“Now you see it,” said Manny Argueta, a D.C. sports fan with tears still glistening on his cheeks. “Tomorrow, the next week, the next year — you can’t tell us nothing. We here. We won something. We are winners.”
The party stretched into the wee hours of Thursday morning. Fireworks were heard in Adams Morgan. A streaker was spotted on the streets of Capitol Hill. An overserved fan shimmied up a streetlight pole outside the stadium. Late-night revelers across the region burst into spontaneous Nats chants. The celebration promised to last several more days, as Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced the team’s championship parade would be held Saturday at 2 p.m., starting at 15th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW, proceeding east along Constitution and ending with a rally at 3rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Players were already forecasting a celebration that would rival the one put on by the Stanley Cup-winning Capitals 16 months ago. Fans, though, didn’t wait.
They all watched as Washington overcame a two-run deficit with a pair of seventh-inning homers that electrified an anxious fan base. In bars and diners, living rooms and hospital rooms, taxi cabs and late-night buses, the nation’s capital shook as Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning, and the Nats, who’ve packed so much into their 14 years playing in the District, pulled out a 6-2, come-from-behind win.
They poured out of the stadium and into the night. Some shed their clothes and others their good judgment. While the Nats players sprayed champagne and cheap beer in a Houston clubhouse, some fans followed suit on Half Street in Washington, where drinks spilled onto the ground and marijuana smoke hovered above. Fans cheered, cars honked and the city’s latest sports-themed party was just getting started.
The win encapsulated something different for everyone. In Section 127 of Nationals Park, Robert York, 51, stood with his hands clasped nervously near his chin as Nats reliever Daniel Hudson recorded the final outs, tears welling in York’s eyes with each pitch. In his right pocket was a crinkled photo of his mother, along with a necklace that held some of her ashes. Beverly Jo was 70 when she lost a three-year battle with lung cancer earlier this year.
“This is home away from home. Just felt like it was the right place to be and the right time to be here,” York said. “If mom were here, we’d be here together.”
He was overcome with emotion — many were — as Queen’s “We Are the Champions” played and the crowd swayed, arms draped over shoulders, phones whipped out to record and share and prove to everyone they were here and this really — yes, really — happened.
At Hook Hall, a biergarten on Georgia Avenue, the capacity crowd groaned and cheered with every pitch. They danced on tables and sprayed beer into the air when it was over. “People say this isn’t a sports town,” said Michael Rollinson, a 34-year-old transplant from New York, who adopted the Nats when he moved to D.C. ahead of the 2005 season. “Dude, let me tell you: This is a sports town.”
Inside Capital One Arena, the Wizards were playing their home opener Wednesday evening, but the Nationals were on everyone’s minds. Scores of fans showed up in curly W hats and followed updates on the scoreboard throughout the game. Late in the fourth quarter, fans burst into cheers when the Nationals grabbed their first lead of the night. The Wizards were losing at the time, but no one seemed to care.
“I heard it after the timeout,” guard Bradley Beal said of the cheers. “Everybody erupted. I was trying to be locked in but it was tough because I knew what was going on. I kinda had a feeling and I took a little glimpse to see we were up, 3-2. That was more than awesome."
Navy Yard was the area’s biggest gathering spot. Washington supporters kept strolling into the ballpark until the game was nearly over. Among the last to get into the stadium was Makeda Wright, 23, who hopped in an Uber from Silver Spring when the Nats took a 3-2 lead and arrived at the center field gate in the top of the ninth.
Her group raced to the will-call window, snatched free tickets and then cut in a large line to enter the final gate that remained open. “I’m so hyped,” Wright said.
The crowd inside was electric. The rain had stopped, and the adrenaline was pumping. The red-clad fans wore rain slickers and ponchos. They huddled under umbrellas, waving towels and hoisting handmade signs. Their arms shot into the air with each third strike and each third out, seatmates embracing each other like soul mates.
When Adam Eaton smacked a bases-loaded single in the ninth inning to break the game open, the stadium erupted, more than 16,000 people leaving their feet at once, letting loose a guttural roar that sent ripples along the nearby Anacostia River.
“The energy was incredible,” said 58-year old Holly Baynham, a Nats fan since Day 1. “It was electrifying.”
The rain fell all night, a persistent trickle that never came close to dousing the enthusiasm and stopped just before the Nats sealed the win. The team had dispensed its full allotment of 36,000 tickets to Wednesday’s watch party. They were complimentary, but many were being sold on secondary websites for as much as $30 apiece. By first pitch, more than 13,300 fans had passed through the turnstiles. They’d gathered to witness history, albeit on the city’s largest flat screen.
“This is a dream come true,” said Lynda Pilgrin, a die-hard fan. “We always hoped for it. We always thought they could do it.”
They wore shark hats in honor of the team’s unofficial anthem, the children’s song “Baby Shark.” They posed for photos with the president mascots, yelled when the Astros faced two strikes and high-fived each other when a Washington player reached base. When Anthony Rendon and then Howie Kendrick sent balls sailing over the wall in the seventh, the stadium sprung to life, nail-biting replaced by fist-pumping.
They’d been waiting for this. Losing and disappointment and heartbreak had been the norm for a generation of sports fans. They watched other cities celebrate, other teams hoist trophies, other fans reach stages of delirium and joy. They had barely recovered from the hangover after the raucous revelry that followed the Capitals’ Stanley Cup title just 16 months ago and were eager to do it all again.
That Capitals’ win snapped a major championship drought that defined an entire generation of D.C. sports, stretching back to the Redskins’ Super Bowl win a quarter-century earlier.
These fans hadn’t suffered for decades as those from some cities, but they’d had their share of heartbreak, especially in recent years when talented Nats teams underachieved and were ousted from the playoffs early.
Stuart Piper, 68, was there at the Nats’ debut back in 2005, a road game in Philadelphia. On so many nights that followed, disappointment accompanied him out of the stadium. On Wednesday he wore a 2012 postseason shirt to the Game 7 watch party because after that playoff loss to St. Louis, he vowed to save his money until the Nats won something meaningful.
“It really pulled this town together,” he said of the team’s October run.
This Nats group, of course, seemed destined not long ago to join that heaping pile of D.C. disappointment — until it became known for something else entirely, bouncing back from deficits, rebuking critics, overcoming obstacles. They had lost their biggest star in the offseason and many were calling for the manager’s head just one-third of the way through the schedule. They were misfits — some too old, some too injured — and had to put together a dazzling second-half run to earn one of the National League’s wild-card spots in the playoffs. This month alone the Nationals faced five playoff elimination games. They won them all, often with thrilling rallies.
“This was the chance of a lifetime to see history made,” Nats fan Carolyn Delaney said late Wednesday night, wearing a pair of glasses adorned with plastic sharks. “The Nats are the comeback kids.”
And because the Nats have done so little this year the easy way, they won all four games of these World Series on the road. So while the team partied in Houston, fans at Nationals Park celebrated without their heroes. It didn’t seem to matter. The season was over. For the Nats and their fans, the party was just beginning.
Tramel Raggs, Matt Brooks, Clarence Williams and Candace Buckner contributed to this report.
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