This is a city of disappointments. The football team is a mess. The basketball team is terrible. The government hasn’t had a win in years.
So what’s happened to the Washington Nationals over the weekend isn’t a complete disaster. It’s just a very Washington thing to happen. It’s a Great Collapse story they’ll still be telling a generation from now.
Sunday was Washington’s last, best chance to swing some World Series momentum back in their own favour.
The Nationals had several things going against them – Houston’s starter, Houston’s bullpen, Houston’s offence and Houston’s defence. They had one thing going for them – Max Scherzer.
A few hours before the game, it was announced that Scherzer had pulled a muscle in his neck and couldn’t lift his throwing arm over his head.
The three-time Cy Young winner had no explanation for how this happened. He hadn’t been in a golf-cart accident or pulled a child from a burning house. He’d just woken up and it had hurt. On Sunday morning, it hurt so much he said he had to throw himself on the floor in order to get out of bed.
There’s good luck, there’s bad luck and there’s whatever sort of luck this is.
If this wasn’t disturbing enough, the Nationals also had to deal with a bunch of hassle from their boss, Donald Trump (in the sense that he’s every American’s boss).
Last week, the U.S. President had promised to come to Game 5. The Nationals players had spent the intervening days trying to dodge questions about it. On Sunday afternoon, it was Stephen Strasburg’s turn. What’s your take on Trump’s visit?
“Usually the dogs that are sniffing in our clubhouse are these nice Labs that are super friendly,” Strasburg said. “And today there was a German shepherd that I didn’t really feel comfortable petting.”
The next time you feel like getting worked up about the political opinions of pro athletes, remember that quote. That’s the level that most of these guys operate at: dogs and their petability.
The security was crushing: K-9s, men, guns. They opened the park four hours before game time in order to ensure people would get through all of it. It’s not often you go through a TSA screening and you aren’t in an airport.
Trump’s motorcade entered during the anthem. He took a seat in a box at field level. He was shown on the big screen during a break after the third inning. To my ear, the reaction was hard to figure. Boos, certainly, but not uniform booing. That would come later when the Nationals were being jobbed by umpires.
Trump’s handlers had the sense to surround him with wounded veterans and arrange for him to be shown during a salute to the military. It’s hard to boo guys who’ve taken a bullet for the country.
The Nationals could use some of that innovative thinking.
Without Scherzer, Washington sent out Joe Ross. You’ve never heard of him. That the Nationals found themselves with such slim options for a last-minute replacement seems a little careless.
Ross pitched once in the last month. That’s not rest. That’s rust. He didn’t embarrass himself, but nor did he cover himself in glory.
He made just two bad mistakes. Both ended up going over the wall. After four, Houston was up 4-0.
On their side, the Astros had Gerrit Cole.
This was likely Cole’s final appearance for Houston. This off-season, he is a free agent and will almost certainly sign the richest pitching contract in history.
For Cole, this was a combination farewell/job application. He performed up to that standard and was largely unhittable. He wobbled in the second, but sealed off the inning. It felt over then and, as it turned out, it was.
By the sixth inning, the irritation was starting to show. In the midst of arguing balls and strikes from the dugout, Washington manager Dave Martinez screamed toward the home-plate umpire, “IT’S THE WORLD SERIES. WAKE UP.”
I’m not a Freudian, but that sounds like projection.
An inning later, Cole slipped out of a noose with a (dead wrong) called strikeout. Martinez wasn’t quite so PG-rated this time around. The fans booed for the entirety of the changeover, which is a while. After that, they booed the officials at every opportunity.
You could see two things forming – future legislation (the Robot Umpire Act) and a narrative (‘We wuz robbed’). They weren’t. It ended 7-1.
The Astros now lead this series 3-2 and have chances to close out the championship at home Tuesday and, if necessary, Wednesday.
The good news? The Baby Shark phenomenon is nearly dead. It was a scourge on our culture. Seeing it endorsed by adults was a source of despair. We may be doomed.
The bad news? The Nationals pretty definitely are.
They’ve scored three runs in three games. They’ve lost their best starter. Their bullpen is tired and due for even greater implosions. And now they have to chew through Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. Good luck with that.
You have to give it to the Nationals’ fans. They put up with an awful lot this weekend. They came into it thinking they might celebrate a title. They left it knowing that opportunity had slipped them by.
The Nationals still could win this, but it would be some kind of turnaround. And this is Washington we’re talking about.
But the fans were in it each night and all night. They weathered brutal losses, outrageous turns of fortune and Trump, and kept rooting (or viciously booing) until the end. Even a Canadian – so, someone very used to defeat – was impressed.
This may not be a town of winners. It may even be a town of losers. But over one awful weekend, it proved it’s a sports town par excellence.