In the final installment of this series, we remember the best moment of the 2011 season: September 28th, 2011, when the Washington Nationals won their 80th game for just the 2nd time in team history and finished 3rd in the NL East.
This moment was a long time coming for Nats fans after the team failed to break 70 wins in the previous 3 seasons. Throughout the season, the Nats showed glimmers of brilliance, including their stretches that earned them 17-10 records in both June and September. The 17th win in September stands out for a few more reasons than the 17th win in June, though, and here's why.
1. This was the final game of the season, and the team was able to end their successful year on a positive note. To most fans, that 80th win brought their team to a level that most couldn't imagine on Opening Day. It left me with the feeling that if the Nats had just a few more weeks of games, they could push for the playoffs, and they'd certainly be above .500, not a game below because of a cancelled game against the Dodgers. This last game summed up the positive sentiments about the entire 2011 campaign.
2. Stephen Strasburg was on the mound for the last game of the season and the last ever baseball game at Sun Life Stadium. Strassy was able to land his 1st Curly W of the season after pitching 6 shutout innings where he struck out 10 Marlins and gave up just 1 hit. It was a nice prologue to his Opening Day start at Wrigley Field in Chicago on April 5, 2012, which is all but a lock at this point.
3. Drew Storen earned is 43rd save in his first full season as the Nationals closer. Former Manager Jim Riggleman was reluctant to name Storen his closer while he lead the team, but Manager Davey Johnson believes in roles for players, and Storen certainly earned his. The 43 saves were the 2nd most in team history to Chad Cordero's 47 in the Inaugural 2005 season. Here's hoping that Storen has earned the team's loyalty with this performance, and that he's immune to the same injuries that eventually plagued Cordero's career
This game left the best possible taste in the mouths of NatsTown to finish the season. The team showed that they can compete in the NL East, they beat a division rival, and it was the last game the Marlins would ever play there. It fueled the continued hope of improvement going into next season, and left fans fondly remembering the end of the 2011 season as perhaps the last season that the team will be below the .500 mark for some time.
Just remember, only 101 days until pitchers and catchers report to Viera for Spring Training. Those cold winter months can't pass quick enough.