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A Beltway Battle that finally matters

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A Beltway Battle that finally matters

There's a bit of a misnomer circulating around the region that this weekend's Battle of the Beltways marks the first time winning baseball teams from Washington and Baltimore have ever faced each other.

Not true. On April 16, 1970, the 4-3 Washington Senators traveled up the road to Memorial Stadium and beat the 5-2 Baltimore Orioles before a rabid throng of 4,674. Frank Howard homered off Jim Palmer. Davey Johnson went 0-for-3 with a walk.

It was a rare, shining moment for baseball in the District against its rivals from Charm City, a perennial American League contender in the 1960s and early 1970s while the Senators languished at or near the bottom of the junior circuit.

"It never was much of a rivalry, because the Orioles used to do a little whupping up on people over here," Johnson said yesterday. "But right now, I think we're evenly matched ballclubs, pretty good, young clubs. So I'm excited about it, and hopefully the fans around will be excited."

Indeed, there's plenty of reason for fans of both local baseball teams to be excited about the latest interleague matchup between the Nats (23-15) and O's (25-14), who for the first time in more than four decades find themselves squaring off while sporting winning records.

Actually, tonight's series opener would have pitted a pair of first-place clubs if not for the Nationals' 5-3 loss to the Pirates last night, which coupled with the Braves' win dropped Washington to 12-game back in the NL East.

Nevertheless, this weekend perhaps offers a glimpse into what many around baseball hoped could be the case when the Expos relocated to the District eight years ago: Two successful franchises in these two, connected markets.

There's been precious little on-field success for either the Nationals or Orioles since then. Though each did surprisingly find themselves in contention early during the summer of 2005, each wound up fading down the stretch and finishing well back of the pack.

The Nats franchise hasn't posted a winning record since it won 83 games in Montreal in 2003 (managed by former Orioles great Frank Robinson). Baltimore hasn't finished above .500 since the 1997 club (managed by Johnson) captured the AL East crown with 98 wins.

There's a strong sense around South Capitol Street that this Nationals squad will finally get over the hump this season, led by the majors' best pitching staff. There's still some skepticism over the Orioles' chances of maintaining this pace, though with each passing day they're winning over more supporters.

"I follow them," Johnson said. "I watch them on TV. I know what kind of a lineup they have. It's pretty potent. They've got some great young pitchers."

Whether this ever develops into a true rivalry remains to be seen, especially with realignment next year shaking up the way interleague games are scheduled.

For now, both sides can simply enjoy this new, winning component to an annual series that to date has meant far more to fans than to the men in uniform.

"I just hope I don't hear during the National Anthem the 'O's' too loud," Johnson said.

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

On Thursday night, a Washington, D.C. pro sports team did something Washington, D.C. pro sports teams are very good at doing: fall short of making a league or championship game.

The Nationals' disastrous fifth inning against the Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series was the beginning of the end, not to mention yet another in a long line of disappointing playoff results for Washington, D.C. sports teams.

You see, Washington, D.C. is the only city with at least three major pro sports teams to not have a single one make a conference or league championship game since 2000.

To make matters worse, Washington, D.C. sports teams have now lost 16 consecutive playoff games in which a win would've advanced the team to the conference or league championship. 

Think about that for a second. Four teams. Zero conference championship appearances since 1998. 

Here's the list.

Washington, D.C. sports fans are not greedy. We can't be. We've had some very good teams recently, with the type of talent, coaching and intangibles needed to win a championship. 

TRY THIS: 20 THINGS DC SPORTS FANS SHOULD BE HAPPY ABOUT. YES, HAPPY.

The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team won a world championship was in 1992 when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI.  The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team even made a conference championship game was in 1998, when the Capitals advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, defeating the Sabres to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Washington, D.C. isn't allowed to have nice sports things.

Sure, we have great players and great teams, but when the playoffs roll around, all the nice things go away. We aren't privy to plucky upstarts who run the table and we aren't privy to dominant teams that make long postseason runs.

Washington, D.C. will have its day, eventually. Sure it may only be a conference championship appearance, but for us, that's fine. We don't expect world championships. We just want something to get invested in.

Early playoff exits are rarely worth the investment.

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With contractual decisions looming, Nats missed chance at stress-free World Series run

With contractual decisions looming, Nats missed chance at stress-free World Series run

"This is the year."

That's the motto for almost every D.C. sports fan when their team is headed for the postseason.

The Nats led a weak NL East the entire season and clinched a spot to play October baseball early into September.

RELATED: COUNTLESS ERRORS DOOM NATIONALS IN SEASON-ENDING LOSS

The team overcame the obstacle of being plagued with injuries and with pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer having a strong bullpen to back them up, the stars were aligning for the team to go all the way.

But now with players like Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy having contracts up for grabs in 2019, Nationals reporter Chelsea Janes says 2017 was really the last chance for the team to win a stress-free title.

"I think those questions you've raised like Bryce [Harper's] contract, [Daniel} Murphy may be leaving, you know Rizzo's contract's up after next year, I think those are the things they didn't have to deal with this year that made this such a free chance," Janes said on the Sports Junkies Friday.

"It was a free chance to just feel good and do it now and not have everyone say this is your absolute last chance, and next year it's their absolute last chance for a little while, I think."

"I mean they're not going to be awful in '19, but they're going to be different and I think they've sort of wasted their free pass here and there's legitimate and kind of unrelenting pressure on them next year to make it happen."

It's hard to make sense of what a team will look like one day after a devastating series loss. One thing that is fairly certain is that time is ticking for the Nats to make it happen with arguably the most talented group of players they've ever had.