When the Washington Nationals made it to the World Series, I wrote that hardly a man is now alive who remembers the last time a Washington baseball team got that far. The year was 1933.
Now, the Nationals have won the World Series. I suspect that nary a man is now alive who remembers the last time Washington experienced ultimate success in the sport. The year was 1924.
Like this year’s Series, the one in 1924 went seven games. In the finale, Walter Johnson, who had lost two games as a starter, pitched four innings of relief and got the win.
In this year’s finale, Patrick Corbin, who had lost Game Four in a poor performance, pitched three innings of relief and got the win. In modern baseball, three innings of relief is probably the equivalent of six innings in 1924.
This year’s Series victory is all the more sweet because the Nationals defeated a great team. I have been following baseball since 1957. I consider the 2019 Houston Astros one of the ten best teams to take the field during my time as a fan.
Recently, I wrote a number of posts about the 1969 World Series, in which the New York Mets defeated the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles. This was a major upset. The gap in regular season wins between the Mets and the Orioles was nine games. The gap in wins between the Nationals and the Astros this year was 14 games.
However, the gap was the product of the Nats’ play during the first two months of the season. From then on, the record of the two teams was virtually even.
In my “hardly a man is now alive” post, I noted that the Nationals, a team known for uptight performances in the playoffs, became this year a loose, fun loving bunch that performed best with their backs to the wall — e.g., playing from behind and batting with two out. I attributed the transformation in significant part to what I called the Latin effect — the loosening up of the team following the acquisition of Gerardo Parra and his formation of a fun bunch comprised mainly of Latin players including young star Juan Soto and potential star Victor Robles.
The Nats continued to play calmly in the World Series. There was no apparent panic after they dropped three straight games at home to fall behind three games to two. In the two subsequent elimination games, the Nats fell behind but stayed relaxed enough to win both contests late.
In all, the Nats won five elimination games this year. Each was a come from behind victory.
In the post-game celebration, star pitcher Max Scherzer spoke about the Latin effect (using the word Latin). His fellow ace Steven Strasburg, one of the more deadpan players you will ever see, praised Parra’s influence in the dugout and noted that he (Strasburg) changed his demeanor a bit after Parra arrived and set a new tone.
The presence of veterans age 30 and older, both Latino and not, presumably also helped the Nats cope with pressure. Here, limiting myself to position players, I’ll mention Parra, Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick, Adam Eaton, Kurt Suzuki, and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Some may attribute the Nats’ long-awaited success simply to the law of averages. Make the playoffs enough times, and you’ve got a good chance of winning it all eventually.
There are precedents: the Brooklyn Dodgers (1947-1955), the Cincinnati Reds (1970-1975), the Los Angeles Dodgers (1974-1981), the Philadelphia Phillies (1976-1980), the Kansas City Royals (1976-1985). And now the Nats (2012-2019).
But no Nats fan who followed the team closely is going to attribute this year’s triumph to math. Not with the comeback from a 19-31 start to the season. Not with all of the come from behind wins in elimination games.
I guess most championship seasons feel like magic and many champions seem like teams of destiny. I’m not going to say that this team was destined to win or that magic was at work. But this was clearly not your average championship season and the Nats were clearly not your average championship team.