The Nationals won the World Series.
One year after it happened, those words still don’t seem real. These past 12 months have allowed for an unusual amount of reflection, as the coronavirus pandemic has kept people indoors and put much of the world at a standstill as health officials race to combat the spread.
Though it’s been an unfortunate year to spend as the defending World Series champions — lack of a full season to run it back, few opportunities to celebrate with their fans, several players opted out of playing altogether for their families’ safety — nothing can take away the Nationals’ run that chased away years’ worth of playoff demons for D.C. sports fans.
It had been 95 years since a World Series title had been celebrated in the nation’s capital and 85 years since a Washington-based team had even played in one. The city had its baseball franchise taken away not once but twice. The first time was in 1960, when the Senators moved to Minneapolis and became the Minnesota Twins. D.C. was granted an expansion team the following year, but that team posted a winning record just once in its 11 years in Washington before taking on the name Texas Rangers.
The city had to wait 34 years before baseball returned to Washington and even then, it inherited a depleted Montreal Expos organization that had made the playoffs once in 35 years of existence. After an exciting first season in 2005 that saw the Nationals finish 81-81, they rattled off five straight seasons with 91, 89, 102, 103 and 93 losses, respectively.
By the time the Nationals rose to contention in 2012, there was a stigma around D.C. sports. They couldn’t get it done in the playoffs. The team formerly known as the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI in January 1992. With all due respect to the D.C. United teams that won the MLS Cup in the late ’90s and early 2000s, no big four team from Washington even advanced to their respective sport’s conference final until the Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup in 2018.
But when the Nationals won 98 games in 2012 and claimed the No. 1 seed in the NL, they were still looking to end the drought. Unfortunately, that would only be the beginning of the disappointment fans would suffer every time the Nationals made the postseason.
The NLDS continued to prove it was too much for them. In 2012, it was Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso lighting up Drew Storen in the top of the ninth inning of Game 5. Aaron Barrett’s wild pitch in 2014 that allowed Pablo Sandoval to score the go-ahead run in Game 4 effectively ended their season. Clayton Kershaw got his playoff moment at the Nationals’ expense in 2016, when he closed out Game 5 for the save. In 2017, it was Max Scherzer and Matt Wieters combining to hit a batter, drop a third strike and cause catcher’s interference all in one inning that defined their performance in another Game 5.
Bryce Harper, the No. 1 overall pick who was billed as the LeBron James of baseball at 16 years old, came and went without so much as winning one playoff series in Washington. When the Nationals got off to a 19-31 start in 2019, many chalked it up to the loss of Harper coupled with Davey Martinez’s shortcomings as a manager.
Then things got crazy. The Nationals went 74-38 the rest of the way, a 107-win pace over a full season. They probably should’ve lost in the NL Wild Card Game, but not even Josh Hader could prevent Juan Soto from playing hero. They probably should’ve lost in the NLDS after trailing the 106-win Dodgers 2-1 in the series, but they won back-to-back elimination games to finally advance to the NLCS. After a quick sweep of the Cardinals in the NLCS, they probably should’ve lost to the Astros after losing three straight at home to fall behind 3-2 with the series going back to Houston.
The time between Howie Kendrick’s home run off the foul pole and Daniel Hudson’s ninth-inning swinging strikeout of Michael Brantley felt like an eternity. They had come so far, but the past still hovered over a fanbase wanting to believe so badly this was their year. When victory finally came, it was a release of years of frustration and anguish.
Washington had already ended its city-wide championship drought thanks to the Capitals, and the Mystics had claimed another title earlier in the year when they won the WNBA Finals. But the Nationals' win cemented D.C. as a sports town deserving of respect. Once the championships begin to pile up, the success is undeniable.
In the months since the Commissioner’s Trophy was raised by the Nationals, a lot has changed in the world. An uncertain future lies ahead, both in baseball and the globe at large. But no matter what, one thing can’t be taken away: The Nationals are 2019 World Series champions.
Baseball had been cruel to the D.C. fans before, just not this time.