“They say you learn from your failures,” Zimmerman said then. “All those guys who were on those teams are part of this tonight. … This organization's come a long way.”
Then he handed the trophy to Gerardo Parra, who held it aloft as he surveyed the stadium through his signature rose-colored glasses.
The ceremony ended, the crowd ebbed, and the celebration began. Players dispersed into chaos. Stephen Strasburg waded through the infield in search of his wife. Victor Robles tried to keep track of his teammates and his mother. Daniel Hudson walked by wearing a backward hat and a frown.
“Thought we were doing a lap?” Hudson yelled to fellow pitcher Joe Ross, who shook his head, nonplussed.
Feet away, Max Scherzer bounced with frenetic energy. Wander Suero, Juan Soto and Fernando Rodney grinned and shouted in Spanish to a selfie video. Andrew Stevenson, Austin Voth, Erick Fedde and Ross mock-argued over who got to keep a small pennant.
Robles posed for photos with his mother, Marcia Brito, who saw him play a major league baseball game for the first time during this series. Eireann Dolan, Sean Doolittle’s wife, leaped into her husband’s arms, and her black-and-pink hair flew as she kissed him and buried her face in his chest. Strasburg finally spotted his wife.
“Hi,” he said, and Rachel wrapped him in a hug.
Players were shepherded toward the clubhouse, where they formed a mosh pit to douse each other with beer and be doused in return. Players and coaches alike used the trophy as a funnel for Budweiser. Rodney, Soto and Robles danced, the oldest and youngest members of this team drawn together.
The more they celebrated, the more familiar characters emerged: Turner in a North Carolina State helmet, Javy Guerra’s ceramic tequila bottle, shirtless Brian Dozier and shirtless Gomes. This was the fourth celebration in as many weeks, and though it looked as raucous as ever, suds flying and bass slapping, it felt a little fatigued or maybe reserved. (The boos were spirited, though, when Wilmer Difo at one point knocked over a tub of alcohol.)
“I told the boys, one more,” Martinez said. “Let’s have one more champagne pop, and it will be a lot more gratifying than this one.”
The gravity of this achievement alone, though, is not lost on anyone, especially not Werth. He played seven seasons for the Nationals before retiring. He stood in the back of the clubhouse Tuesday night, doling out handshakes and “Congratulations!” as he stood in a ring of old friends, including Anthony Rendon and Kurt Suzuki. Werth drank in the scene he had always hoped for but never achieved in Washington, falling victim again and again to the Nationals’ incredible misfortune in the NL Division Series.
So much has changed since Werth left in 2017. One of the biggest differences is Strasburg, who has transformed this season. He is still withdrawn, still guarded, still spends most of his time during clubhouse celebrations on the sidelines with a beer in hand. But he dances now, spurred on by Parra and Aníbal Sánchez. He did it again Tuesday night in the middle of the Latin players’ circle as they poured beers on him. Then he broke away, smiling, and reached into a tub for more beer.
“There’s no more left,” he said.
The clock hurtled past 1 a.m., and slowly the clubhouse drained. Some dipped into cars destined for home. Most walked across the street to Salt Line, a restaurant of which Zimmerman is a part-owner. Martinez carried the trophy there just before 2, and patrons sat stunned as the team that brought them out, that kept them out as the line blurred between late and early, paraded past. They stopped Robles for pictures and cheered loudest for the man known as “Baby Shark.”
But the players kept going. They walked by the booths and the bar toward the back of the room. They stepped past a massive bouncer and through two navy blue curtains into a room that could only be heard.
The bartender, at 2, turned up the lights for last call. Patrons in Nationals gear trickled out toward the end of a night they would remember forever while those responsible for it stayed behind the curtain. It was the end of the night, and usually the bar would turn out the lights. But this was not a regular bar or a regular night. They did not do that. They were not done.