Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cards Knock Off Nats

In possibly the most emotional night in D.C. sports history, the Washington Nationals playoff run ended in a dramatic 9-7 collapse to the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals.

The Nationals offense finally had the outburst that everyone was waiting for in the opening innings of the game.

Following a Jayson Werth leadoff double, Bryce Harper hit an RBI triple off the wall to score Werth. The face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman, then crushed a two-run homer to put the Nationals up 3-0 after one inning.

In the third inning, the Nationals had the heart of the order up and looking for more. Bryce Harper started the inning with a leadoff home run. After Ryan Zimmerman got a base hit, Michael Morse stepped  up to the plate and put one in Cardinals bullpen and the Nationals were up 6-0 after three innings.

While the offense was rocking the Cardinal pitching, the Nationals starter, Gio Gonzalez, was fairing much better against the Cardinals offense. Gonzalez held them scoreless into the fourth inning when Matt Holiday doubled to score Carlos Beltran.

In the fifth inning, Gonzalez found himself in a bases loaded jam. With Holiday at the plate, a ball took a funny bounce off of the dirt just behind home plate and skipped off and away from catcher Kurt Suzuki's shoulder pad. The wild pitch brought home David Descalso. Gonzalez then walked Holiday to load the bases. Allen Craig then drew a walk that scored Shane Robinson.

That would be the only damage done, however, as Gonzalez worked his out of it allowing just two runs to score and the Nationals lead was cut in half to 6-3 after five innings. Gonzalez's final line: 5 innings pitched, 5 hits, 3 earned runs, 4 walks, and 5 strikeouts.

The Cardinals continued to chip away at the Nationals lead as the innings wore on. With Edwin Jackson on the mound for the seventh, Holiday grounded out to the shortstop, Ian Desmond, which scored Jon Jay. The Cardinals had cut the lead to 2, 6-4.

Reliever Tyler Clippard came on to pitch the eighth. After allowing a leadoff homer to David Descalso, Clippard recovered to get three outs and hold the lead for closer Drew Storen.

However, Kurt Suzuki capped off his productive night (3-4 with an RBI) with an RBI single that scored Adam LaRoche. Storen was given a much needed insurance run.

With the bases loaded, David Descalso hit a hard grounder up the middle that hit off the glove of short stop Ian Desmond and into center field. Two runs scored for the Cardinals and the game was tied. Pete Kozma then followed that with a 2-RBI single and the Cardinals were suddenly winning 9-7.

Those four runs came with two outs in the inning. Five times, the Nationals were one strike away from the National League Championship Series. Five times, however, the Cardinals hitters either fouled off a pitch or took it for ball four.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Nationals went down in order of Werth-Harper-Zimmerman.

As quickly as they had taken the lead, they lost it and their season was over. The Cardinals completed the six run comeback to defeat the Nationals 9-7 and advance to the NLCS to play the Giants. For the Nationals, who have a lot to be proud of this season, it's game over.

As I stared at my television in disbelief last night, I couldn't help but feel a sense of pride for (my) the Nationals. A team that lost 100 games just a few years ago made it all the way to game five of the NLDS. Not only did this team exceed expectations, they did it by being the best team in baseball.

They weren't "supposed" to go to the playoffs until next year. They were just supposed to play a good season and leave us all with something to look forward to next year. The fact that we can sit here today and debate what went wrong last night in and of itself is a blessing given to us by an overachieving baseball team.

So what exactly did go wrong? Simply put, while the Nationals exceeded expectations and got to the playoffs, they weren't ready. This team was not ready to go to the playoffs. Look at the teams in the AL/NLCS's: Yankees vs Tigers, Cardinals vs Giants. All those teams have years of playoff experience. It doesn't matter how great you play in the regular season, the best will rise in October.

The Rangers, Reds, Dodgers, and Nationals were all at the top of the baseball world at some point during the regular season. Now, however, they are all at the bottom and out of the postseason. The playoff experienced teams did what they always do: they got the playoffs and won.

The Nationals took a HUGE step forward this season. Next season, assuming a few offseason re-signings, this whole team will return. More importantly, they'll return with postseason experience. (Don't even get me started about whether or not Stephen Strasburg would have made a difference. His replacement, Ross Detwiler, won his game.)

The Nationals have a lot to be proud of. They simply were a season ahead of time. The last thing that Davey Johnson said to the press last night could sum up this entire season: "We proved our worth and we just need to let this be a lesson and ... learn from it, have more resolve, come back, and carry it a lot farther."

Thanks for the ride, Nationals. They'll be back, folks....they'll be back.

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Quote Source: Washington Post Sports website