As you probably know by now, the Washington Nationals were eliminated in the first round of this year’s baseball playoffs. Yes, just like in 2012, the team that led the National League in wins was defeated by the Wild Card team, in this case the San Francisco Giants. All the talk of a “Beltway World Series” between the Nationals and Orioles quickly faded away and is now a distant memory.
So what happened? Well the games weren’t really that exciting. In game 1, which my husband and 10-year-old son attended, Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera hit home runs, but they were the only runs scored by the Nationals in the 3-2 loss. Don’t get me wrong – we had a great time at the game. My main purpose in going was to create some unforgettable memories for my baseball-loving son, and I’m pretty sure we achieved that. He got his curly “W” pretzel, we bought a post-season program, and we were given free rally towels, which we can bring to future games (those rally towels, I might add, are very hard to spin. I mean, I can do the “Macarena,” I can jump a mean double-dutch jump rope, but for the life of me I could not spin that thing without wrapping it around my hand or swatting my husband with it across his face). My son enjoyed the pre-game military fly-over and was able to experience one of the hardest-hit home runs at Nationals Park. For us, it was a good day.
The second game was a disappointing one. The Nationals were leading 1-0 in the top of the ninth inning with two outs, and Jordan Zimmermann (who had pitched the entire game) was removed after walking his first batter. That is the move – not the wild pitch in game 4 – that cost the Nationals the game, the series, and a lot of sleep (you see, that game ended up going 18 innings, ending in a 2-1 loss). Nationals manager Matt Williams was severely criticized by many (including me) for removing Zimmermann, who had pitched a no-hitter the week before, with only one more out to go. If anyone could have gotten out of that inning, it would have been Jordan. But Williams insisted that removing a starting pitcher in the ninth inning with 2 outs was standard procedure, and he would do the same thing again if the situation presented itself (which it didn’t, because his team was eliminated just two games later).
Game 3 was a little better, since the Nationals won it 4-1 in San Francisco with Doug Fister pitching a good game. But they lost the next game (and the series) again by a score of 3-2. So in four games, the Nats were only able to muster 11 runs. The pitching was fine – all four starters pitched respectably – but no one was hitting. I shouldn’t say no one – Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendón’s bats were somewhat hot – but leadoff hitter Denard Span, who ended the regular season with a team-record 184 hits, failed to get on base much during the playoffs. Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth, the heart of the Nationals’ batting order, went 2 for 35. 2 for 35! I don’t have an explanation for their lack of offense – they just plain did not hit.
So what does it feel like when your team is eliminated so early after showing so much promise during the regular season and after being picked by many to win the World Series? Well it just sucks – plain and simple. You spend six months following these guys – 162 games day in and day out. You memorize their statistics and batting stances. You start calling them by their first names or nicknames as if they’re your buddies or neighbors (in my case, my younger brothers). You get totally consumed in all things Nationals, wearing your red “W” lanyard at work and helping your son pick between his Werth jersey or his Harper one. And then all of a sudden the last out of the last game is made, and it’s all over. Just like that. Change out your lanyard, put the jerseys away, and forget about bidding for a Jayson Werth garden gnome on eBay.
What makes it more frustrating is that baseball is not over. There are still plenty of games to be played this postseason, with 4 teams still vying to make it to the World Series. The Orioles and Royals are playing in the ALCS, and the Giants and Cardinals (again!) are at it in the NLCS. But the Nationals – their players, managers, massage therapists and athletic trainers – are all back home licking their wounds. They were not the underdogs, like the Royals – they were the top contenders and they lost. This fan, at least, is disappointed and feels let down. 🙁 I did watch game 1 of the ALCS (and will continue to watch until the last out of the last game of the World Series), but it just wasn’t the same. I was watching as a casual fan, rooting for the hometown Orioles but not disappointed when the Royals (whose players are cuter) scored some runs of their own. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, only an hour away, was packed with fans – some of whom I knew – in their orange sweatshirts waving their orange rally towels, smiling and cheering and rooting for their birds while I sat on my couch wanting to get excited but just not able to.
But there is some hope for us Nationals fans in the coming weeks. When the end-of-season awards are given out, Matt Williams will likely be named Manager of the Year and center fielder Denard Span will probably win the Gold Glove for his excellent defensive play (I told my kids that if Denard didn’t win, I would shave my head, so stay tuned for that). There may even be a Gold Glove for Doug Fister, who prides himself in being an excellent fielding pitcher.
Then the off-season talks will start – will Adam LaRoche be replaced at first base by Ryan Zimmerman? Will Rafael Soriano be gone after a disappointing second half of the season? Will Asdrubal Cabrera become a free agent? You see? There’s plenty to look forward to in the months to come!