As each week goes by, a playoff berth is looking more and more realistic for the Washington Nationals.
The pessimistic D.C. sports fan in me always errs on the side of caution when it comes to expecting postseason production out of the local teams. For the past two decades, the Redskins average one playoff appearance every four years. The Capitals have turned second round playoff appearances into a common occurrence over the past five years. Advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals has been another task altogether. The Wizards had a good run by tinkering with the first round several times in the mid-2000′s prior to Gilbert Arenas’ firearm catastrophe. D.C. United has been Washington’s most successful pro sports franchise since their inception in 1996 but given the level of popularity of soccer in the area in contrast to the “big four” sports, that success doesn’t resonate quite like the rest.
However, based on the bumps in the road endured by the Nationals franchise since arriving to the nation’s capital in 2005, those trials and tribulations have ironically been the catalyst for the legitimate turnaround being witnessed before our eyes. Two consecutive 59-win seasons in 2008 and 2009 earned the Nationals the distinction as the worst team in baseball. Those terrible teams allowed them the good fortune (some may say luck) to draft two once-in-a-generation players, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper with first overall picks. Selections such as those, along with later picks from previous years attributed to great scouting, have paid big dividends so far this season.
Last night the Nationals exemplified the heart of a franchise being molded the right way, from the ground up, as they turned back the clock to celebrate their 1924 World Series championship season as the Washington Senators.
The organization went all-out to provide a throwback feel to the game. The Nationals wore jerseys replicating the 1924 season, as did the San Francisco Giants, who honored the 1924 New York Giants franchise with their classic attire. Fans and media were given scorecards reflecting a 1920′s style card. The scoreboard graphics were redesigned to resemble a manual scoreboard as seen in Fenway Park. Even ushers and the Nationals Park grounds crew got in on the act, sporting garb reminiscent of The Roaring Twenties.
Just 22 days removed from a perfect game, Giants pitcher Matt Cain only allowed four hits and one run through the first six innings before giving up back-to-back home runs to Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa to cut a 5-1 lead down to 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh. Harper contributed his first RBI in that same inning to cut San Francisco’s lead to one.
Fast forward to the bottom of the ninth where the real drama ensued. Rookies Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi lead off the bottom of the inning with a double and sacrifice bunt single, respectively. This leads to Harper’s second RBI of the night, scoring Moore from third to tie the game at five.
After Ryan Zimmerman was walked and Michael Morse hit into a play that got Lombardozzi forced out at home, Adam LaRoche was due up with only one out and the bases loaded. In what was supposed to be a routine double-play for San Francisco, LaRoche grounded to second baseman Ryan Theriot whose throw to shortstop Brandon Crawford forced Morse out at second but was erased by Crawford’s bounced throw to first baseman Brandon Belt. That allowed Bryce Harper to reach home safely from third and give the Nationals another Curly W.
After their sweep of the Giants and MLB-leading seventh walk-off win, the “Cardiac Nats,” as Desmond coined them on MLB Network, continue to boast the best record in the National League. Washington leads the NL East by 4.5 games over the New York Mets. At 48-32, the Nationals are 16 games over .500 for the first time since losing to the Philadelphia Phillies on July 10th, 2005.
Sweeping a quality opponent like the Giants continues to prove that this team is becoming more and more legitimate as the season goes on. They’re not just a passing fad, a flash in the pan or any other cliche’ that could be used. They’re contenders.
Tags: Adam LaRoche, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Bryce Harper, D.C. United, Danny Espinosa, Fenway Park, Ian Desmond, Matt Cain, Michael Morse, New York Giants, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Ryan Theriot, Ryan Zimmerman, San Francisco Giants, Stephen Strasburg, Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore, Washington Capitals, Washington Nationals, Washington Redskins, Washington Senators, Washington Wizards