“You have a great year, and you can run into a buzz saw. Maybe this year we’re the buzz saw,” as Stephen Strasburg so elegantly put it following the Nationals shocking sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series. The Nationals would indeed be the buzz saw this year after one of the most improbable postseason runs in Major League History.
The Washington Nationals at one point in the 2019 MLB Season were 12 games below .500 and their chances at a playoff berth looked bleak. They had just lost Bryce Harper to free agency in the offseason prior and despite bringing in Patrick Corbin, the Nationals looked primed for another failure of a season and their World Series window appeared to be coming to a close. After a 19-31 start, Washington went 74-38 the rest of the season en route to a 93-win season and home-field advantage going into the National League Wild Card Game.
The Nationals would shock the Milwaukee Brewers in the Wild Card Game after an early three-run deficit, the Nationals season looked like it wouldn’t last longer than one postseason game. They would claw their way back with an epic eighth-inning rally to stun Milwaukee and sent them to the NLDS to face the powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers.
Once again, the Nationals fought hard and forced a game five in Los Angeles. With a comfortable 3-1 lead in game five, the Dodgers decided to put Kershaw in to face Adam Eaton. After striking out Eaton, Kershaw surrendered back to back home runs to Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon to tie the game. The game would end after a tenth inning grand slam from Howie Kendrick would seal the Dodgers’ fate. Their 106-win season had come to a brutal end and the Nationals had pulled off one of the most improbable upsets in recent memory, but they were far from finished. The Nationals would face the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS.
The Cardinals were fresh off of a slugfest in Game 5 to put Atlanta away without a fight and once again the Nationals came in as underdogs. Would their luck finally run out? Well, there was nothing lucky about it as the Nationals would sweep the Cardinals in embarrassing fashion (St. Louis never had a lead at any point in the series) to send the team to their first World Series in franchise history.
The team’s next and final opponent was one of the biggest heavyweights the American League has ever seen. After leading baseball with 107-wins and finding their way back to the World Series for the second time in two years, the Astros, led by a seemingly unhittable pitching staff and an incredible offensive core, came in as the biggest favorites to win since 2007 based on betting lines. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke headed the best starting rotation in baseball while Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, George Springer, and Alex Bregman looked for their second title in three years. The Nationals would not back down.
The Nationals would start Max Scherzer against the seemingly unhittable Gerrit Cole in Game 1 and the game went far from expected. A Yuli Gurriel double would make the score 2-0 Astros in the first inning. Ryan Zimmerman, also known as Mr. National, would respond back in the second with the first home run in Nationals World Series history to make it 2-1. Wonderkind Juan Soto would later tie it with an absolute missile to the opposite field into the train tracks in left to tie the game at two. After an Adam Eaton RBI single, Juan Soto would double off the left-field wall to score two. The score would be 5-2 Nationals after the fifth-inning rally. George Springer would homer in the seventh to make it a two-run game. Springer would double in a run in the eighth, but the Astros would still fall in Game 1, 5-4.
Verlander faced Strasburg in Game 2 and a two-run double by Anthony Rendon would kick off the scoring in the first for Washington in Game 2 for a quick two-run lead. Alex Bregman would homer to left with a runner on first to tie it in the bottom of the first. From then on the game would be a pitching duel all the way until the top of the seventh. Strasburg’s night was over and Verlander was still on the bump for Houston. Verlander would be done following a Kurt Suzuki home run and with the bases loaded for Howie Kendrick, a misplay by Bregman would score a run. An Asdrubal Cabrera single would score two more and an errant throw by Bregman on a slow roller would allow two runs to score. Adam Eaton would hit a two-run shot in the eighth to make it 10-2 Nationals and the final score would be 12-2 after a Cabrera RBI single and a Michael Taylor bomb.
After the two games in Houston, the series went to Washington for the next three. Home field would prove to be of no advantage to the Astros or the Nationals throughout the series with the Astros defeating Washington in Game 3 backed by a stellar performance by Zack Greinke, a pair of Michael Brantley RBI singles, and a Robinson Chirinos home run. Game 4 would go quite similarly with the Astros evening up the series at two. The Astros would be led by a Robinson Chirinos home run and Alex Bregman who came through with a grand slam to cap a five-RBI night in which the Astros would crush Washington by a score of 8-1. Game 5 would give the Astros a commanding 3-2 lead in the series after the Stros hit three home runs and Gerrit Cole threw seven one-run innings to lead the Astros to a 7-1 victory. It would all go downhill from there for the 2017 World Series Champions.
