Back upstairs, sitting amid the leftover trash and disappointed aura, we began to record a podcast about what just happened.
My seat to talk about what happened was in the top of the stands, about 30 feet from the overstuffed press box where I watched the Nationals win Game 7 of the World Series via an obstructed second-row view. The fight to reach the field -- down steps, then an elevator, through winding corridors and into what seemed a never-ending line -- was extensive. Security was unsure when or even if the media was allowed out to see Ryan Zimmerman screaming, Max Scherzer stunned and Daniel Hudson’s arms filled with kids.
A year ago the Nationals finished a most-unlikely postseason run with a victory in Houston. They won all four road games to capture the World Series, the final victory spilling into Halloween, more than eight months after the group began work in West Palm Beach.
A.J. Hinch removing Zack Greinke provided them a breath of fresh air that night. Howie Kendrick’s home run off the right field foul pole gave them a lead not to be relinquished. Hudson’s slider to Michael Brantley was the veering bow to pull it all together.
Scherzer wandered on the field. He looked lost. All the times he pitched through something that didn’t feel right, all the times his contract was questioned, the one time he reached the World Series and failed, those memories were washed away. Aníbal Sánchez grabbed Scherzer, his former teammate in Detroit, and said, “We won one. We finally won one.” The two had totaled 700 career starts in the regular and postseason combined before claiming a ring. They were tired and elated.
The physical and mental fatigue at the end is astonishing. Scherzer wore it that night when drinking beer, answering questions, and leaning against a brick wall outside the clubhouse. His protective goggles were on his head and his voice was fading from too many singalongs to “We are the champions.” Asked if they could match the booze-filled antics of the Capitals, Scherzer smirked. “We’ll try,” he said. He then noted he expected to be hungover for the next couple weeks.
Along the way to a title, the stakes are heightened and guards can be let down. Anthony Rendon was long averse to talking with the media. He once positioned two folding chairs at an angle so he could stand behind them during a group postgame session in the middle of an average year. He would also put a towel down and tell reporters not to cross it.
But, by the time he arrived in Houston, Rendon’s comfort level with the Nationals beat writers reached a new point. He talked on the side more during 2019 than in previous ones. After Media Day in Houston -- a long haul for everyone involved and an extremely demanding one for Rendon in his native city -- Rendon left his table when finished. Then he stopped to talk with the writers to see how everyone was, ask where we were going to eat and just generally check in. His final days in a Nationals uniform were staring at him in his hometown. Just four wins separated him from a championship.
After Game 7, Rendon leaned on a hastily erected barricade on the field. A group of media members ended up on the other side -- only this time Rendon didn’t create the divider, though he was happy to use it.
About 30 minutes later, after being herded off the field, the clubhouse celebration hit a full tilt. Family patriarch, Ted Lerner, 94, sat on the outer edge near the doorway and watched. Managing principal owner Mark Lerner leaned on his cane and wondered why Greinke was removed from the game.
He had memories washed away, just like Scherzer and Sánchez. Players come and go. The organization burned through managers. The hump had become a mountain for a team which lost in the first round of the playoffs time after. Mark Lerner wondered if they would finally make it to this point. For all their financial prowess, hard -- at times lamentable -- decisions, the end felt like something pulled from inside his head to in front of his eyes.
“This is right up there with what I dreamed it would be,” Mark Lerner said. “It took a few years longer than we wanted it to, but not many people get to this point. We’re very grateful.”