With the Washington Nationals protecting a one-run lead over the Chicago Cubs in the fifth inning of Game 5 of the 2017 National League Division Series, Manager Dusty Baker summoned his ace, Max Scherzer, from the bullpen for a rare relief appearance. No one could have predicted what would transpire over the next three outs at Nationals Park — a sequence of outcomes never witnessed in nearly 3 million half-innings of recorded history — but baseball fan David Bledsoe already had an idea how the game would end.
“I knew [the Nationals] were going to lose,” the 60-year-old Bledsoe, who watched Game 5 from the comfort of his Alexandria home, said in a phone interview this week. “There was no possibility they were going to win that game. It just had that supernatural air to it.”
Bledsoe’s premonition proved correct after the Cubs scored four runs in the inning with the aid of a walk, a dropped third strike, catcher’s interference and a hit by pitch — the four ways a batter can reach first base without hitting the ball — and held on for a 9-8 win. See, Bledsoe had long suspected the Nationals were cursed, perhaps as early as their meltdown in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, when they blew a 6-0 lead in a heartbreaking loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. First-round exits in 2014 and 2016 provided more evidence of a hex, and the absurdity of the most recent Game 5 erased any doubt.
“If you didn’t believe in a curse before, the Max inning was the killer,” Bledsoe said before invoking the fielding error that cost the formerly cursed Boston Red Sox the 1986 World Series. “That’s the Nationals’ Billy Buckner moment. Billy Buckner’s not a great fielder. He’s going to kick one out of 20 balls for sure. What happened to Max in that inning was almost mathematically impossible.”
In his new self-published book, “Black Thursday, Blue Monday: In Search of the Curse of the Washington Nationals (A Baseball Whodunit),” Bledsoe, a lawyer by trade, explores the candidates for the origin of the hoodoo afflicting the Nats. The result, written in the style of a nonfiction murder mystery, is an educational and delightfully entertaining, if sometimes painful, investigation that spans well beyond the franchise’s 15 years in the District.
Scherzer’s appearance on short rest in Game 5, aptly referred to as “Max’s Inning from Hell” throughout the book, reminded Bledsoe of a playoff game some 36 years earlier involving the Expos, the 1969 expansion franchise that would move from Montreal to D.C. and become the Nationals in 2005.
In the deciding Game 5 of the 1981 National League Championship Series, the Expos hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers at Olympic Stadium, which was still an open-air venue. Originally scheduled for a Sunday, the game was postponed a day because of rain and sleet in the forecast. In the ninth inning of the must-win contest, Montreal turned to ace Steve Rogers, who had pitched a complete game three days earlier, to preserve a 1-1 tie.
Like Scherzer in Game 5 against the Cubs, Rogers retired the first two batters he faced with ease before disaster struck. The next Dodger to come to the plate, Rick Monday, crushed a 3-1 sinker that didn’t sink over the center field wall for a solo home run. The Expos put two runners on in the bottom of the inning, but Bob Welch recorded the final out, and the Dodgers advanced to the World Series. The agonizing loss, which ended Montreal’s first and only trip to the postseason, is known as Blue Monday to this day.
Bledsoe acknowledges there are curse skeptics, especially among those who choose to ignore the Nationals’ Canadian ties, but he notes the major league franchise that now calls D.C. home is the only one in the four major sports not to reach the championship round in its first 50 seasons of existence. (The NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers could join that club next year.)
“When you talk to people about the [Nationals'] curse, their reaction is, ‘You can’t be cursed because you’ve only been around since 2005,’” he said. “That’s the fallacy. They’ve been around since ’69. I think the Nats can hold their head up with anyone in the curse department.”
When Bledsoe began researching his book, he didn’t know who or what the source of the Nationals’ curse was going to be, but he knew it was buried deeper in the past than the team letting Baker go after he led Washington to consecutive division titles or Matt Williams not following through on his promise to do a Babe Ruth impression if the Nats won 10 straight games or even Teddy Roosevelt winning his first Presidents’ Race during the 2012 regular season finale.
“I had to do some digging,” he said. “I knew there was a curse, and I knew it went back to Montreal. I just didn’t know where it would wind up.”
During his search, Bledsoe details the history of some other famous baseball curses, including Boston’s Curse of the Bambino, the Cubs’ Curse of the Billy Goat and the Cleveland Indians’ Curse of Rocky Colavito, before presenting the evidence against a range of potential sources of the Nationals’ curse. After a series of twists, turns and red herrings, he finally reveals the “murderer.” No major spoilers here, but it’s not Drew Storen.
Bledsoe offers a few suggestions for expiating the curse — hint: camels and cabbage-smashing won’t do it — but says he will leave doing so up to others.
“Black Thursday, Blue Monday” is due out in early May and is available for preorder.
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