Nationals capture first World Series win in franchise history

Photo Courtesy of Sports Illustrated Website

Photo Courtesy of Sports Illustrated Website

Marc Goldstein, Sports Editor

     Game Seven. The so-called “best words in sports.” The game that decides everything. The game of all games. These terms are some that bring good memories to some fans and memories of heartbreak to others. This was the most important game for the Washington Nationals franchise. They had defied the odds all season long, and they now had to do so one last time to bring the Commissioner’s Trophy back to the nation’s capital. This seems like a small task on paper: win one game, and be crowned champions. Then there is a reminder that they are facing the best team in baseball in their home ballpark. The story of the season, though, for the Nats is not caring that the odds are against them. 

     Let’s revisit how the team even made it to this game. The first place to visit is the low point for the Nats. On May 24, they got swept in Queens by division rival New York Mets. There were rumors that manager Davey Martinez was going to be fired. Everyone was pointing fingers–well, everyone except the players. They remained calm and began to fight back and resurrect their season. On that fateful day of May 24, they were given a 22% chance of making the playoffs by ESPN’s BPI. However, from there they began to win and didn’t stop. After a resounding win in the Wild Card Game at home against the Milwaukee Brewers, they faced the best team in the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Not discouraged by the unfavorable odds, they beat them in five games, and capitalized with a victory in Los Angeles to close out the series. The next opponent was the St. Louis Cardinals. They dispatched them in a four-game sweep. The Houston Astros was the next challenger. They dominated all season with an incredible pitching staff backed by a star-studded lineup. The Nationals responded to that by winning the first two games on the road in Houston. The Astros proved they weren’t done yet, winning all three in D.C. The Nationals returned to Houston, on the brink of elimination. Unfazed by the opposing team’s recent winning streak, the Nats won in convincing fashion to send it to a decisive game seven. 

     That takes us to game seven. The Nationals started Max Scherzer, who was unable to pitch in game five because of a stiff neck that kept him from even dressing himself. A cortisone shot later, he was tabbed to start game seven of the World Series. The Astros countered with Zack Greinke, their big acquisition at the Trade Deadline. The game didn’t start well for the Nats. A leadoff home run in the second inning by the Astros’ Yuli Gurriel gave the Astros the early lead. The game started to flow along in a swift fashion for the Nats, who were held scoreless for the first 6 innings of the game as Greinke frustrated Nationals hitters. After the Astros tacked on another run in the bottom of the 5th, the score was 2-0 and remained that way until the top of the 7th.

     The Nationals got on the board with a solo home run by Anthony Rendon, the Nationals’ MVP candidate. That knocked Greinke out of the game after 6 ⅓ innings of brilliance. The Astros called on Will Harris to finish the inning, not Cy Young candidate Garrett Cole who was warming up in the bullpen multiple times over the course of the night. After the Nationals got a base runner, Howie Kendrick, hero of NLDS game five, stepped to the plate. He took Harris’ fastball and crushed it for a go-ahead 2-run home run off the right field foul pole. The Nationals would then summon Patrick Corbin, who was usually a starter, out of the bullpen in a pinch. He kept the Astros at bay while the Nats tacked on more runs from a Juan Soto RBI single in the 8th and a 2-run single by Adam Eaton in the 9th to make it a 6-2 game. The Nationals then called on Daniel Hudson to get the final three outs. He got the first two outs, and he faced Michael Brantley one out away from winning the first World Series in franchise history and the first in D.C. baseball history since 1924. He got a 3-2 count on him, and threw a change up that fooled him into a swing and miss. Game over. Season over. Championship drought over. 

     The aftermath of the game was arguably better than the game itself. Stephen Strasburg was named World Series MVP after a dominating game 6 performance and a 5-0 postseason record. The party in the visitors’ clubhouse at Minute Maid Park was on. Players, executives, and team employees popped bottles of champagne in celebration. The scene of pure ecstasy was not only in Houston; people in D.C. and Nats Park celebrated their team’s accomplishment. Nats Park was hosting a watch party and sold out all the tickets on a rainy, chilly night in the District. The happiness of the players was echoed by fans. The World Series parade was announced to be on Saturday, which sets up to be an incredible scene with the ticker tape flying down from rooftops, showering the Nats with love from the city that stayed loyal to the franchise through some dark times. It was a fitting end to a special, storybook season for the Nationals, who finally broke through as champions.