So after Brantley fouled off another fastball, and Nationals catcher Yan Gomes called for a slider low and in, Hudson came set, his glove at his belt, and drew a deep breath. He was joined by people around the world. They had waited a long time for this, and would do the last part together.
Marissa Mizroch was at Minute Maid Park, sobbing on the concourse past the third base line, thinking about her dad. John Mizroch died of lung cancer on Feb. 23, 2019, right as spring training began. He was 70 years old. Marissa loved the Nationals because he did, because he recorded each game to watch it twice, because of the time he asked her to make a Trea Turner meme, without knowing what a meme was.
She grew up in D.C., and now, at 25, was a morning-show producer in Austin. When the Nationals made the World Series, and the Astros became their opponent, Marissa was set on making a game. Houston was a 2½-hour drive from her apartment. John would have traveled much farther. So she spent rent money on a standing room ticket for Game 7, even if she’d have to turn her car around at midnight, win or lose, to start a 2 a.m. shift. She put on her favorite red Nationals shirt, the one she bought at the last game she went to with her dad. Then she was there, exactly where she was supposed to be, sobbing and shaking through the ninth.
Natan Bash watched Game 6 on a bench inside a Tel Aviv military base. It was near 6 a.m. and freezing when the Nationals secured that victory, so his officer allowed him to go home, 30 minutes north, to watch Game 7 with his family. They filled their little living room around 2:45 a.m. and now huddled around a TV, wary of waking their neighbors, waiting in the dead of night for Hudson to throw that pitch.
Zoe Jackson was in Cambridge, United Kingdom, watching on her laptop while playing the Nationals radio broadcast. She Skyped with her parents and had them point their camera at the TV. She was far from home, studying history in a graduate program, yet felt back in Silver Spring, among family, for each playoff game.
Jack Gillies tuned in to a shaky stream from a quiet morning in Barcelona. Eric Martin toggled his WiFi to get a clear DirecTV feed on a flight from Mexico to New York. Sandy Pugh and Jim Lastowka, longtime fans, were flying from New York to Spain and booked the trip without considering this dilemma. The game was not offered in Delta’s entertainment package. They pulled up MLB Gamecast on their iPad, just in time for the last few innings, and asked a flight attendant for two glasses of champagne.
Luiz Otavio was in Sao Paulo, Brazil, hiding out in a bathroom stall, watching the ninth inning on his cellphone. He was in the middle of a shift at the bank he works for, but kept glancing at his hip as the comeback unfolded. That’s how he knew when to slip away for the finish. He dialed the volume down, to just loud enough that he could hear, and prayed no one noticed he was missing.
Todd Dixon was anchored off the Georgia coast, researching a mid-1800s wooden sailing vessel. By day, he scoured the sunken ship, once bound for Georgia from New York, for more than a million dollars in gold, rusted cannons and other personal effects. By night, he was fixed on the Nationals. His girlfriend, Carrie O’Reilly, was at Florida State University, and they texted after each out of Game 7. But since Todd was 15 seconds behind, his service slow from the bowels of a boat, Carrie waited for his reactions before offering hers.
Matt Stevenson and his wife, Michela, were checking into a Maui hotel when they heard commotion from the lobby bar. A small group of Nationals fans were going crazy over Howie Kendrick’s go-ahead homer. The newlyweds dropped their bags in the room and rushed downstairs to join them.
Dustin Chaffee was in Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, pacing about the living room with a blanket over his head. His wife and daughter thought he was insane. But Dustin had been a fan for 30 years, following the Nationals when they were the Montreal Expos, a reminder that one city lost its team when baseball returned to Washington. And back in the Washington area, at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Luke Waidman and his wife, Jackie, held Millie Rose for the first time. Millie was born at 4:40 p.m. on Oct. 30. She would never remember all the early playoff exits. She would only know what happened on her birthday.
Superstitions were also in full swing. In Vancouver, Wash., Soren Roth put on his lucky T-shirt — a faded long-sleeve from the Nationals’ inaugural season — and gripped the handle of his rowing machine. He began working out in the sixth, before Zack Greinke exited, and couldn’t stop once the scoreboard flipped. The radio call blared through his black headphones. Sweat beaded his forehead and close-cropped hair. In Oxford, Miss., Scott Wyant did the same on the elliptical, pouring his nervous energy into a steady jog.
In Alexandria, Bo Macreery was banished upstairs to pick his guitar and sing, a routine he and his wife did to start rallies from home. Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” seemed to always rev the offense. The Police’s “Message in a Bottle” was for defense and pitching. Bo and his wife bumped their radios to max volume, making it so Bo could hear a floor away, and he slipped into a rhythm. Then Kendrick homered, he skipped down the steps, and his wife told him, no, stay put and keep playing. So he did, and when Hudson threw a slider to Brantley, and Brantley missed it, and deep breaths became a wide wave of screams, Bo dropped his guitar and screamed, too.
Luiz screamed from the skinny stall in Sao Paulo. Natan screamed and cried at 5:50 a.m. in Tel Aviv. Zoe screamed from Cambridge, Jack from Barcelona, Matt and Michela from Maui, and Luke and Jackie from a recovery room at Holy Cross, their family one baby bigger, their hearts never feeling so full.
Eric screamed from seat 9D of his JetBlue flight. Sandy and Jim did from seats 10D and 10F on Delta, and touched their champagne cups before taking a long sip. Dustin screamed in Yellowknife and collapsed beneath that knitted throw blanket. Soren screamed after 93 minutes on the rowing machine. Scott screamed after more than 90 minutes on the elliptical. Todd screamed from his bed on the boat, banging his head against the top bunk before texting Carrie — “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” — on a 15-second delay. Conor McBride screamed from Columbia, S.C., sprinted toward the door, then stumbled into a coffee table and tore the ACL in his left knee.
And in Houston, in a heap of Astros fans, Marissa screamed through heavy tears. Her cheeks were slick and her makeup runny. Sons called moms, and grandsons called grandmothers, and daughters called their fathers, or the other way around. That was all Marissa wanted once Hudson chucked his glove toward the Nationals’ dugout. She wondered what her father, John, would say, how his face would have looked, why he had to watch all those empty years, replaying each loss, only to miss the ultimate thrill.
She missed him. There was no way around it. But while she watched the celebration, and the Nationals rush the field, it was as if Marissa were hanging with her dad again. It was the first time in a long time that something felt right. Dean Schleicher could relate. So could Darren Goldwater, Ryan Raley, Phil Gracik and Stephen Baughan.
They all had lost someone who’d waited for this, who’d wished for it, who’d hoped against hope that this title would come. Oct. 30, 2019, was about the Nationals, and it was about family, but it was really about John Mizroch, Richard Goldwater, Leo Schleicher, John Raley, Lewis “Happy” Gracik and Grace Grimes. It was about every fan who didn’t live to see this, yet was right there all along.
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