All season long, the Washington Nationals channeled their inner Chumbawamba. They got knocked down, they got back up again, and you couldn’t keep them down.
They looked like they were down for the count on May 23rd. They sat at a pretty dismal 19-31, a record every single Nats fan now knows by heart. They got back up again.
In a winner-take-all Wild Card Game, they trailed by two runs in the bottom of the eighth against the Milwaukee Brewers. Then, in another winner-take-all game, they trailed by two runs in the top of the eighth against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They got back up again.
Sure, they absolutely bulldozed the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, sweeping them in four games, but the fact they were even competing for a National League Pennant was a minor miracle.
“If you look at how -- where we came from and what we had to accomplish to get here, it wasn’t easy,” manager Dave Martinez said after his team clinched their World Series berth.
“I’ll be the first to say, you know, I never doubted these guys. I really didn’t. All I kept telling myself, hey, stay with them. Stick to the process. Stay positive. Teach. And as soon as everybody gets healthy, we’ll make a run. We’ll make a run. We’ll get back in this thing.”
Boy did they ever make a run. Since May 24th, including the postseason, the Nats have gone 82-40. This might sound familiar but that’s the best record in baseball in that time.
As far as the story goes right now, with just one unwritten chapter remaining, even Hollywood couldn’t have written a much better script for this team. The manager knew a turnaround was brewing, even if just how far they’ve come now hasn’t sunk in yet.
“Didn’t know how far we’d get back in it,” Martinez elaborated, “but I really believed that these guys could turn this around right from the get-go, and they did.
“We played really well throughout. After May 24th, we played playoff baseball throughout the rest of the year. The result is what you see.”
One of the main reasons they “stayed in the fight” despite the turmoil was their veteran group.
It’s often been noted how this team has zigged with a whole hoard of players that are north of 30 while the rest of the league has zagged by making their teams younger and younger.
With that veteran presence that knew all too well what can happen in this game, it allowed the team to fully take on Martinez’s 1-0 philosophy and turn it around.
“It’s simple. You could either quit, or you could play,” Ryan Zimmerman explained after the game. “You sign up to play 162 games. I played some where you lose a ton of games, and I played those games just as hard as I play these games now. That’s what I’ve always been taught.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you make or what team you’re on, you sign up to play 162 games. Whether you’re 31-19 or 19-31, you’ve still got to play the rest of the season out.
“So we had a choice, we could either basically roll over and quit or come in, like we said, each day and try and win that game that day. We chose the second one.”
But as we know, it’s one thing to blurt out cliché after cliché, it’s another to stick to that cliché. Even as the team was mounting its comeback with a rampant June that left them just 1.5 games out of a Wild Card spot, they stayed true to going 1-0 every day.
In this postseason, perhaps nobody embodied that motto more than Howie Kendrick.
Off to a rotten start in the NLDS with numerous fielding errors and struggling with the bat, he put that behind him in emphatic fashion. He not only hit the series-winning grand slam in Game 5 but also was named NLCS MVP after the sweep of the Cardinals.
“We play for that day, that moment, that time,” Kendrick explained. “I think that’s what really matters is we’ve got to fight for just that one game because, at the end of the day, there’s no guarantee of tomorrow. All you’re guaranteed is this day. So we’ve got to go out and just live it like that and play like that.”
Even though the Nats will undoubtedly have a challenge ahead of them in either the New York Yankees or Houston Astros, that daunting task won’t affect their level-headed mindset.
The odds have been against them since May, count them out at your peril, especially in such a short series that may well play into the hands of the Nats and their 1-0 mindset.
“I think we think we can compete with any team any time,” Kendrick said. “People always get caught up in the things that are on paper, but the reality of it is you have to go out and play. Once we get out on the field, anything can happen.
“Always look at it as who’s the best on that day because on any given day, anybody can beat you. You can take the worst team in baseball and put them against the best team in baseball, and they could lose that day.”
But that’s a story to look at in a few days. There will be plenty of time to look ahead to what will be a thriller of a World Series in a week’s time. Now is the time to celebrate and reflect.
And this celebration, in particular, is just that little bit sweeter because of the incredible comeback story that this team has been on since those dark days of May.
“100 percent,” Martinez responded. “I’ve been through a lot of stuff in my career -- Game 162, Game 163, World Series in ‘08, 2016, 108 years waiting to get -- but this right here, to me, tops everything I’ve ever been through.
“I mean, I’m so proud of the guys, honestly. They could have folded. They didn’t.”
It’s time for D.C. to enjoy this. It’s been a long time coming for The District and it happened in one of the most dramatic turnarounds that could have been dreamed up.
Once the hangover passes, just remember, in one week, the Nationals will be gearing up for their first Fall Classic, hoping to pull off one last miracle in their season of miracles.