Hundreds of thousands of people watched the Washington Nationals in Game 5 on TV, with 43,849 more in attendance. Here’s how the game went from the crowd’s perspective.
Year after year, the Washington Nationals are among the best teams in the MLB. Year after year, they fail to make it out of the National League Division Series.
On Thursday night, the Nats hosted the reigning champion Chicago Cubs in Game 5 of the NLDS, attempting to re-write their history.
For a team constantly battling a myriad of injuries, October is a particularly painful month. Entering 2017, the Nats were 0-3 in postseason series.
While every postseason series loss hurts, 2012 was arguably the worst. The Nats weren’t supposed to be contenders yet, but managed to win 98 games and enter the postseason as a number one seed.
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The series eventually went to a decisive fifth game, when the Nats choked away a six-run lead, ending their first trip to the postseason. While it was devastating, the team had a young core and would be a force for years to come.
This year, exactly five years after 2012 Game 5, the Nats hosted the Cubs in another decisive Game 5. While the two games were five years apart, they were eerily similar.
The Nats hosted the reigning World Series champions in both games, both opponents are from the NL Central, Gio Gonzalez started both games for the Nats, and Jon Jay led off for the opposition in both games.
Finally, the biggest and most important similarity, the Nats lost both games in devastating fashion.
As someone who was in attendance for both games, I feel extremely lucky, but also heartbroken. Being in the crowd for Thursday night’s game was a whirlwind of emotions, and something I will never forget.
The Nats had an undeniably rough past in the postseason, but this year seemed different; this was the Nats’ year. Before the game, there was certainly quite a bit of nervous excitement, but there was also a feeling of confidence.
That confidence was quickly diminished, as Gonzalez got off to a slow start in the first. Jay led off with a double and immediately advanced to third on a wild pitch. After an Anthony Rizzo ground out, the Cubs led and the Nats hadn’t even had an at-bat.
However, as quickly as the Cubs quieted the crowd, the Nats rejuvenated it even quicker in the bottom of the second.
Postseason legend Daniel Murphy led off with a game-tying homer, followed by two singles and a Michael Taylor homer. Just like that, the Nats jumped out to a 4-1 lead and had scored four runs without recording an out in the second. Nationals Park was rocking, and the crowd believed again; this was the Nats’ year.
The Cubs then went on to capitalize on a couple walks and score two more runs in the third, somewhat taming the crowd. However, Dusty Baker turned the game over to his lock-down bullpen and everything would be okay. The Nats had a lead, and it was time for the transformed bullpen, including Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark to hold it.
Matt Albers threw a perfect fourth, bridging the gap to Scherzer. When Scherzer came running in from the bullpen, the crowd was absolutely electric and everything would be okay…until it wasn’t.
Scherzer was clearly fired up, routinely throwing fastballs in the upper-90s. He quickly retired Kris Bryant and Rizzo, appearing to be ready to dominate for a couple innings.
Then, Willson Contreras extended the inning with an infield single. Ben Zobrist followed Contreras with a bloop single, bringing the tying run into scoring position, but the crowd remained confident. That is, until Addison Russell shocked everyone with a go-ahead double down the left field line. Just like that, the Nats trailed 5-4 and a hush fell over the crowd.
Baez struck out, but the pitch got by Wieters, who retrieved it and threw it into right field. The inning should’ve been over, but a run scored and it was now 6-4. To add insult to injury, the umpires screwed up a rule, which would’ve ended the inning.
After whiffing, Baez hit Wieters’ mask on the backswing, which should’ve rendered it a dead ball and strike three. However, the umpires didn’t correctly utilize the rule and the inning continued.
The next batter reached on catcher’s interference, continuing Wieters’ nightmare inning, loading the bases. Now, Jay came up with the bases loaded and got hit by a pitch, bringing in another run. 7-4 Cubs. The once-rowdy crowd was suddenly silent and could not believe their eyes.
The Nats and Cubs traded punches throughout the remainder of the game, with the Nats always keeping the score close. Joe Maddon exhausted his bullpen, eventually leading to him bringing in Wade Davis for an unprecedented seven-out save.
Davis was shaky and allowed Nats fans to hold on to a glimmer of hope, up until Bryce Harper stepped up with two outs in the ninth. Harper was known for his late-game dramatics and could tie the game with one swing.
Unfortunately, he was unable to be the hero, striking out to end the Nats’ season. A long, emotional roller coaster of a night had ended with the Nats falling short.
On an incredibly promising night, the Nats once again failed to advance past the NLDS. The fans had had enough; some cried, some screamed, and some stared at the Cubs celebrating in disbelief.
Nats fans packed Nationals Park for the third Game 5 in five years, and were disappointed once again. Baseball is a cruel, cruel sport, and this loss will certainly sting for a while.
However, as Cubs fans said for 108 years, there’s always next year. Harper has one year left on his contract, and the Nats will most likely have at least one more postseason run with him in tow.
This loss hurts, but fans will once again pack Nats Park on April 5 for the home opener, and will show up in full force for the 2018 postseason, despite the years of pain. Michael Scott said it best and I believe I can speak for Nats fans everywhere when I say that come next year, I will be ready to get hurt again.