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With Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals now have three franchise players

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Everybody wants to win. And the Nats think they are on the way. With two international signings this year, including pitcher Yunesky Maya for $6.5 million, as well as the $13.7-million they shelled out Monday for Harper, plus four - that's f-o-u-r - "above slot" signings of high draft picks, the Nats continued a 20-month pattern of spending sufficiently, though judiciously, to build a winner. The Nats are way past "cheap" and on the way to "smart."

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However, while the path to the playoffs is vague, the arrival of Harper and Strasburg is as obvious as a thunderclap. Such players, especially when they arrive young, change the way a city bonds to a team and joins in nurturing its development.

"For fans, there is nothing better than growing up with a team, watching young players arrive and adopting them," said team President Stan Kasten.

"Could we have done things quicker and won more games sooner? Probably," he admitted. Then he shrugged: "But if it had been done quicker, we wouldn't have either Strasburg or Harper."

Cliches stand the test of time because they are true at the core. For example: It's better to be lucky than good.

The original Nats "plan" was to be very bad in '07 and lose enough games to get the No. 1 overall draft pick in '08. But they blew it and went 73-89. Then, in '08 and '09, when they entered a new publicly-funded park and wanted to show progress, they were awful - the worst team in baseball.

Even then, they needed ironic good luck. In '08, with Strasburg up for grabs, Seattle had the lead for Worst Record. But the Mariners hired an interim manager, Jim Riggleman, who rallied Seattle just enough late in the season so the Nats could be worst. The baseball gods know how to laugh: Riggleman ended up managing in his own home town with Strasburg as his ace.

So, now the Double No. 1 Drama begins. Now they are linked, Harper and Strasburg, in baseball lore. "It's never happened before," said GM Mike Rizzo. "No one has ever had two No. 1 overall picks back-to-back ... with this vast talent. It's just extraordinary.

"And there have never been two who arrived in the sport with this kind of full-blown national persona."

Together, this National pair will go through baseball history together, linked, perhaps, as future Hall of Famers, like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Randy Johnson in their decade together in Seattle. Or, perhaps, a rung lower, where we find "might-have-been" dreams, they will be like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden who took the '80s Mets from laughing stock to perennial contender. Rehab, not Cooperstown, will be their final linkage.

Or perhaps they will be more like Herb Score and Rocky Colavito in Cleveland in the '50s when many thought the fire-balling left-hander and the handsome slugger would win a World Series, or a few, for the Indians? One got hurt, the other traded. And Cleveland still hasn't won another World Series.

Every scenario is now open, plus plenty we can't imagine. One thing is certain, however. After Monday night, with its pie-in-the-face and an Elvis wig for Rizzo, only one town is going to be able to take that dizzy ride and find out the answers: Washington.

For those who saw baseball arrive in '05, there were core questions. Would the Nationals product ever be worth the wait, worth the expense, worth the decades of frustration affection?

The answer hasn't arrived. But it's starting to take clear shape. With Harper now joining Strasburg, it sure looks like, "Yes."


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