Thanks, A.J. But, much more: Thanks, Nationals.
In Washington, our sports Thanksgiving centers on the first World Series championship in D.C. in 95 years. But let’s also broaden our focus, and add some historical context, out of respect for what the Nationals accomplished, but also to feel the true weight, and pleasure, of what we enjoyed throughout October.
In sports, we always hear somebody say, “It’s time to move on from that.” Who are these people? And how can we put them all in one boat and sink it? Let’s not move on. For once, let’s go back — four weeks.
Some events shrink with time. Events we thought were mighty turn out to have been just mighty good fun, but not feats we won’t see matched for decades. The Nats’ 2019 postseason run — not just the World Series, but the whole amazing month — just gets bigger with time.
The Nationals just set the standard for the most remarkable October run the sport has ever seen — against every kind of baseball odds, within individual games and as overall underdogs.
Let’s be clear. MLB fans are nothing if not precise, and downright finicky in their praise. This was not the best World Series ever. Very good, but probably not top 10. Nor was this the longest wait for a title by the most devoted fans, because the Red Sox and Cubs own that discussion. Nor was it much watched, even Game 7 — far from it.
We have seen more towering stars, though Stephen Strasburg, first pitcher to be 5-0 in October, Anthony Rendon (15 RBI) , Juan Soto (five homers) and Kendrick who hit the late-game homers that knocked out both the Dodgers and Astros, certainly stood tall.
Also, the idea of “October” as an entity is at most 50 years old. The League Championship Series was born in 1969, the Division Series in 1995 and the wild-card game, creating a four-tiered postseason, came in 2012.
Nonetheless, the Nats set a spectacularly high bar for future falls. What was most remarkable, and will stand the test of time, was the whole “Stay in the Fight” sense of a month-long donnybrook. It began Oct. 1 and ended on Oct. 30 in games when the Nats were out on the ropes, down by two runs late and looking at odds of 11 and 14 percent. It was cornier than “Rocky” with 17 rounds. And better for it.
Down to the Brewers late. Down to the Dodgers after Games 1 and 3. Down to the Dodgers in Games 4 and 5. Down to the Astros after Game 5, with Max Scherzer hurt. Down to the Astros in Games 6 and 7. How many times can one team get back up?
The answers are now in the record book.
● Five comeback victories in elimination games: Never done before. Odds of five such comebacks, measured from the lowest point: .0003. Nothing approaches that ever before.
●Three wins in winner-take-all games: Never done. All three with multi-run comebacks in the seventh inning or later: Oh, brother, never.
●Victories over two teams with 105 or more wins in the same postseason — Dodgers (106) and Houston (107) — never done before. (Just two teams have ever beaten a pair of 100-win opponents.)
●Come from 12 games under .500 to win the World Series: Done once before, 105 years ago by the Miracle (Boston) Braves. But they had to win only one postseason series. The Nats won four rounds.
●In the past 50 years, only one team has won the World Series as a bigger gambling underdog than the Nats: The 1990 Reds were +260 against the A’s on the Caesars Palace sportsbook. The Nats were +195. Before that? You’ll have to ask someone who values sports gambling.
● Four World Series wins on the road: Never done before.
Next Monday, MLB and the Nats have a marketing event to hawk the official documentary of the World Series winner’s season. I’ve never bought one, though the 2004 Red Sox and 2016 Cubs tempted me. This time may be the exception.
No matter how we revisit October — don’t worry, with two-hour MLB-TV condensed games and all our other modern tech toys, we’ll see them again if we want — we’ll probably be knocked out all over again by what swept over us in those 17 games.
For example, the Nats hit two homers in the same inning three times in October — in Game 5 against L.A. (Rendon and Soto off Clayton Kershaw), Game 6 against Houston (Adam Eaton and Soto off Justin Verlander) and Game 7 of the World Series (Rendon and Kendrick off Zack Greinke and Harris). That’s ideal momentum-swing dramatic timing.
We will encounter the key moments of this October, literally, for the rest of our lives. Partly that’s because it was so long between Walter Johnson’s win with four innings of all-hands-on-deck shutout relief in Game 7 of the 1924 World Series to Patrick Corbin’s win with three innings of similar shutout relief in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series.
But mostly it will be because this Nats postseason is not going to diminish upon analytical reexamination or emotion-filled reviewing.
There always will be three titanic Soto homers: the 449-footer off Kershaw on which no one in Dodger Stadium moved (except dancing Nats) and his opposite-field did-that-really-happen blast off Cole that landed on the train tracks — a spot unreached by any left-handed hitter in Minute Maid Park in 20 years.
But the richest will be his upper-deck tape-measure blast off Verlander in Game 6 of the World Series to put the Nats ahead and answer Alex Bregman’s bat-carrying showboat homer off Strasburg. Since 1975, at the least, no one has woken up an opponent like Bregman did that rock head night. After Soto carried his bat to within one step of first base, then dropped it, he played possum. Oh, I just thought what Bregman did was cool, so I did it, too. Ask again in 2040.
However, as you re-watch October — and, in baseball terms in D.C., that is why this entire winter exists — don’t forget the dozens of things that had to go right, or go lucky, all the things that didn’t go the Nats way in 2012, ’14, ’16 and ’17, that are essential to a deep run. When you lose close, it’s half to the other team’s credit, or the gods’ mischief. When you win, just flip that formula. Rough estimate, close enough.
Don’t forget that instant when Dodger rookie Will Smith thinks he has won Game 5, and ended the Nats season, with an opposite-field homer in the bottom of the ninth. But the long fly dies so Eaton can grab it at the wall. Was the breeze blowing out then, as it was on Kendrick’s game-winning slam? Maybe not.
The Nationals didn’t win their World Series because of the wind. Every laurel that comes their way is earned. But never forget the wisdom of Gerardo (Baby Shark) Parra, already gone to play in Japan. The veteran greeted every event in his game with a jubilant smile or a philosophical shrug and the same words: “That’s baseball.”
Luckily for us. And thanks.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell