For most, May 24 is just another day. Memorial Day is on the horizon, summer is coming and it is National Scavenger Hunt Day for anyone that celebrates, but May 24 is just May 24.
Yet for fans of the Washington Nationals and members of the 2019 team, May 24 is much more. It's the day in which Washington turned around from a 19-31 start and began its miraculous run ending in a World Series title.
Cincinnati Reds reliever Sean Doolittle was a major part of that turnaround in 2019, and just about two years to the day it began, he'll make his return to Nationals Park after leaving Washington in the 2020 offseason. It's a crazy coincidence that brings a smile to his face, and as he reflects on what happened on May 24, 2019, it's something he still can't truly process.
“I think it gets more crazy to be honest," Doolittle said to the media on Sunday. "Like the farther removed I get from it, the more perspective that you have you really realize…it’s 12 games under .500 and like, we pulled that off.”
Even though Doolittle is no longer with the Nationals, that 19-31 team is still a topic of discussion, and not just in Washington.
Joining a Reds team that features players who went up against the Nationals in 2019, Doolittle has heard first-hand what it was like to go up against them at different points in the season.
"They were like ‘We played you guys like right after you just started turning it around,' and they were like ‘and then we played you guys again later in the summer.’ It might have been like August and they were like ‘you guys scored 10 runs in all the games that we played you guys. You guys were like a completely different team.’”
Washington took two-of-three from the Reds shortly after reaching 19-31, making it seven wins in nine games after reaching what Doolittle saw as "rock bottom." Then in August, the Nationals completed a four-game sweep which included a 17-7 drubbing to finish off the series. At that point, the team was 20 games over .500.
Players in Cincinnati saw a ball club that was way different, and to Doolittle, that was exactly what had happened.
“That’s kind of what it felt like. It was two completely different seasons," Doolittle said.
Beyond that feeling, though, Doolittle can't accurately describe what really happened with that team. Plenty of asked him to sum it up, but it's not that simple. The team did have meetings to try and reset, but there was no "eureka" moment that forever changed the course of the season.
Something just clicked, and the Nationals went from rock bottom to World Series champions.
“We just did," Doolittle said.
“We came off that four-game sweep in New York, took three of four from the Marlins and were kind of off and running," Doolittle said.
Back to a 162-game season in 2021, that Nationals group is the best example of how the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. Early struggles 50 games in don't have to define the campaign, even if a turnaround like they had isn't common.
Doolittle has taken that lesson with him to Cincinnati, as he and his teammates won't let a recent four-game sweep at the hands of the Giants send them in a downward tailspin. Pulling from the 2019 season in Washington, he knows there is time to regroup and make a run.
Though he may never be able to fully process what happened after the 2019 team dropped to 19-31, it's something Doolittle will never forget. Moreso, he feels it's something players around the league won't either.
“I think we might be like an inspiration to other teams," Doolittle said. "That 2019 team, they’re like ‘well, the Nats did it.’ It’s like, yeah that was a special group, but it’s possible.”