Early Tuesday morning I was asked if I needed a ticket to attend the Nationals Wild Card game in the coming hours. My heart sank. There I was, a mere 2,774 miles away from Nationals Park, wishing nothing more to attend the winner take all game in a place I seen so many things go wrong.
The anxiety kicked in and my heart began racing immediately. I was scared, anxious, and desperately trying to convince myself that this night would be different.
Then, just two batters into the game, my heart sank to depths only true sports fans know: Dread, Despair, and Hopelessness. Before anyone could even blink it was 2-0 Brewers after Yasmani Grandal’s first pitch Home Run.
Another solo blast in the second inning gave Milwaukee a 3-0 lead and my pacing began in earnest:
“It’s ok. We’ve been up big in these games and lost. It’s a long game. Just chip away. It’s ok. Just need a couple of good ABs”.
Let's check in on Nationals fans…
…oh okay pic.twitter.com/alLaTrf8j1
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) October 2, 2019
This is not a story of redemption, exorcism, or even relief. Far from it. It was, after all, just the Wild Card game.
It is a story, however, of something that has been building in Washington, DC since the Washington Capitals’s own John Walton told us “It’s ok to believe”. Those Capitals went on to win the Stanley Cup and reminded the city that it was indeed ok to ‘believe’.
Now, more than a year later, the Nationals picked up the torch lit by those Caps and have brought it to South Capitol Street.
By now you’ve read the stories. 12 games under .500 at the 1/3 mark of the season. The angry mobs clamoring for Dave Martinez to be fired. Hell, I even wrote about it at length and am happy to be proven totally wrong. To summarize, these Nats were left for dead.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Washington began winning and playing a brand of baseball DC has not seen since 2012. Fun, exhilarating, and carefree. “Baby Shark” and the dancing Nats blistered through the summer and brought us along with them.
Along the way, the team fought back and found itself fighting for a chance to play in the cruel Wild Card Game. A game where one bounce can change the entire complexity of an October.
Just think about all the heartbreak the Nationals have experienced in the last 7 years alone. Big leads? 3 winner take all games? Two in DC? All loses. Then, in the span of about 15 minutes, the following happened…
A hit by pitch (or was it?), a broken bat that died a hero, a walk, and a torched line drive to a rookie right fielder playing instead of MVP candidate Christian Yelich. And, after that now famous bounce, the Nats found themselves back in the NLDS with a real belief that this year may be different.
This was only night one of the #postseason.
— MLB (@MLB) October 2, 2019
Again, Washington has not exorcised their demons. Far from it. They still need to win a postseason series in October and make a real run.
But, similar to those barnstorming Caps, belief has to start somewhere.
One crack of the bat and one bounce is all it took.
The best part? The part I keep coming back to? It had to be Juan Soto. The 20-year old kid who the organization banked on just a year ago to become the superstar. The poise? Check. The skills? Holy shit yes. The joy? Check mate.
Just watch Soto celebrating in the base paths. He is celebrating while be tagged out! Old school baseball folk may grumble, but this is what baseball needs and it is what the Nats have become.
— Stephen Nelson (@StephenNelson) October 2, 2019
Now it’s onto the Los Angeles Dodgers for a best-of-five series. With two games in LA and a Sunday night game in DC looming, the series will undoubtedly be full of twists and turns.
Who knows what will happen… but remember what John Walton told us, “It’s ok to believe”.
Just imagine what DC will be like on Sunday. Stephen Strasburg on the bump in a playoff game at home dropping curveballs. Trea Turner turning on a Clayton Kershaw fastball and legging out a triple. The Crowd will be buzzing like DC is a true baseball town. The District will finally have a team it is proud of playing on a fall Sunday.
Stay in the Fight. One game at a time. One at bat at a time.
It could be a memorable October.