of that 2004 Red Sox team and now a co-host of MLB Network’s “International Talk.” “The Nationals need to win games like that. They need to test themselves in extra innings. They need to make plays like Bernadina did. They need to get a big hit late in the game with two outs. It’s a testament to what that team’s about.”
And in truth, the Nats have thus far fared better the wider a game’s margin. The team’s winning percentage in games decided by three or more runs is a major league-best .717, compared with just .421 in two-run games and .553 in one-run games.
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Bernadina was the latest unlikely hero for a club that’s received a string of clutch contributions from B-listers. Journeyman Chad Tracy, who spent last season in Japan, has excelled as a pinch hitter. Former top pitcher John Lannan, exiled to the team’s minor league outpost in Syracuse, has delivered two huge starts over the past month when called up to pitch in doubleheaders. Even since-released players such as Xavier Nady and Rick Ankiel have helped win games.
But the Nats have undeniable talent, too, which is why ESPN analyst Rick Sutcliffe picked them in February to go to the World Series.
“There were just a lot of really nice pieces to the puzzle there,” Sutcliffe, a longtime major league pitcher, said on Wednesday. “From the middle of May on, they’ve expected to win. It’s not like they’re going out there hoping to win. They truly expect it. And that’s how you’re able to come back and do things like they’ve done the last couple of nights.”
The fans are starting to expect it, too. Kristy Anderson is prepared to put down her deposit for playoff tickets on Friday. Shapiro, a bar manager, said patrons ask him nightly to switch televisions to the Nats games, “and we’re not even a sports bar.” Jay Anderson is already imagining the souvenirs. “All these plays you’re seeing over these last few weeks are going to show up in the highlight reel on the commemorative DVD, I absolutely believe that,” he said.
And Bayes, a 32-year-old consultant from Ashburn, voiced a sentiment many Nats fans have surely felt in recent days: “The season seems meant to be.”
“It’s like a movie that’s already been written, and we’re watching it, and we don’t know what the ending is going to be,” he said. “I don’t know if I want to fast forward to the end and see what happens, or just keep enjoying it. Because this is the group of players that in 20 years, we’re still going to talk about. This is the group of guys that’s gonna be remembered as the first real team.”