After a failure of a homestand for the Nationals they faced elimination once again. Game 6 would be highlighted by a gutsy performance by Stephen Strasburg who struck out seven and gave up just two runs through 8 1/3 innings pitched. Anthoney Rendon would go off with a home run and five RBI to save the Nationals’ season push a game seven. Justin Verlander’s World Series pitching record would fall to 0-5 in his career and his record for the 2019 postseason fell to a meager 1-4. Strasburg improved to 5-0 this postseason, becoming the second-ever and the first starter to win all five starts in the playoffs since Randy Johnson in 2001.
The Astros and Nationals’ seasons all came down to a decisive Game 7 and it certainly did not disappoint. Max Scherzer would face off against Zack Greinke, becoming the first World Series Game 7 started by two former Cy Young Award Winners. Scherzer got off to a rocky start and after surrendering a solo shot to Gurriel in the second and an RBI double to Correa, but despite allowing baserunners every inning, would not allow another run.
Meanwhile, Zack Greinke was pitching the game of his life. The Nationals failed to produce anything but a Juan Soto single all the way up until the seventh inning. Anthony Rendon would finally break the Nationals’ offensive silence with a solo shot to left. Greinke would issue a walk to Juan Soto next and that would end his remarkable pitching performance. Will Harris would enter the game to face Howie Kendrick with Gerrit Cole waiting in the pen and on the first pitch would surrender a two-run shot to Kendrick to give the Nationals a 3-2 lead.
“I’ve seen [Harris] a few times. He’s gotten me out every time,” Kendrick said. “I think he struck me out every time I faced him. At our place, he threw me a cutter away like that, I took it, and I was just looking for something out over the plate I could hammer, and he made that mistake — and man, that was probably one of the best swings of my career, just like that grand slam. Moments like that, you can’t make those up.”
The Nationals had come back again and with this lead, Washington would never look back. Juan Soto would deliver an RBI single to make the score 4-3 in the eighth. Adam Eaton singled with the bases loaded in the ninth inning would score two more runs and make the score 6-2 Nationals. The scoring for Washington was over as the headed into the bottom of the ninth needing three outs before Houston scored four. Houston would go down without a fight after Daniel Hudson took over for Patrick Corbin and put Houston away in order. A Springer pop out, Altuve strikeout, and a Michael Brantley strikeout would end the Astros season and the Nationals improbable, incredible, inconceivable, and miraculous run.
“You know what? This is — I mean, honestly, all these years, all this hard work, this year, the struggles early — I mean, this is what it’s about right here,” Kendrick told Buster Olney following the on-field celebration. “This is what it’s about. I mean, words can’t even describe this feeling. It’s phenomenal. This group of guys that we got here, we fought all year. This makes it sweet. This is so sweet right now.”
Stephen Strasburg after two incredible pitching performances in Games 1 and 6, became the first, 1st Overall draft pick to win World Series MVP with the team that drafted him. Following his incredible Game 6 performance, Strasburg now holds a career 1.46 ERA with 71 strikeouts and eight walks across 55 1/3 career innings in the playoffs en route to a historic and much deserved World Series MVP.
“What a story,” said Mr. National, Ryan Zimmerman, the only player who’s been a part of every single Washington Nationals team. “The way this game went is the way our whole season went.”
“Guess what? We stayed in the fight. We won the fight!” Martinez shouted during the trophy celebration on the field.
“It’s almost like we’ve done it so many times that we have to get punched in the face to kind of wake up,” Strasburg said.
Anibal Sanchez gave Max Scherzer a joyful embrace in the middle of the field after the game saying to his teammate: “We won one. We finally won one.”
Indeed, the Nationals had finally won. After years of heartbreak, disappointment, and Division Series losses, this was Washington’s year. Their fateful journey has ended with a World Series victory. A team that almost no one expected to even make the playoffs during the season, made one of the most incredible turnarounds in baseball history to finally hoist that coveted trophy.
The Nationals miraculous journey has come to a close and while baseball fans prepare for a cold five months without baseball and the Nationals later look to next year for an encore, regardless of what happens in the future, the 2019 Washington Nationals have etched their names in baseball history and that will never be taken from the team, the players, and the fans of baseball’s best team in 2019.