Tuesday was a sprightly cruise down an ice cream river in a Maraschino yacht for Washington sports fans, a day of pixie dust and MoonPie dreams, an out-of-body fantasy in which they floated high above the ground, as strange folks in red clothes and scraggly beards danced and hugged and sang down below. It didn’t feel normal, not to John the consultant, and not to Debbie the communications professional, and not to Max the pitcher, either.
“The energy from Game 4, I swear I woke up this morning with an extra bounce in my step,” Max Scherzer said Tuesday evening, after whipping through a total domination of the Tampa Bay Rays. “The way the Caps played, the fans, the energy at that stadium, everyone here in D.C. — how could you not wake up with an extra bounce in your step? I was itching to get out to the field and play. Good things happen when the whole city gets behind you.”
If Scherzer was riding a giant red wave, it seemed to work. He had 13 strikeouts in eight innings Tuesday night, threw 81 of 99 pitches for strikes, got the game started and finished in about the time it takes to complete a typical Vegas pregame show. Or at least the first half of one.
And the prelude to all of this came Monday night, when Scherzer hollered his head off inside Capital One Arena.
He had a partner, too, and it was his complete opposite. Because while Scherzer oozes emotion, Ryan Zimmerman oozes cardboard extract. But if they’re different in one significant way, they’re similar in another: Neither man typically attends hockey games wearing a hockey helmet and hockey gloves while carrying a hockey stick.
And yet there they were Monday night, leading the traditional “Let’s Go Caps” pregame cheer while decked out in the most delightfully ridiculous costumes.
They had a tough act to follow; legendary Redskins coach Joe Gibbs led the cheers before Game 3. But they managed to find a new twist, anyhow.
“Me and Max were talking,” Zimmerman recalled on Tuesday. “We had to do something different than Mr. Gibbs. We couldn’t let him one-up us. We thought we’d go for it.”
They went for it.
“Sooo this was amazing,” wrote Zimmerman’s wife, Heather, along with a video of the festivities.
Nationals players have often attended Caps playoff games in recent years, and this year’s team has been especially responsive, with Manager Dave Martinez often wearing Caps gear, talking about the club and even texting Caps Coach Barry Trotz.
“I think there’s a lot of parallels between us and the Caps,” Nats closer Sean Doolittle said Tuesday. “I think they’ve had to answer a lot of questions we’ve had to answer, after having such good regular seasons, not making maybe the playoff run they wanted to. So they’re kind of laying the blueprint for us right now. It’s been really fun to watch, and it’s been really fun to watch how the city has rallied around them. There’s a lot of energy in the city because of what they’re doing, so it’s been really cool to follow.”
“One more game,” Martinez said Tuesday. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’m a huge fan. I am. And last night, I tell you what, I got nervous [Monday] night, I really did. I really wanted them to win going into the Vegas, and, man, they played really well.”
If they needed encouragement, Scherzer and Zimmerman were there to help. Washington sports fans regularly see Scherzer’s emotional outbursts, stalking around the mound, demanding he not be removed from a game, celebrating a strikeout. To see the reserved Zimmerman, in hockey gear, howling: It was a bit different.
“I mean, that’s kind of Max’s default setting, so that was to be expected,” Doolittle said. “But Zim got pretty fired up. That was cool.”
“We’ve been lucky,” said Zimmerman, who has been friendly with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and other veteran Caps for years. “I think a lot of our sports teams support each other and a lot of our sports teams have been really good teams for the last five or six years, so we’ve had a lot to cheer about. Obviously the run that they’re on is special, and it’s fun to be around and see the city be behind them. It’s pretty fun to watch.”
Zimmerman, like a lot of Washingtonians his age, didn’t grow up watching hockey but has been drawn to the sport during its local rise. He called it “definitely my favorite sport to watch live” and said he and his wife have gotten even more interested in the Caps over the last four or five years.
“It’s been fun seeing them kind of … go through the same things we’ve gone through,” Zimmerman said. “Hopefully they can win one more.”
Either way, they will always have Monday, when everything went about as well as possible, for both the roaring hockey players in hockey gear and also the roaring baseball players in hockey gear.
“I’m jealous,” Martinez said. “I want a helmet.”
And maybe it goes without saying that the night didn’t go quite as well for Knights super fan Bryce Harper. He did not, apparently, wear a helmet.
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