“Remember 2005!” came the comments after my half-season piece on the Nationals hit the front page of the site, a reference to the meteoric rise and ignominious fall of the debut squad of the Washington Nationals, who made for an exciting spring and early summer and a devastating early autumn. The team that lead the NL East by 5 games in early July that year would fall to the cellar by October, 9 games out of contention, with an even 81-81 record.
The calls to temperance amid the assembly of the bandwagon are certainly sober reminders for the fan base, but last night’s game against the Mets showed that these Nationals are not those Nationals of 2005, and rather their own different animal. Until the 9th inning last night, the game was a complete pitchers’ duel. Jonathan Niese of the Mets and Ross Detwiler of the Nats were head to head and each were throwing fire and junk that had the other side baffled. Each went 7 innings, and likely could’ve gone longer. Niese gave up just 3 hits, Detwiler just 5, and the Nationals lead only on the strength of Tyler Moore’s laser-like home run that just barely cleared the fence. An insurance run – a phenomenon so rare this season that one beat writer had to remind everyone what it was called – in the 8th, gave the Nats a 2-0 lead late in the game.
In the 9th, the Nationals sent nigh-invincible closer Tyler Clippard to the bump, he of just two earned runs in 14 save opportunities, but every streak must end, and a 3-run homer that barely cleared the fence for Mets’ pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin just about ruined everyone’s evening. Trailing 3-2, the Nationals would battle back in their half of the 9th to send the game to extras, fall behind in the 10th inning, battle back on a Bryce Harper RBI triple to tie the game in the bottom of the tenth, and then after a pair of intentional walks, the Nats would plate the winning run on a wild pitch.
This is the sort of game that the 2005 Nationals never could have won. Their strength was in coming out in force early in the game off their inconsistent bats (sound familiar?) and relied more on psychological bravado than anything else. This Nationals team is just looking to keep things going, to add hit after hit, to never get down in the event of a junk-punch from fate in the form of a Valdespin home run. One need only to look at the probability graph from last night’s game to see just how interesting this win was. Twice the Nats brought the game back from the brink before they put it away.
This is an exciting time to be a Nationals fan, even if it can be a bit exhausting. Trust. Believe. This is the time for it. Though some will encourage you to temper your enthusiasm, to sit on your hands, I won’t be one of them at this point. Get on the bandwagon, my friends, there’s plenty of room.