The Washington Nationals: A Cinderella Story

Nine innings. Two teams. One Commissioners' Trophy. 

These were the stakes on October 30, 2019 in Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas in GAME SEVEN of the World Series. From the minute the Washington Nationals came back to tie the series in Game 6, the media erupted with the popular phrase, “There are no two words greater in sports than ‘Game Seven.’” Houston was ready. Washington was ready. And the stage couldn’t be any bigger for these two teams. 

The Washington Nationals’ journey to the World Series was one for the history books. Surprisingly, it all started when hopes for the Nationals to be contenders for the Commissioners’ Trophy were hindered during free agency. As we all know now, the Nationals lost franchise icon Bryce Harper, who picked up a contract with the Phillies and left Nationals fans feeling worried about their team. It would be an understatement to say no one saw the Nationals coming, especially in the beginning of the season when they were given a 3.4% of making the postseason. On May 23rd they fell below .500 and were 8.5 games behind for a playoff spot. Needless to say, this team beat the odds and fought with everything they had, giving the word ‘underdog’ a new meaning. 

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We hear it in basketball, and we hear it in American football: “Defense wins championships.” In baseball, there is no greater defensive weapon than the pitcher. For the Washington Nationals, their greatest defensive weapons were starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg in Games 1 and 6 and Max Scherzer in Games 2 and 7. It was in Game 6 when Stephen Strasburg allowed only two home runs in the first inning and then went into bionic mode. After the pitching coach pointed out to Strasburg that he was tipping pitches, he started to shake his glove before every pitch so the Astros’ hitters wouldn’t know what kind of pitch he was throwing. As we all know now, the strategy worked wonders. Subsequently, Strasburg’s legendary performances in Games 1 and 6 won him the World Series’ Finals MVP.  

The next two wins came in Games 2 and 7 when Max Scherzer (aka Mad Max) took the mound. In Game 7, Scherzer came with a killer mentality as his body language before the start of the game was nothing short of focused. What is most impressive was how just three days before Game 7, Scherzer experienced back and neck spasms and had to forgo starting in Game 5. The same man who pitched 90+ mph was the same man who couldn’t even lift his arms or dress himself three days prior. After receiving a cortisone shot, Scherzer announced he was good to go, and in the last game of the World Series he allowed only two runs in five innings. Scherzer was monumental for the Nationals to stay in the Game 7 after trailing the Astros 2-0 up until the seventh inning. As people say, “he’s as tough as they come.” 

Fun Fact: After this major win for him and the Nationals, Scherzer has become the most successful person with heterochromia in baseball!  

 

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Of course, we can’t talk about the champions without talking about their dynamic offense. The Nationals’ offense fought every game to get moonshot home runs against pitchers such as Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, who will surely be Hall of Famers when they retire. Their batting starting lineup for Game 7 was as followed: 

#7 Trea Turner (SS)

#2 Adam Eaton (RF)

#6 Anthony Rendon (3B)

#22 Juan Soto (LF)

#47 Howie Kendrick (DH)

#13 Asdrubal Cabrera (2B)

#11 Ryan Zimmerman (1B)

#10 Yan Gomes (C)

#16 Victor Robles (CF)

While every player on this list contributed to the final win of the season, the players with game changing home runs and multiple hits during the World Series were Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, and Howie Kendrick. Despite the Astros having the best home record during the baseball season and, being 5-1 in the postseason, these Nationals players found ways to pull off the upset. In fact, this was the first time in World Series history in which the winning team won all four games on the road, calling into question the significance of home-field advantage.

First up is Trea Turner. The National’s lead-off man didn’t have any home runs in the World Series but he had multiple base hits that got his team going. Turner’s ability to reach base and drive in runs was also vital in the National’s success to win Games 1, 2, 6, and 7. His excellent base running was also a huge factor in securing those wins. It must also be noted that his stolen base in Game 1 gave everyone free tacos from Taco Bell since their slogan is “steal a base, steal a taco.”

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Meanwhile, Juan Soto, who turned 21 during the World Series, had a huge impact on this offense. Soto became the youngest player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a World Series and has more home runs (5) than any player 21 or younger in any postseason. In the fourth inning of Game 1, Soto blasted a home run to left field that tied the game and later on hit a two-run double which helped his team secure the first win of the series. In Game 6, he hit a homerun in the fifth inning that gave his team the lead, and in Game 7 Soto had a base hit in the eighth inning that scored a run which further cemented their win. Talk about having the best birthday ever!

Adam Eaton’s contributions were also game changing as he hit a two run homer in the eight inning of Game 2 that ensured the National’s win and a home run in the fifth inning of Game 6 that tied the game. Equivalently, Howie Kendrick played a major role in the National’s offensive power as he had multiple base hits and RBI’s during the series; he also had a gigantic two run homer in the 7th inning of Game 7 that gave the Nationals the lead. 

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Perhaps the most powerful offensive weapon the Nationals had during the World Series was Anthony Rendon. Rendon’s impact on the field will remain unforgettable as he had multiple RBI’s throughout the series and clutch home runs. In Game 6, Rendon had a base hit in the first inning that scored the first run of the series. Also in Game 6, Rendon hit a two run homer in the fifth inning that further secured the National’s victory. And in Game 7, when the Nationals couldn’t get their offense going, Rendon hit a game-changing home run in the seventh inning that got his team on the board. From there on, the momentum shifted in favor of the Nationals, and the rest was history. Image result for anthony rendon world series"

Ever so often we are reminded of why we watch and care for sports. As we have seen time after time, in sports, the script is unwritten and statistics get thrown out the window. It is always remarkable when a team achieves unexpected success or in this case, the highest achievement possible. Maybe what makes teams like the 2019 Nationals so special and memorable is their relentless fight against monstrous opponents like the 107-win Astros and 106-win Dodgers (who the Nationals defeated in the Championship Series). Sports moments like these remind us of the reality of fairy tales, for no dream is too big. Their motto for the 2019 postseason? “Finish the Fight.” At the beginning of the season, the Nationals were like Cinderella, unsure if they would even get to attend the ball. Today they are World Series Champions for the first time in franchise history, and they couldn’t have done it in a more magical way.