The Washington Post - 24.10.2019

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

D10 EZ SU K T H E  W A S H I N G T O N  P O S T.T H U R S D A Y , O C T O B E R  2 4,  2 0 1 9

world series


Nats’ wild ride continues, and it’s starting to feel as if the impossible may happen

going 1-0 today — Manager Dave
Martinez’s unrelenting mantra
— means ignoring the
possibilities ahead, then at least,
with Thursday’s day off, consider
the hows and whys of the Nats’
arrival at a place where (admit
it) we’re all wondering if a return
to Texas will even be necessary.
The roots of it all were
established back in the season,
both by happenstance and with
purpose. But they have sprouted
here, over two games in which
the better, more meaningful at-
bats have been delivered by the
Nationals, not the we’ve-broken-
the-code-of-baseball Astros. In
those two games — victories by
Max Scherzer and Stephen
Strasburg over Gerrit Cole and
Justin Verlander — the gutsiest
pitches and the better defense
was turned in by Washington.
Sum it up this way: The Nats
have risen. The Astros have
Take two instances from
Wednesday: Tie game, bottom of
the sixth, two outs, Astros on
first and second, Strasburg on
fumes, pinch hitter Kyle Tucker
at the plate. The Astros are
masters at spitting on a pitcher’s
best pitch, at fouling off others
and forcing you to give in. On a
3-2 count with the runners on
the move, Strasburg had 113
behind him — and a brilliant one
ahead. The, um, backbone it
takes to execute the curveball
that struck Tucker out can’t be
overstated. It might be the pitch
of Strasburg’s career.
And it set up the seventh.
Forget what the Nationals did
right — led by catcher Kurt
Suzuki’s mammoth, tiebreaking
homer off Verlander — and
consider what the Astros did
wrong. Verlander walked the
next hitter, Victor Robles, his
last. Reliever Ryan Pressly
walked his first batter and later
uncorked a wild pitch. Cap it off
by Alex Bregman — the
presumed American League


MVP who is all but melting
down here — throwing away a
ball to third, and the anatomy of
the Nats’ decisive six-run inning
was rooted as much in Houston’s
knees absolutely buckling as it
was in anything the Nats did
Which fits how the Nats got
here, by playing with house
money for the past five months.
Whatever the end result of this
series and this season end up
being, the story will begin, in a
way, on May 23 with that mark
that is now seared on the brain
of every Nationals fan: 19-31.
They reached that bottom and

began the trudge back, and a
looseness developed. Whether it
was related directly to the poor
start or not, it’s undeniable. Hey,
no one expects anything of us
now, so what the bleep?
To their credit, the Nationals
have largely dismissed the “no
one believed in us” tripe
sometimes embraced by teams
that were written off. Rather,
they have wrapped themselves
more in “we believed in
ourselves,” which of course
matters more anyway.
So it’s worth reminding
yourself, as the lining of your
stomach gradually deteriorates

over the course of these games,
the unlikelihood that they’re
here at all. Not just with the 2-0
lead. But in the World Series.
The freedom with which they
played led them to 93 wins in the
regular season when that
number appeared unrealistic.
That run included eight straight
wins to close the regular season,
which means they were on a full-
on 17-2 sprint into Wednesday
night’s game, which is an
unprecedented stretch for this
franchise since baseball
returned to Washington 14 years
ago. Now it’s 18-2. What’s the

“We’ve kind of been playing
games like this for four months
or whatever,” said first baseman
Ryan Zimmerman, a version of a
line that has ping-ponged
around the Nats’ clubhouse since
the calendar flipped to October.
Pressure is what you make of
it, of course, and different
characters react in vastly
different ways. But it’s
undeniable the Los Angeles
Dodgers, winners of the previous
two National League pennants,
had more of it on them than the
Nats in the division series
between the two. Did that decide
the outcome? Not likely. Were

the Nats freed up because of it?
I’d say so.
Now here come the Astros,
World Series champions in 2017,
ALCS participants in 2018,
characters for whom no
consolation prize will do.
“I don’t believe in alleviating
the pressure,” Houston Manager
A.J. Hinch said before Game 2.
“You have to know it’s there. It’s
going to be there regardless. You
can’t fake it. You can’t pretend it.
You embrace it. You deal with it.
You have to be comfortable with
“So rather than try to pretend
like it doesn’t exist, you have to
figure out a way to use it to your
advantage and use it as
Within all that are some great
notions, and Hinch would seem
adept at delivering that message,
in bits and pieces, to his charges.
But you know what? Martinez
doesn’t even have to bother. Go
1-0 today? That was true May 24.
It was true Oct. 23.
There are, as we enter the
final week of the season, new
wrinkles for the Nats, too. Since
he endured chest pains in the
dugout and ended up in an
ambulance to the hospital on
Sept. 15, Martinez has been
prevented from ingesting
caffeine. He used to be hyper.
Now, how can he help but be
“The guys in the dugout
always come up to me and they
put their hand on my heart to
see what’s wrong,” Martinez said.
“And I have to tell them all the
time, ‘Hey, I’m fine.’”
Which is how the Nationals
are right now. Just fine. More
than fine. Washington’s last
World Series title, in 1924, is
preserved on grainy black-and-
white film. Close your eyes and
envision the HD version this
team is filming. Enjoy the
weekend. What a world.

For more by Barry Svrluga, visit

Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg pitched with confidence for six innings, ultimately outdueling Astros starter Justin Verlander.


Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton slides home to score the first run on Anthony Rendon’s two-run double in the first inning. Washington piled on in the final innings to take a commanding series lead back to D.C.


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