SNIDER: There's a new meaning to 'Playoff Nationals'

Rick Snider
October 10, 2019 - 11:14 am
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The Nationals are putting the wild into Wild Card team. And that’s a great thing.

It turns out four runaway division titles from 2012-17 weren’t the best path through the playoffs for the Nats. They lacked the needed fight in deciding games because things came too easily all season. Three Game 5 heart-breakers overshadowed a stellar half-decade of baseball.

But fighting just to make the postseason provided the breakthrough resiliency to come one round from Washington’s first World Series appearance since the early days of the Great Depression. No matter they were down in the Wild Card Game to Milwaukee before rallying late. Trailing 3-1 in the seventh in the deciding game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday wasn’t a big deal despite Dodgers fans using the stretch break as an early celebratory dance.

This is a new Natitude. Two homers on two pitches thrown by one of the game’s great contemporary pitchers, Clayton Kershaw, made it 3-3 in the eighth. Suddenly, an evening of misery turned into an opportunity to steal the series.

And Washington found it on Howie Kendrick’s grand slam in the 10th. The most unlikely team Washington has seen in the playoffs after a 19-31 start is suddenly facing St. Louis on Friday in the National League Championship Series.

And maybe we’ll soon no longer talk about Walter Johnson from nearly a century ago winning the city’s only World Series in 1924. There will be new tales of triumph in a town that so desperately needs them. Maybe even a Kendrick High School in the suburbs.

It won’t be easy. It’s St. Louis’ fifth NLCS in nine years. They posted 10 runs in the first inning hours before the Nationals started to turn the Cardinals’ deciding fifth game into a 13-1 rout of Atlanta. The Cards know how to win in October. The Nats are just learning.

But think how far this team has come once its lineup was healthy. The loss of free agent Bryce Harper has been long forgotten as Anthony Rendon vies for the NL Most Valuable Player and Juan Soto becomes Washington’s latest version of legendary sluggers Harmon Killebrew and Frank Howard. That Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer are turning into a Spahn-and-Spain-and-pray-for-rain combination that led the Boston Braves to the 1948 World Series is unheard of nowadays.

Maybe the Nats have already made it a successful season by finally winning a playoff series. But, suddenly, that’s not enough. The hunger grows. A pennant. A title. A parade down Constitution Ave.

Title Town comes to Washington. Man does that sound good.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks.

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