But Halloween morning, everything in me awoke and said, “Oh, YES!”
Many players say, “I haven’t digested it yet,” after they win a World Series, as the Washington Nationals did in Game 7 on Wednesday night . Well, I think I’ve digested it.
The Nationals just pulled off the greatest postseason upset run in the history of baseball. And I doubt it’s even a close call.
How do I know? Because the photos on my phone told me so.
As I scrolled through my photos, I saw a shot of the Nats celebrating after coming from behind to beat the Milwaukee Brewers and the top strikeout pitcher (16.4 per nine innings) in baseball, Josh Hader, in the wild-card game — a sudden-death crisis Oct. 1 at the very beginning of the postseason.
With the Nats trailing 3-1 in the eighth, Juan Soto, then 20, rifled a two-run rocket to right field to tie the score, then celebrated as he watched his ball take a bad hop — akin to the final bad hop that won the 1924 World Series for the Washington Senators — allowing the third and winning run to score.
Hey, what are the odds? Well, these days we know because baseball-reference.com tells us. The Nats’ chances were down to 13 percent — about 1 in 8 — at the lowest point.
Then I saw a photo from the top seat in Dodger Stadium when the Nats, who had stayed alive thanks largely to a Ryan Zimmerman home run in Game 4 (their chances never got below 40 percent in that one), faced yet another elimination game. But this time it was on the road — against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the best team in the National League. Los Angeles had won back-to-back pennants and, with 106 wins, was assumed ready to do it again.
This time, the Nats’ chances were down to 11 percent — 1 in 9 — before Anthony Rendon and Soto homered on consecutive pitches from Clayton Kershaw in the eighth inning of Game 5. No, I don’t have a photo of that, but I will never forget Kershaw balling himself up in a fetal crouch as Soto’s blast decided whether it would clear the right field wall by 75 feet or 100 feet. Or just head straight for the San Gabriels.
Howie Kendrick’s grand slam in the 10th inning off Joe Kelly to win it is pretty vivid, too!
Those fans in St. Louis, outside Busch Stadium III, look so proud and confident before Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, all smiling and chatting on my phone’s screen.
How can you not be happy when you are playing the Nats, whom you upset in the 2012 NL Division Series, overcoming a 6-0 deficit in Game 5. With 11 World Series titles in their pockets, they seem to see an even dozen in their future. After all, tuckered out by the Dodgers, the Nats were using their No. 4 starter, Aníbal Sánchez, in Game 1.
All those statues outside the ballpark of Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and so many others — why I couldn’t even get all of them into one wide-angle photo.
Sweep. Nats, Nats, Nats, Nats — four straight times. That’s not a ballpark chant — it’s a line in the record book now, with NL champions, the first pennant winners in Washington since 1933, beside it.
Sánchez, that humble fourth starter, had a no-hitter for 7⅔ innings. The next night, Max Scherzer had a no-hitter into the seventh.
That’s the playoff series that stunned me — and also made me so pleased for my hometown of Washington that has been served a dirt sandwich picked up out of the gutter by Major League Baseball for the past 118 years, since the first Senators team was an original member of the American League in 1901. The Nats even won on the 94th birthday of the team’s principal owner, Ted Lerner.
Sports columnists exist to criticize team owners, tell them to stop meddling with their baseball people’s decisions, provide a better game-day experience and not charge so much for tickets or beer. But, on the other hand, you vow to harass them until eternity if they don’t spend whatever it takes to bring back Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg .
But, just for today, even a sportswriter can probably join the general public in saying thanks to the Lerners, as well as “you did real good.”
Watching the Nats, and their executives and owners, everybody connected to the team, enjoy their NL pennant on their own home field was probably the sweetest — not the most important — but the best to savor of all of these October nights.
I hardly ever take selfies. Back in olden times, I once went a dozen years without any photo of myself in existence except my press passes. But after the Nationals won the pennant, I took a selfie standing in the infield, looking up at the fans standing and cheering, with the scoreboard in the background. I look delightedly dazed.
That’s nothing compared to the blank gazes of the Cardinals.
