WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Eric Thames felt like something bad was about to happen last fall after Michael A. Taylor reached first base next to him.
Milwaukee held a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning when Taylor was awarded first base after a review determined the call of hit by pitch would stand. The ruling was dubious. Regardless, Taylor was on first and the unraveling process for Josh Hader and the Brewers had begun.
“The playoffs is all about mojo and there’s certain plays you’re [like] oh, it's not looking good,” Thames told NBC Sports Washington. “And it was the hit by pitch to Taylor, reviewed it, hit off the knob, they reviewed said hit by pitch. We were all pretty upset about that. Once [Ryan Zimmerman] got the broken-bat single, it was like, oh, man here we go.”
Anthony Rendon sidled up to Thames after his walk loaded the bases later in the inning. Juan Soto was next, a left-on-left fight with Hader pending. He singled to right, sending the ball past Thames and toward Trent Grisham, who overran the ball after an odd hop.
“You know Juan is a passionate player,” Thames said. “You know he’s hungry to get the big hit. Once that ball went over my head, I was like, all right, here we go. Let’s hold it. Once that ball got past Grisham, my heart just like… the crowd was quiet the whole game until that moment. It was like bombs went off. We couldn't hear anything. I was leading off that next inning. It was the weirdest feeling. It was like my heart was in my stomach. It was heartbreaking.”
Thames struck out. The Brewers lost, beginning the Nationals’ stomach-churning run toward the World Series.
He was bitter for about four or five days. But, he watched. The Nationals kept coming back, he watched more. Stationed in a bar, still a bit upset by the idea this could have been the Brewers’ run, Thames began to develop an affinity for what Washington was doing, one that eventually landed him in the clubhouse this spring to split time at first base and provide left-handed, pinch-hit power.
“We all would have been pissed if the Astros or the 'powerhouse team,' if they won, but these guys came from the bottom, they scratched their way up, the way the games finished was exciting,” Thames said. “Like Howie’s home run off the poll -- I watch that replay all the time. To see the entire stadium in Houston just get quiet. Oh, it was awesome.
“I watched every game at a bar with a bunch of beer drowning my sorrows with nachos.”
Thames spilled his beer when Kendrick homered against Will Harris. Three-plus months later, he and Kendrick were sitting two chairs apart in West Palm Beach, Thames’ heart presumably back into his chest.
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