Ever since the incredible 2005 Inaugural Season, Washington Nationals fans have been in search of something on the field to cheer for. Except for a few incredible RFK and Nationals Park moments, including Opening Days 2005 and 2008 and Stephen Strasburg's first MLB start, the Nats haven't really been able to produce that feeling for its fans. On Sunday, September 25, 2011, they were able to do just that. The Nats finished their home season with a 44-36 record at home, which is the best in team history. With the team's 44th win, they really showed what the Nats and their fans are capable of in years to come.
From Ross Detwiler's first pitch, he showed that he was ready to close out Nationals Park for the season. He got into a little trouble in the 3rd and 5th innings, but it wasn't enough to stop him from having a line that looked like a starter who could make the 2012 pitching rotation: 6 IP, 0 runs, 4 hits, 4 K, 2 BB. His defense helped the cause several times, and one of biggest was an incredible throw from Jonny Gomes in the 3rd inning to prevent David Ross from scoring.
Wilson Ramos hit a big home run to give the Nats the lead in the 4th, but it was Michael Morse's 2-run home run in the 7th for his 29th on the season that caused Nationals Park to take on a life of its own. In the top of the 7th, Henry Rodriguez started the buzz with his incredible performance. He struck out all 3 batters he faced, one looking, and hit at least 100 mph on the gun at the Park with more than half of his pitches. He located those pitches too, which is what he's struggled with most all year.
Tyler Clippard was, well, Tyler Clippard. He shut down the Braves in the 8th, and Drew Storen did the same in the 9th for his 42nd save. That ties the young closer for 6th in saves among all Major League closers. The Nationals have something special going on in the back end of their bullpen; there's no doubt about that.
So what did this last home game of 2011 say about this team? That they're ready to make the leap to contender. They have clubhouse leaders in Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman; they have a pitching rotation in some combination of Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Dewiler, John Lannan, Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone, and Chien-Ming Wang; they have strong depth at most positions and have a good bullpen. Above all else, they have a fan base that's ready to explode to support a winning team. I have a feeling the Nats may just grant the fans their wish next season.
Before the year started I remember posting on Twitter that if the Nats signed LaRoche they could be a .500 ball club this year. If you would have told me that they'd lose LaRoche and Zimmerman (for an extended period of time) to injuries, and that Werth and Desmond would struggle immensely at the plate, yet still be close to that mark, I wouldn't believe it. This team definitely has resiliency.
Great post. I had no idea their home record was that good this season...what a ride it's been. Next year is going to be amazing.