WASHINGTON – Veteran players Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross opted out – while fans of the Nationals were locked out of the 2020 season with no voice in the matter.
Some 66 days after the Nationals opened the season here at the Navy Yard complex against the New York Yankees, the 60-game, pandemic-induced campaign came to a merciful end here Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.
Perhaps it was fitting that the opponent this time was the other New York team. The hapless Mets, whose announcers seem to take pleasure in Nationals’ shortcomings, were eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday evening and then were blasted 15-5 on Sunday.
It was the thrilling 11-10 win, with seven runs in the last of the ninth against the Mets nearly a year ago, that helped propel the Nationals to a magical fall. They raised a World Series banner at Nationals Park on Opening Night July 23 – but there were no fans there to watch.
“You always look forward to celebrating any championship with the fans,” pitching coach Paul Menhart told Federal Baseball. “We could not have won it without them. They could have been there if the safety protocols were a little bit different. We truly do miss them.”
Nationals’ fan Gerald Novak, 47, a resident of nearby Cheverly, Maryland, attended his first game at RFK Stadium in 2005 and has gone to several games a year ever since. He was in the stands last October when the Nationals beat the Brewers in the wild-card game.
“I feel bad they did not have a chance to play in front of fans as the defending champs,” Novak said.
“The next time the fans enter the stadium they will not be the defending champs. I feel bad for them in that sense.”
Novak has attended games with wife and two children and with co-workers at Nationals Park. He works nearby as he plays the percussion in the United States Marine Band that has performed on the field in the past at Nationals Park.
The native of New Mexico said he continued to watch games on television this season. “My viewing has been about the same as quote ‘normal years’,” Novak said.
Jason Yanussi, 45, another Nationals’ fan in Maryland, was on hand for the first and last game at RFK Stadium, the first game at Nationals Park in 2008 when Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off homer and the walk-off blast by Jayson Werth in the 2012 Game 4 playoff victory against the Cardinals.
“It has been a little hard,” to follow the team this year, he said in a telephone interview during Sunday’s game. “The fact they are not winning and won’t be in the playoffs makes it difficult.”
He shares season tickets in Section 210 with friends and plans to be there in 2021.
His seats sat empty here on Sunday on an overcast day – just as they were empty all year.
Exactly a year ago, on Sept. 27, 2019, the Nationals won their sixth game in a row at home over Cleveland before nearly 28,000 fans in a stretch where the D.C. Nine won eight straight to end regular-season play. They won 93 games as more than 2.2 million saw the Nats play at home last year.
Veteran outfielder Adam Eaton, who ended this year on the Injured List with no guarantee he will return, said a few days ago he felt “cheated” about the lack of a victory lap for the team this year.
“The fans, they’re the ones that really got cheated,” said manager Dave Martinez, who signed a contract extension Saturday.
“We absolutely do” feel cheated, said Yanussi, who grew up a Yankees’ fan in New Jersey. “But we don’t blame anybody for it.”
Yes, the team was able to celebrate with its fans on a victory parade in downtown Washington in early November.
And Nationals Park hosted the annual Winterfest in early January then some fans made the journey to south Florida to watch Spring Training games in early March.
Then came the pandemic that shut down Spring Training in mid-March – and eventually led to Major League Baseball not allowing any fans at regular-season games.
Then the Nationals under-performed, didn’t make any trades at the deadline, and several key players were injured.
“There’s a lot, and like I said, good and bad, you just kind of reflect on the good stuff and try to learn from all the bad stuff that happened or you did or whatnot, and you go from there and try to get better,” said reliever and Virginia native Daniel Hudson, who recorded the final out in Game 7 of the World Series last October.
Martinez, whose birthday was Saturday, the day he signed his contract extension, on Sunday became the first Nationals’ manager to complete three seasons in a row.
“We had a lot of bumps in the road this year,” Martinez told reporters. “But I really, fully believe, we’ve got the core guys here that we need to win another championship.”
The Nationals ended this year 26-34 – even the hapless Marlins are going to the playoffs while the defending champs will have to watch from home.
“I will watch because I love it,” said Menhart, who will drive home to Georgia in the next few hours.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” general manager Mike Rizzo said of 2021.
The only trace of fans here Sunday were those shown via Zoom on the scoreboard after another run by the home team.
A few fans on the rooftop of an apartment building yelled encouragement to shortstop Trea Turner after trying to make a circus play late in the game, and with rookie second baseman Luis Garcia at the plate in the eighth.
There was some good news as Juan Soto, who began the year on COVID IL, locked down a batting title.
“What can you say about Juan Soto? He comes every day ready to play,” Martinez said after Sunday’s game. “You have not seen the best of Juan Soto. He’s good, he’s really good. He wants to get better. He worked himself diligently to get ready.”
Laura Peebles, a fan of the team who lives in Arlington, Va., writes a short poem after each game on Twitter.
Steaveaux goes out with a bang:
Two hits, three RBIs.
11 hits, 11 walks(!)
Nats Beat Mets, 15-5!
Voth gave up four: who really cares
Since Nats scored all those runs.
Soto batting champion:
Closed year at .351!