The first World Series game in Washington in 86 years gets a panorama of Nationals Park, packed a half-hour before game time. Game 5 provides a minute video of everyone standing and chanting “Let’s go, Joe” as emergency starter Joe Ross walks out of the dugout and crosses the outfield alone to start his stretching well before game time. But, though Ross did fine, the Nats lost — so that they could face two more elimination games against the 107-win Houston Astros.
Games 6 and 7 of the World Series are so fresh in mind you don’t need details of moments that you couldn’t get out of the front of your mind if you tried. In Game 6, the Nats’ chances were never lower than 32 percent — gee, only 2-to-1 against? That almost makes you feel sorry for the Astros. How were they to know that a 2-0 lead against the Nats — in October of 2019 — means you’re already behind?
In Game 6, the Nats’ hitting heroes lined up as if scripted: Home run by Adam Eaton, perhaps October’s unsung Nat. Home run by Soto, one of five in the playoffs. Home run by Rendon, whose 15 RBI led the team in October. Then, in Game 7, the blow that will probably be Film Clip 1 of this season, the home run by Kendrick off the foul pole in the right field corner off reliever Will Harris.
Many, in an age that views negativity as if it were as essential as oxygen, ask why Houston Manager A.J. Hinch went with Harris rather than starter Gerrit Cole, who was on two days’ rest after throwing 110 pitches in Game 5.
Here’s why. It’s not because Cole isn’t a relief pitcher and would have been thrown into a role that he has never attempted in his life with zero relief appearances in 241 career games, majors and minors.
It’s because Cole’s ERA in 2019 was “only” 2.50 and his ERA in this postseason was “only” 1.72. This year, Harris, the Astros’ most-used reliever in 68 games, had a 1.50 ERA. In the postseason: 0.93.
Hinch went with his best pitcher of this season. And that’s been Harris, even more so than Cole. And Hinch said he would have used Cole, over the erratic Roberto Osuna, to close the game if the Astros still led. That way, Cole would have started with a clean inning — his normal state.
In other words, Hinch managed correctly. His team just got whipped while using its best pitchers in the most advantageous spots for each.
Maybe Hinch could have left starter Zack Greinke in to pitch to Kendrick because he had only thrown 80 pitches. But Greinke, at 36, is no longer a bulldog workhorse in his prime. He only averaged 93.6 pitches per start (3.02 ERA) after the Astros got him at the trade deadline as their final table-pounding act of we-cannot-possibly-lose-this-year overkill.
At their lowest point in World Series Game 7, the Nats were right back where they seemed most comfortable all year — with only a 14 percent chance, about 1 in 7, to come back and win it all.
And the Nats were facing an Astros team that had won 311 regular season games over the past three seasons.
So, put it all together. The Nats were given almost no chance even to reach the playoffs May 23 . They were down to 1 in 8 to win their elimination game against the Brewers. They were behind (but early) in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Dodgers and 1 in 7 to come back to win Game 5. Then, in the World Series, they were only 1 in 3 to survive Game 6 and 1 in 7 to pull out Game 7 for the title.
Somebody with a PhD in math, who probably works in the Astros’ front office and has a massive headache right now, can get the right number. But my guesstimate of the Nats’ chances to pull out five elimination games against the odds they faced is 0.0003.
That’s not the “right” number. But it’s right enough. It’s a distinction without a difference, like saying that if you flap your arms for a really long time, it will take you a gazillion years to get to Jupiter, but it’s even farther to Neptune.
Someday, a baseball team may get to Neptune. But Nationals fans probably love the view from Jupiter — gazing back at Earth, where their team is baseball champion — just fine.
In baseball, they always say, “Wait till next year.”
This time, don’t say it. Freeze time — for now. Freeze time until Saturday’s parade. Freeze time all winter.
Then, if you choose, lock 2019 in some special inviolate place and revisit it as long as you live. There will be other excellent Nationals teams and, sooner or later, new champions.
But there will never be a Nationals team like this.
Let it all loose, D.C.
Go shark raving mad.