November 1, 2019:
The Nationals’ five-month sprint to victory in the World Series elicited feelings of disbelief, joy and relief at the same time after so many years of frustration for fans of Washington baseball.
As bad as the Nats played the first two months, they never fell behind the Braves by more than 10 games. As hot as they were in the second half, they actually fell 10.5 games back after losing to Atlanta on Sept. 14. The Nats finished just four games back by winning 10 of their last 11 games, ending with a season-high eight wins in a row.
The Nationals had a losing record in one-run games (17-21), games against the Mets (7-12) and against the Braves (8-11), but dominated the Marlins (15-4), the Phillies (14-5; Take that, Bryce), and the American League (14-6). Against the N.L. West and Central combined, the Nats were 33-27.
Some strange trivia from the season: On June 1, the Nats beat the Reds with the win going to Tanner Rainey. The loser was former National Tanner Roark. And of course, never before — unless Elias contradicts me — had two Tanners been on opposite sides of a decision.
Why stop with just once? In August, in the middle of the best stretch of the season by the Nats, the Brewers won perhaps the wildest game of the year, 15-14 in 14 innings. The winning pitcher: Junior Guerra. The loser: Javy Guerra (no relation). More than likely, another first.
If the Nats had held a three-run lead in the top of the ninth in that one, they would have ended August winning the last 16 of 18. As it is they won 15 and lost three, going 19-7 for the month, a game better than their 18-8 record in June.
Because of the late finish of Game 7 on Wednesday, Oct. 30, some of the best writing in print had to wait until the morning papers of Friday, Nov. 1. The Washington Post covered just about every angle, supplementing Jesse Dougherty, Sam Fortier, columnists Dave Sheinin and Boz and the bloggers with fine efforts from former beat writers Chelsea Janes (now a national political reporter), Barry Svluga, Adam Kilgore and even Chico Harlan (now in Rome). Of course, all their work was available on line during the series and soon after Game 7 ended, but many of us older fans like to save newspaper pages for posterity, often in binders and scrapbooks.
The New York Times, now home to former Post beat writer James Wagner, had him in Houston, revisiting familiar faces. (He had covered the Astros beating the Yankees, his current beat.) But the best writing for my money came from the Times’ outstanding baseball writer, Tyler Kepner. His wonderful profile of Anthony Rendon was the main story on Nov. 1, with a great photo, on the sports cover.
The story’s premise was how unflappable Tony Two-Bags remains, whatever the situation. How does he do it? A key Rendon quote from Kepner’s story: “I feel like there’s bigger things going in this world. A baseball game might get magnified because it’s the World Series, but we’re not taking bullets for our country in Afghanistan or wherever it might be. This should be a breeze.”
As much as we all love the game, here is a man who keeps it all in proper perspective. Nationals fans will dearly miss him.
Aside from the contributions of Rendon and those of budding superstar Juan Soto with their bats, the impact Gerardo Parra had in the dugout and clubhouse cannot be overstated, even if it can’t be measured with sabermetrics. The team was playing badly and players seemed uptight when Parra was signed. He changed that. As ridiculous as “Baby Shark” is, the silly little song will be forever associated with the 2019 championship season, as will the dugout dances he and Anibal Sanchez orchestrated.
Just about every player who put on a Washington uniform in 2019 contributed in some way: Max, Stras, Corbin, Zim, Trea, Howie, Doo, Robles, Spanky, Hudson, Zuk, Yan on and on. Even the largely forgotten Michael A. Taylor did his part on the big stage.
What an absolutely unforgettable season. Thank you, Nats!