You couldn’t script a mere part of the last month for the Washington Nationals. Not the setting, players, situations, scores, victories, the World Series appearance, or the championship.
What happened in the World Series was captivating. It defied the logistics of baseball and sports.
The Nationals, the National League Wild Card, never escaped the first round of the playoffs in their franchise’s existence. But with the likes of Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and others present, manager Dave Martinez had a ballclub of high-profile players. Yet, they reached such play with a bullpen that posted the worst bullpen ERA (5.66) while manning the lightest workload (500.2 innings) in Major League Baseball in the regular season.
On the other hand, the Houston Astros were classified as the roster of the decade with their mix of high-octane bats and formidable starting pitching. With the likes of Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, and others present, manager AJ Hinch had an array of well-versed and proven players.
The Nationals had six full days off, as they swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Championship Series. The Astros had two full days off, as they defeated the New York Yankees in six games in the American League Championship Series. A maximum four games in Houston and three in Washington D.C. The Nationals were riding a postseason high, and the Astros were riding an exciting Game 6 ALCS victory.
It was supposed to be a battle of premier starting pitching. Scherzer vs Cole, Strasburg vs Verlander, and Corbin vs Greinke. Meanwhile, their offenses had the firepower to go toe-to-toe with each other.
There was no advantage or momentum in a series that panned out to be one of the most unpredictable seven-game sets in the history of professional sports.
The Nationals showed no rust early on in the World Series. They won the first two games in Houston, outscoring the Astros 17-7. Then the Astros returned the favor in emphatic fashion, winning the next three games in Washington D.C. and outscoring the Nationals 19-3. And, well, home-field advantage continued to be a non-factor, as the Nationals won Games 6 and 7 in Houston.
It wasn’t just one or two players for the Nationals; it was a collective effort.
Rendon totaled eight RBIs, including five in Game 6, and played like his Gold Glove-self at the hot corner. Soto blasted home runs over train tracks and into second decks and came up with a multitude of clutch hits; Howie Kendrick came through with another go-ahead home run in Game 7.
Adam Eaton smacked pitches down the line and totaled two home runs and six RBIs while hitting .320; Asdrubal Cabrera drove in three runs and played well at second base in Minute Maid Park; Kurt Suzuki hit a go-ahead home run off Verlander in Game 2; Turner, Ryan Zimmerman, and Victor Robles made slick plays in the field.
Strasburg pitched through jams, kept hitters guessing, pitched 8.1 innings in an elimination Game 6, and won the World Series Most Valuable Player Award; Scherzer grinded through two outings in Houston and evaded trouble; Corbin pitched three scoreless innings out of the bullpen in Game 7, keeping the Nationals in the game; Sean Doolittle pitched three scoreless innings; Hudson pitched a one-two-three ninth inning in Game 7.
Meanwhile, Martinez stuck to his guns, rolled with the same home and away lineups, and trusted his prolific arms and backend relievers.
The Nationals won their last eight road games. Eight. Those games were played in Dodger Stadium, Busch Stadium, and Minute Maid Park. The Dodgers and Astros finished with the two best cumulative and home records in MLB in the regular season, combining for 213 wins. They were presumed to be on a collision course. Instead, they were hit by an untracked asteroid: the Nationals.
When Hudson struck out Brantley to end Game 7, it tranquilized every year the Nationals were on the other end of the gut-wrenching losses.
Game 5 of the 2012 NL Division Series. The Nationals lead 6-0 against the Cardinals in Nationals Park. The lead dwindles to 7-5. Drew Storen surrenders four two-out runs in the ninth inning. Nationals lose. They miss the playoffs the ensuing season.
The 2014 NLDS. The Nationals trail the San Francisco Giants 1-0 in the series but lead 1-0 in the top of the ninth inning of Game 2. Then Jordan Zimmerman is removed from the mound after 8.2 innings, and Storen surrenders a game-tying run. The Nationals lose in 18 innings and lose the series three days later. They miss the playoffs the ensuing season, even with the addition of Scherzer. They proceed to lose Jordan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Denard Span, and Doug Fister to free agency, though they added Daniel Murphy.
Then there was the 2016 playoffs. Strasburg and catcher Wilson Ramos were out due to injury, but the club still held a 2-1 series lead over the Dodgers in the first round. They lose the next two games. The ensuing year they lose a gut-wrenching five-game series to the Chicago Cubs, including a Game 5 that featured a multitude of miscues, freak-outs, and, bigger than that, more heartbreak.
The Nationals missed the playoffs the ensuing season, and Bryce Harper signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in free agency. However, the Nationals didn’t panic. They stuck with their core and built a team that could contend by adding up-and-coming stars and/or seasoned veterans such as Corbin, Suzuki, Anibal Sanchez — who had a no-hit bit in Game 1 of the NLCS through 7.2 innings — Yan Gomes, and Brian Dozier.
And they made the world eat crow — in the most difficult, remarkable, and unconventional way possible.
They were 19-31. Many called for them to fire Martinez and trade Rendon and Scherzer. Click the reset button, essentially.
There was doubt as to whether they’d hold onto a Wild Card seeding late in the season.
They trailed 3-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card Game and 3-1 in the eighth inning with Josh Hader on the mound.
They trailed 2-1 to the Dodgers in the NL Division Series. They trailed 3-1 in the eighth inning of Game 5 at Dodger Stadium.
They trailed the Astros 3-2 in the World Series with the scene shifting back to Houston.
The Nationals overcame every obstacle. They collaged years of heartbreak by trusting themselves, playing to their strengths, and being road warriors.
Recurring episodes of letdown, mocking, and hallmark figures leaving in free agency were exorcised in one night. They have something that their organization, coaches, players, and fan base can cherish for eternity.
The Washington Nationals are World Series champions.