Each of these winner-take-all games went into extra innings. The Nats won theirs, 7-3, on Howie Kendrick’s 10th-inning grand slam; the Senators again went small-ball — hitting two doubles while capitalizing on two Giants errors to win their game, 4-3, in the 12th inning.
And both games featured Washington starting pitchers earning redemption out of the bullpen after losing their first two decisions. In the Nats’ case, Patrick Corbin was a tough-luck loser in the series opener, giving up just one earned run in six innings as the bullpen and offense faltered in a 6-0 loss. In game 3, Corbin came out of the bullpen in the sixth inning with the Nats nursing a 2-1 lead. The Dodgers torched him for six runs in ⅔ of an inning, and the lefty was tagged with a blown save and a loss. As ESPN’s Eddie Matz put it, “Patrick Corbin caused a Nationals disaster.”
After two games, Corbin’s postseason ERA was an unsightly 9.45, but manager Dave Martinez showed faith in him in Game 5, bringing him in from the bullpen again, this time with the Nats trailing 3-1 and two outs in the seventh inning. Corbin struck out the dangerous Joc Pederson, and after the Nats tied the score in the top of the eighth, Corbin fanned two more in the bottom of the frame to preserve the tie.
In the ’24 World Series, Walter Johnson also lost a tough opener, surrendering four runs in the Giants’ 12-inning, 4-3 victory. He was worse in a Game 5 defeat, giving up four earned runs in eight innings as the Giants took a three games to two lead in the series. After that game, Johnson, 36, said he would likely retire.
But like Corbin, Johnson had a manager who still had his back. Two days later, old Griffith Stadium in Washington convulsed for several minutes after the Senators tied the score in the eighth inning, as fans threw confetti, ripped-up newspapers, hats and coats on the field.
Senators player-manager Bucky Harris had used only three pitchers to that point, but he didn’t hesitate to bring his ace right-hander from the bullpen in the ninth inning on just one day’s rest (there were no off days in that series). The move looked a little dicey at first, when Johnson surrendered a one-out triple to Frankie Frisch. But Johnson pitched out of trouble, then threw three more scoreless innings in relief to win the game.
“Walter was my best bet,” Harris said after the game. “That’s why I put him in. Anyone who thought Walter was through was a fool. I knew he was all right.”
The two games were connected in another important way. Although the Nats’ win ended on Wednesday night L.A. time, in D.C., it was already Thursday — and the 95th anniversary of the Senators’ Game 7 victory. Oct. 10, already a high-water mark in Washington baseball history, now has another important milestone in the city’s long baseball tradition.
The ’24 Senators and this year’s Nats have something else in common. Both were “due” for a championship. By 1924, every team in the American League had been to the World Series at least once except for the Senators and the lowly St. Louis Browns. When Washington mounted its unlikely march for the pennant that year, fans from around the country rallied around them, eager to see the young upstarts topple a Big Apple baseball duopoly. The three previous World Series had pitted the New York Yankees against the Giants.
Generations of fans have come and gone since that first title. Perhaps the Nats, by capturing some of that ’24 magic, are ready to finally deliver a second one.
Frederic J. Frommer is the author of “You Gotta Have Heart,” a history of Washington baseball, and Head of Sports PR at the Dewey Square Group, a public affairs firm in Washington. Twitter: @ffrommer.
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