For 8 and 2/3rds innings the Nationals held a lead. For 8 and 2/3rds innings Nationals fans yelled, cheered, and started to dream of post season play in the NLCS and beyond. Obviously a favorable match up with the San Francisco Giants was awaiting and then the Nationals could find themselves in the World Series.
The Nationals had their closer, Drew Storen, in the the top of the 9th. The table was set and this chapter of a book was drawing to a close. Storen was one out from wrapping this winner take all game in the 5 game series. In fact, Drew Storen was one strike away from ending this game, but the batter was walked as fans booed the shrinking strike zone. Again Storen would find himself one pitch away from ending this series and again another walk. If this was a movie it's about the time a narrator would begin to tell you how the game ended and what happened next for the Nationals and their fans.
Morgan Freeman might narrate this movie ending, but just like in "Shawshank Redemption" Morgan Freeman might have to tell you what really happened just as he abruptly told you that "I wish I could tell you that Andy fought the good fight, and the Sisters let him be. I wish I could tell you that - but prison is no fairy-tale world....The Sisters kept at him - sometimes he was able to fight 'em off, sometimes not. And that's how it went for Andy - that was his routine." Morgan Freeman would like to tell you that Drew Storen was eventually able to end the game and all the Nationals fans that had their cameras out ready to take pictures on the historic night to capture memories of the players, the game, and their fireworks for their happy ending but that didn't happen and he'd have to tell you that in the blink of an eye what once was a 7-5 Nationals lead became tied at 7 and then a deficit at 9-7 before the inning and game was over.
For the fans that had arrived as the gates opened to the game at 6 PM and the ones that arrived a little later on the cold October night, the warmth and excitement of a big lead and dreams of extending the season quickly fell apart in just one third of an inning...just one strike from the NLCS (Twice) and left Nats fans cold, tired, distraught, heartbroken and empty inside.
But this isn't the time to let the Grinch steal your Christmas. This isn't the time to wonder "what if" Strasburg was in the rotation. No matter whether you felt following medical history of Tommy John surgery to reduce the workload on an operated arm to secure the long term future of a franchise player was the correct call or not it really shouldn't enter into the equation. The bottom line is that Strasburg wasn't on the 25 man roster and this is your Nationals team. There are no gaurantees in sports...just ask the New England Patriots as they lost to the NYG. Gene Hackman summed it up best in "Hoosiers". (Go to 1M 24S mark). To say that the outcome would be different would be arrogant to assume that the outcome would be different when an entirely new scenario has occurred. There's something that pitchers no matter how good or bad have in common. As great as Strasburg is there's no gaurantee that having him translates to an automatic win. It's only conjecture. To discuss Strasburg in such a manner only disgraces and disrespects the effort and accomplishment of this team.
So hang your hats high Nationals fans. There are so many great stories that aren't being told. No one would have ventured in March that the Nationals would win the division or hold the best record in baseball or be one strike away from the NLCS.
Would anyone have guessed that the best performance by a Nationals starting pitcher in the NLDS would be by Ross Detwiler who didn't have a starting job when spring training started and had to earn a spot only to lose it and then regain it again? Detwiler's performance in an elimination game (game four) pushed the series to game five. Then there's the young Bryce Harper who was 1 for 18 before game 5 and on the biggest game of his career started with a triple and home run to help lead the Nats on their way. Not to mention all of the injuries and players that filled in various roles to help the Nats become the best team in baseball from Flores holding down the catcher spot after not playing for nearly two seasons to the emergence of Lombardozzi and Moore and the pinch hitting specialist Chad Tracy.
The future is bright for the Nationals and the future is now. No one had such high expectations from a team that's just two years removed from consecutive 100+ season losses. No one anticipated the surge of the Nats.
The Nationals went from being pesky gnats to NATS. The bar is now raised. The one thing these Nationals lacked was experience and now they have it. Barring season ending injuries next season, the Nationals have their ace back and have decisions to make about LaRoche (1B vs. Morse in LF and what to do in CF that could potentially move Harper to LF) and filling the Edwin Jackson slot in the rotation. Now DC fans have expectations of a winner in Washington and their Nationals and that's something to sing about in this offseason like the residents of Who-ville...so sing loud and sing hard and warm your hearts! These Nats are for real. These Nats exceeded expectations and these Nats will be back next season!