Ah, them again. The team that started it all. The St. Louis Cardinals, who grind out at-bats and do the little things to deliver playoff heartbreak in the cruelest of ways; they are back in a postseason clash with the Washington Nationals.
The Nationals have a detailed history of gutwrenching postseason failures. And all of it began on a blustery night at Nationals Park in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS when the Cardinals mounted the largest comeback ever for in a do-or-die playoff game.
The Nats and their fans still aren't quite over that one, even though a series of playoff deathblows have been added to the list. Their win on Wednesday night in Game 5 against the Dodgers, which pushed them to the NL Championship Series for the first time in team history, certainly helped assuage the pain. But what happened in Game 5 of 2012 will never be forgotten due to it's agonizing extremes.
Gio Gonzalez' unraveling. Drew Storen's meltdown. Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso; the stuff of nightmares.
Now, seven years later, the Nationals will see the Cardinals again. In advancing to the NLCS, which is further than any D.C. baseball team has been since 1933, they will see a familiar enemy. Those Cardinals have once again defied the odds to go deep into October. And the Nationals have joined them, this time with the markings of a team of destiny.
The narratives have written themselves. First, the Nats dispatched a Dodgers team that featured not one, but two members of that 2012 Cardinals club, to exorcise their NLDS demons. L.A. has both David Freese and Joe Kelly, the latter of which gave up the fateful grand slam to Howie Kendrick in the 10th inning on Wednesday.
And, though seven years have passed, some of the figures on the Nats and Cardinals remain. Still on St. Louis are Adam Wainwright, the starting pitcher of Game 5 in 2012, and Yadier Molina, the ageless catcher who played in all five games that series.
Matt Carpenter had four at-bats in the series and is still there. Matt Adams was a Cardinal then and is now a National.
On the Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman is still around. So is Kurt Suzuki, who left the Nationals the following season to play for three different teams before returning on a free agent deal this past winter.
Two players remain in Washington, that's it. Oh, actually, that's not entirely true. There is one more: Stephen Strasburg.
Yes, seven years after he was shut down for the 2012 postseason due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg is about to get a shot at the team he wasn't allowed to face. Though he technically wasn't on the roster for that series, his absence cast a long shadow over it.
Strasburg has since blossomed into one of the best postseason pitchers the league has seen in recent years. After tossing a quality start of six innings and three runs earned in Game 5 against the Dodgers, he sports a 1.32 career ERA in the playoffs. He has emerged as the October ace of a staff that also includes Max Scherzer, an all-time great, and Patrick Corbin, one of the best lefties in the game.
There are still many who wonder 'what if' when it comes to Strasburg in 2012, whether the Nationals would have beaten the Cardinals if he was in their rotation and not watching from the dugout. In many respects, the Nats' decision to end his season early paid off, as he has gone on to enjoy a successful and healthy career while earning a lucrative second contract.
But the Nationals haven't been able to get back to where many thought they could have gone. Mark DeRosa, for instance, was a member of that 2012 Nationals team and just weeks ago said on NBC Sports Washington's 'Nationals Talk' podcast that he believes "100 percent" they would have won the World Series that year if Strasburg wasn't shut down.
Now the Nationals have an opportunity in the NLCS to right some wrongs. If they win that round, they will advance to the World Series, something no D.C. baseball team has done in 88 years. And if they get there with Strasburg pitching well, perhaps some of those who have for years said 'I told you so' will finally shut up about it.
The fact the Cardinals are the team currently in their path is perfect. The Nationals have a chance to do something for the first time and they can eliminate a demon from their past in the process.
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