Hours before dawn Saturday morning, Manager Davey Johnson insisted his Washington Nationals would make up for the bitter disappointment their fans had just endured in Game 5 of their National League Division Series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
We’re always told that one of the best things about sports is there is always Next Year. The Nats pitchers and catchers will report to Viera next February full of hope, and the Florida sun will be a tonic to help everyone forget the events of October.
The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga, Chico Harlan, Adam Kilgore, James Wagner and columnist Thomas Boswell recall the journey of the Washington Nationals since the team moved from Montreal to providing Washington its first first-place finish in 79 years, and all the good and bad moments in between.
Insight on the Nationals and all the latest news from Post reporters Adam Kilgore and James Wagner.
All well and good. General Manager Mike Rizzo has built a team that should contend for years to come. But there’s a difference between contending and winning. There’s a difference between the hollow cheers that ring out when you unfurl a banner that reads, “Division Champions,” and the roar that accompanies one that bears the words, “World Champions.”
To learn that lesson, the Nationals need look only about a mile to the north and west at all the mini-banners the Capitals have hung in Verizon Center.
The difference between the Caps and Nats? The Caps have always gone down swinging. The Nationals lost with one arm tied behind their back.
There’s no guarantee the Nationals would have won this series or the World Series if Stephen Strasburg’s season hadn’t been shut down more than a month ago. But even if you’re convinced that ending Strasburg’s season early was the right thing to do, at least consider this question: Do you honestly believe the Nationals would have wasted a 6-0 lead Friday night had Strasburg been the starting pitcher?
What if the Nationals had trotted out a four-man rotation in this series of Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann (pitching at home where he’s far more effective) and Ross Detwiler and Edwin Jackson had never seen the mound? Do you really believe the Cardinals would be playing in the National League Championship Series?
This series wasn’t lost when Drew Storen let it slip away after getting within one strike of ending it. It was lost when Nationals owner Ted Lerner bought into agent Scott Boras’s line that the Nationals had to sign Jackson to help eat up some of the innings Strasburg wasn’t going to pitch.
Boras told The Post’s Mike Wise he told Lerner, “You better sign Edwin Jackson because we have this plan for Stephen Strasburg . . .”
Lerner gave the $11 million to Jackson, a pitcher with a career record of 60-60 and an ERA of 4.50. And what did Jackson do for the Nats? He went 10-11 (on a team that won 98 games) with an ERA of 4.03. He also started Game 3 against the Cardinals and managed to completely silence a frenzied crowd at Nationals Park by giving up four runs in the first two innings. When Johnson inexplicably brought him in to pitch the seventh inning in Game 5, he gave up a run that proved crucial. If Storen had been pitching with a three-run lead in the ninth instead of a two-run margin, he might not have been quite so careful and could have forced Yadier Molina to put the ball in play as the tying run.
Ifs and buts.