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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

How Sweep It Is

The Washington Nationals exorcised past demons to advance to the World Series.

Game 4 of the National League Champion Series between the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that has made 19 trips to the World Series, and the Washington Nationals, who have made exactly zero such appearances, took on an eerie and frightening feeling midway through the game. Just in time for Halloween. Except this was not a fun house by any means.

In what was arguably one of the most disappointing games in D.C. sports history, 7 years ago, the Nationals faced off against these Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series for a chance to advance to the NLCS. With a barrage of extra base hits, the Nats jumped out to a 6-0 lead and managed only one more run after the 3rd inning.

Twenty-one game winner southpaw Gio Gonzalez allowed the Cards to creep back into the game, yielding 3 runs in 5 innings. A bevy of relievers continued to fail culminating in a Cardinals 4-run rally in the 9th against Drew Storen to come back and shock the Nats and their fans in a devastating 9-7 loss.

Fast forward to Game 4 of the 2019 NLCS between the same teams in which Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina (Cards) and Ryan Zimmerman and Kurt Suzuki (Nats) remained as the only players from the 2012 series. In the 2019 edition of this matchup, there were differences, of course, but scary similarities as well.

In 2012, the Nationals had the best record in baseball with 98 wins. The current team with 93 wins was the NL Wild Card winner.  The 2012 game was the winner-take-all 5th game; the 2019 game was the 4th game with the Nats leading 3 games to none and looking to sweep.

Even with less pressure facing the Nats having built up that 3 game cushion, fans in Nationals Park and those watching on TV felt an unease that can only be described as “oh man, this can’t be happening again” because the similarities between 2012 and 2019 were too much to ignore.

In this game, the current Nats also trotted out their sterling left hander, reliable Patrick Corbin.  The Nats, like in 2012, also jumped out to a big lead, 7-0 in the first inning.  The Cards got it back to 7-4 with 4 innings left. Washington bats went silent after that first inning, not adding on.

The Nats’ Achilles heel all season has been the bullpen, though during the playoffs, they have been surprisingly effective. Could they survive the Cardinals’ desperate bid to stave off elimination and repeat the horrors of 2012?

Tanner Rainey, Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson slammed the door and the Nats held on to win the game and sweep the Cardinals in four. They head to the World Series for the first time in the franchise history to meet the Houston Astros or the New York Yankees.

For Corbin the game had some irony attached to it. For most of the early part of the season his offense either deserted him or the bullpen failed to protect leads he had before he had been removed. This night the opposite was true.

In previewing Game 5 of the NLDS between the Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers, I stated that the Nats have been the team of destiny. Including that game in which the Nats came from behind and won with a grand slam home run from the ageless Howie Kendrick and the way the Nats-Cardinals series played out, I am convinced that description is still applicable. 

To amplify that point, the Nats won the first two games of this series in St. Louis. Their record in that city since the Nats moved to D.C.? 13-33.

View the clinching game’s highlights below.

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