The Nats Are World Champions

Not Dead, Can't Quit.

Jim Rome
October 31, 2019 - 10:05 am
Max Scherzer

USA Today

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The Washington Nationals are World Series Champions. Just saying that a few weeks ago would’ve been a joke. But saying it now sounds right. Absolutely right. Because they absolutely earned it. They may not be the best team on paper, but no one can argue that they’re not the toughest team. That’s not an opinion. That’s a fact. 

And nobody embodied more than Maxwell M. Scherzer. I’ve give him the full government he so richly deserves, but I don’t actually know his middle name. Just his middle initial. So I’m just going to go ahead and call him Maxwell Maxwell Scherzer.  Like dude is so good they named him twice. Holy crap that was a performance for the ages. Even for a three time CY Younger. 

On Saturday, he struggled to pick up his daughter. On Sunday, he couldn’t move. He couldn’t turn his neck. His wife had to dress him.

And on Wednesday, he was hitting 98 on the radar gun. He threw 103 pitches in Game 7 and battled his way through Houston’s lineup. He wasn’t perfect. Not even close. But the fact that he wasn’t perfect and just kept grinding and battling, was perfect. That’s who he is. That’s who this team is.

This is a guy who slept with a neck brace the night before Game 7 and then went out against one of the best lineups ever assembled, without his best stuff, a couple of days after taking the spike, in an incredible hostile environment, and battled his ass off. And frankly, in the beginning, it didn’t look good. Sure, he took the ball; he just fooling anyone with it. Especially Yuri Gurriel when he took him yard.

One nothing, Astros. And that was followed by back to back singles with no outs. But Scherzer then worked out with a foul out, ground out, line out.

And that pattern kept on playing out. Houston would get runners on, Houston would get Scherzer on the ropes, look like they were setting him up of for the knockout blow, only to see Scherzer fight his way off them, time and time again. 11 baserunners, but nearly every time the Astros got someone on, Scherzer doubled down. They couldn’t cash anything in because Scherzer just kept shutting them down. Or to quote the double Max himself: “I never felt like the moment or the situation of the game ever was going to wear me down.”

It sure as hell wasn’t. Again, this is a guy who couldn’t move a couple days earlier and he’s out there grunting and grinding his way through the biggest game of his life. And he didn’t have his best stuff. That much was clear. But it didn’t matter; dude just kept imposing his will on the Astros over and over again.

Meanwhile, Zack Greinke was dealing. And fielding his position like the Gold Glover that he is. He had the Nationals hitters off balance all night. All night. One bit of soft contact after another, he was just working them. Efficient as hell, and pitching the game of his life. 

The Nats had just two baserunners through the first six innings. And Greinke was soft tossing and absolutely clowning guys with slow curves, including whatever it was that he threw to Juan Soto that registered 65.8 on the radar gun.

In other words, Greinke was giving Houston everything they needed and even after Carlos Correa made it 2-0, the Astros still couldn’t land that one big punch they needed to finish. 

And by that point, you knew the pattern. And if you didn’t know it, you haven’t been paying attention. Scherzer was going to give it everything he had and keep the Nationals in it, then Dave Martinez would turn it over to the shortened bullpen and the Nationals bats would wake up at just the right time. Because how many times have we seen that this postseason. Pretty much every time. 

And this time it was the seventh inning. Adam Eaton led off with a groundout. Then came Anthony Rendon. And if you’re into pattern recognition at all, you know that Anthony Rendon from the seventh inning on in must-win games is trouble.

And he was again. Of course. Absolutely the most predictable thing ever. Scherzer would fight his ass off, keep them in the game, and then in the seventh inning, Anthony Rendon would jump ship. That was a led pipe lock. You could take that to the bank.

2-1 Astros and suddenly the Nats have hope. And minute maid is gripping. And then got worse as Greinke walked Juan Soto. AJ Hinch wasn’t about to take any chances; he went to get Greinke and went to Will Harris to face Howie Kendrick.

And if this postseason has taught us anything, if you’re a pitcher, Anthony Rendon is not the guy you want to see at the plate in a crucial situation. And next on that list is Howie Kendrick. And I don’t care that he was facing Will Harris and that Harris had owned him in the past.

As Kendrick said: "I've seen [Harris] a few times. He's gotten me out every time. I think he struck me out every time I faced him.”

Past is prologue. In this postseason, if Howie Kendrick is up in a clutch situation, my money’s on Kendrick. And as he explained: “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."

You mean moments like this?

He got that pitch over the plate that he could hammer and he hammered it. Howard Joseph Kendrick III just gave the Nationals a 3-2 lead. And he got back to the dugout and went back to his iconic “clutch and drive” dugout celebration with Adam Eaton.

I’m not sure what I love more – the two of them busting out that celebration on the bench or the fact that other guys are standing around them, doing it as well.

Kendrick dropped the hammer on the Astros and then dropped the hammer in the dugout. And at that point, you knew the game was over. That’s not to second-guess or doubt the Astros, they are so damn good.

But the Nationals weren’t losing that game. Not after everything they got from Scherzer, not after getting the lead. They went from two baserunners in the first six innings to home run, walk, home run, 3-2 lead in a matter of moments.

I’d say that park was stunned, but they couldn’t be. Nothing the Nationals were doing was stunning. This who they are. This is the team they’ve become. Stay in the fight and then finish the fight. Those aren’t just mantras or hashtags, it’s a way of life for them.

Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg allow them to stay in the fight and the guys like Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, and Howie Kendrick finish the fight.

And they weren’t finished finishing this fight. They added another run in the 8th to make it 4-2. And then two more in the ninth to put a few more nails in Houston’s coffin.

And then came the moment that Nats fans had never even allowed themselves to imagine.

The Washington Nationals are World Series champions. And it sounds right. And it feels right. World bleeping champions. The Astros didn’t lose thing, the Nats ripped from them. Five come from behind victories in an elimination games and as Nat Sean Doolittle said, “This is the most 2019 Nats thing to ever happen.” Absolutely right. Amazing team.  Amazing story.

No team in the history of baseball has ever crawled out of a deeper ditch and climbed a steeper mountain. Starting 19-31, surviving 4 rounds and 5 elimination games, and ICE’ing 106 and 107 club teams to become champions. The ultimate not dead, can’t quit team if there was one. The 2019 Nats, led by a Double Max. Enjoy this, DC