The greatest thing about the 2019 Nats is that baseball is again spanning the generations in Washington.
Think about it. New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago benefit from six generations of uninterrupted baseball. Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit—the list goes on. Atlanta, Los Angeles and Houston have had half a century or more to build a following: fathers and sons, parents and kids. Alas, Washington was without baseball thirty-four years. In 1971, the expansion Senators left for Texas; in 2005, the Montreal Expos became the Nationals. A beautiful ballpark revived a decrepit area of the city, which now resembles Wrigleyville in Chicago.
For 33 years, aging fans of the old Nats were unable to take sons and daughters out to the ball game. Now the old spirit is back—with the ultimate boost for generations to come. The improbable Nats have won the World Series. (And that’s the second greatest thing about 2019.)
Why baseball is unique
It’s a funny old game. Football, basketball can be exciting, at least when the score is close. By comparison they are repetitive exercises, and a clock decides when a game is over. “Pass, run, pass, punt,” a football fan once complained of the rote play-by-play he sees often. “Mostly, you know what’s coming. Or you can surmise.”
Not baseball. Here there is no clock. Games finish after nine innings—or more (the record is 33) if the score is tied. You never know what’s coming. Weird things happen—things nobody’s seen before. The 2019 Nats proved that, didn’t they?
Whoever saw a World Series shortstop like Trea Turner beat out a throw, only to be called out for interference and running outside the designated lane? To see his manager thrown out of an elimination game for his irate reaction? No, we never saw anything like it. But next year, we’ll see something new again.
A lot was different in 2019. Did anybody expect a team that lost thirty-one of its first fifty games to make the playoffs? Who thought the road team would win all seven games? Who believed that a post-season team, facing elimination in five games, would come back to win all five? Is it conceivable to rally to take the lead three times in the eighth inning, twice in the seventh? To rack up most of your runs in the late innings? Unbelievable.
Nats World Championships: both in the top ten
In terms of excitement, both Washington World Series wins loom large. Chris Landers of MLB.com ranked all forty occurrences of Game 7 over 115 years. In baseball history, this is an excellent if arguable listing. (By the way, Landers’ number one is Pirates-Yankees in 1960. That was the only one to end in a walk-off home run. Nobody saw that before or since, either.)
To my delight, Landers ranks Washington’s Game 7 World Series victories as #5 and #8 out of forty. The comparisons between them are uncanny. Here are his summaries:
Ranking 5th: 1924, Washington Senators 4, New York Giants 3
“Four games in this Series were decided by one run, and Game 7 was the tightest of them all. It is still the longest Game 7 in World Series history at 12 innings. After seventeen years in Washington, the only thing missing from Walter Johnson‘s sterling resume was a World Series title. He’d struggled in his first two starts of the Series, but when the Senators rallied to tie the game with two runs in the bottom of the eighth, the Big Train got another chance—and he made sure he took advantage of it. Coming out of the bullpen to start the ninth, Johnson threw four shutout innings, keeping the Giants at bay. Earl McNeely finally ended it with a walk-off double to left.”
That was an amazing game for its quirks of fate, as mentioned in my previous piece, “God is a Nats Fan.” Trailing 3-1 in the eighth, a Bucky Harris grounder hit a pebble, and bounced over the Giants’ Freddie Lindstrom, scoring two and tying the game. In the 12th inning, after “Barney” Johnson set the Giants down for four innings, McNeely hit another grounder to third that took another bad hop for a double. Muddy Ruel scored the winning run. On its 90th anniversary, the Library of Congress posted rare footage of this game online.
Chris Landers continues…
Ranking 8th: 2019, Washington Nationals 6, Houston Astros 2
“The final score wound up looking fairly innocuous. There were no walk-off heroics. The ninth inning was largely free of suspense. But years from now, I have a hunch that I’ll still be telling anyone who will listen about how Washington lost Bryce Harper only to exorcise its post-season demons. About how Juan Soto turned the World Series into his own backyard and then took over the world. How Max Scherzer couldn’t even put a shirt over his head two days prior, then ground through five innings against possibly the best offense ever. About how one of the most improbable rallies in post-season history was punctuated by two grown professional athletes [Howie Kendrick and Adam Eaton] pretending to drive sports cars the way you did in your bedroom when you were seven.”
• The 1924 Nats lost 26 of their first fifty games (.480) and were sixth in an eight-team league. 2019’s Nats lost 31 of their first fifty games (.380) and were fourth in a five-team division.
• The 1924 Nats then went 68-36 (.653), finishing only two games up on the Yankees. In 2019 the Nats then went 74-38 (.661), finishing four games behind the Braves but taking the Wild Card from the Brewers.
• In post-season 1924, the 4 Nats were 4-3, and twice avoided elimination. For post-season 2019, the Nats were 12-5, and avoided elimination five times.
• Counting the post-season, the ’24 Senators were 96-55 (.571), the 2019 Nationals 105-74 (.587).
• In the World Series, the 1924 Nats scored 26 runs, eighteen (69%) in the fifth inning or later. The 2019 Nats scored 33 runs, 27 (82%) in the fifth inning or later.
What do we make of all this? Both teams were underdogs from the get-go. Early on, the 1924 Senators were leading only Cleveland and Philadelphia; the 2019 Nationals were leading only Miami. Nearing the finish in 1924, experts were predicting the Yankees, even the Tigers, would beat Washington to the pennant. The mighty Giants were heavy favorites in the World Series. In 2019, the 106-win Dodgers looked certain to win the pennant, and the World Series would likely go to them, or the 103-win Yankees, or the 107-win Astros.
Three 1924 pitchers, Johnson, Tom Zachary and George Mogridge, were the big game winners. Nats bats back then were led by the great Goose Goslin, notably in Game 4, who went 4-for-4 with a home run, three singles and four RBIs. Johnson, along with Senators batters Harris, Goslin, Joe Judge, Heinie Manush and Sam Rice, are all in the Baseball Hall of Fame. “Mr. Clutch” awards went to Harris, Muddy Ruel and Earl McNeely. Except for Johnson, most are only remembered in the history books. It’s ninety-five years ago, for heaven’s sake!
Now kids have their own heroes. Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez were a potent quartet of starting pitchers, before and after the season. Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon must together be the powerhouse equivalents of Judge and Goslin. Guys who starred in the clutch—Eaton, Kurt Suzuki, Ryan Zimmerman and above all the now-almost-immortal Howie Kendrick, will forever be remembered.
Lest we forget: general manager Mike Rizzo, manager Martinez. And two of the best coaches a team could have, Paul Menhart (pitching) and Kevin Long (hitting). Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo were our faithful announcers all year. (Why don’t the big networks hire home broadcasters who know the teams best? Let’s fix this!)
The future is Ryan’s
Seven-year-old Ryan Ritz, DC resident and already a veteran Nats fan, stood up in the midst of Game 7: “I’m going to bed. Every time I stay up, they lose.” Ryan and his family had the luck to attend Game 3—and lose they did.
On Wednesday night Ryan toddled off just before Anthony Rendon hit that first momentum-changing home run. Followed by Howie’s tremendous drive that clanged against the right-field foul post and put us ahead for keeps.
Ryan, take it from someone who’s been watching and grieving over Washington baseball so long you can’t imagine. Don’t do that again! Anything can happen. It’s baseball. Game on!