WASHINGTON - What a difference a year makes.
And for the Washington Nationals, what a difference two years makes when it comes to a certain city in western Pennsylvania.
The Nationals, their playoff hopes long ago abandoned like a lost gold-rush town, will begin a three-game series in Pittsburgh on Friday.
Washington has not played at the home of the Pirates since August 2019 - when the wheels were greased for a historic World Series run.
The Nationals did not play in Pittsburgh last year since the 60-game schedule was reduced to games against Eastern division clubs.
In 2019, the Nationals were a pedestrian 67-56 when the team arrived in the Steel City to begin a series on Monday, August 19.
Two nights earlier, at Nationals Park, Washington lost 15-14 as reliever Sean Doolittle gave up four runs, including three homers, while recording just one out.
After winning the series finale that Sunday, the Nationals won the first game at Pittsburgh 13-0 as Juan Soto had four hits, Matt Adams - who went to Division II Slippery Rock in western Pennsylvania - drove in four runs and Asdrúbal Cabrera drove in five.
The winning pitcher was Javy Guerra, who threw 3.2 innings out of the bullpen in relief of starter Joe Ross - who gave up no runs in 3.1 innings.
The Nationals lost the second game 4-1 as reliever Wander Suero (three earned runs, no outs recorded) took the loss after Stephen Strasburg went seven scoreless innings.
“He was super fresh but he couldn’t find the strike zone,” manager Dave Martinez said of Suero after the game. Some things, it seems, don’t change.
Washington bounced back to take the next two games 11-1 and 7-1.
Cabrera had a three-run homer and Patrick Corbin went eight scoreless innings in the 11-1 victory.
In the series finale, starter Max Scherzer left after just four innings and giving up one run.
His health was a question mark as the team boarded a flight to Chicago the night of August 22 after he returned to the rotation after a mild back muscle strain.
“We will monitor his pitch count. I don’t know what the hard number” of pitches is, former pitching coach Paul Menhart told this reporter in Pittsburgh the day before Scherzer made his start against the Pirates. It turned out that number was 71 pitches.
The Nationals had a day game at Wrigley Field on August 23, and that scheduling situation was a sore point for players and others in the traveling party as the team arrived in the Windy City early that morning.
But as we now know, the Nationals swept the series in Chicago and were 73-57 and six games ahead in the National League East after that.
The rest, of course, is history. And the road to the World Series had a firm start in Pittsburgh.
“Doug Harris Sets Sights on Series Title” was a headline that ran that week in The Washington Times about Harris, a former assistant general manager for the team who was in Pittsburgh that week.
And those dreams did come true. Now the team is building for a future World Series run - this one may take some time.