As Ryan Zimmerman recorded the last out of the Washington Nationals’ season early Saturday morning, my legs gave out. I sunk into my seat, as others around me processed in their own way what had just happened.
Some applauded, showing their support to the overall effort Washington had put forth this year. Some booed. Most just silently turned and began walking toward the aisle.
I sat. No thoughts went through my head. No what-ifs, or what-now’s. I just sat and felt the pain shoot deep through my veins. I had been standing for hours. First with joy, then in support, and finally with angst. I was exhausted, I couldn’t and wouldn’t budge. I had no way of convincing myself of some manufactured positive notion of the outcome of the game, as others had. I just sat there and took it in. I let it burn.
My entire section aside from my girlfriend and I eventually had made their way up the steps to exit the stadium. Nearly 46,000, all dressed in red and white had evacuated Nats Park almost as quickly as the hopes of a National League Championship Series appearance had left our hearts. Not me. I just sat there and stared, motionless, at the field.
An usher came by and told us we’d have to leave. This was the same woman who had earlier told our section we had to sit down when Gio Gonzalez was setting up a payoff pitch to end an inning. I ignored her. I just stared.
I could feel my phone buzzing in my pocket. Surely the result of texts and tweets. Some from friends of mine, or fans of the blog. Some from jerks that I went to college with who for some reason wanted to make me feel worse in this moment than I alredy did. I didn’t look.
Soon the lights at Nats Park started incrementally shutting off. A perfect allegory for the light of hope that the Nationals had filled the city of Washington with over the course of the summer. As the last lights flickered out, two more ushers came by and told us that the park would be closing, and that we would simply have to leave. I stood up, didn’t say a word, and made my way toward the Metro for the longest ride home of my entire life.
I woke up this morning and gazed at the ceiling for a good hour. I kept replaying the ninth inning over and over in my head. Why did they just give the Cardinals second base twice in that inning? Especially when they represented the tying and go-ahead runs? How tiny was the strike zone that Drew Storen was pitching to? How could the Nats not have just gotten one-more strike, one-more out?
In the end it didn’t matter. This isn’t a question game. It’s just a fact. The Nationals, who skyrocketed to the top of baseball faster than nearly any team that has ever played the game, came crashing back down last night in one of the worst meltdowns in postseason history. And it hurts. It hurts a lot.
I’ve been thinking about this all day now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that if there is any silver lining for what happened this series it’s that we simply got to feel what this pain is like. In many ways, we were spoiled this season. We went from so bad, to so good, so quickly, that some of us simply took for granted what its like to struggle your way to the top.
Oh, Nats fans have struggled in the past, for sure. For half a decade we were the worst team in baseball. But that pain is very different from the pain we all felt last night. That pain is a longing, a lightless hope that you hold anyway despite any reasonable common sense. This pain, however, is a dagger. Nats fans allowed their hopes to fly unguarded into the night as the team’s ace started the game looking like he would pitch a shutout, and the team’s lineup mashed the ball in a way they hadn’t done since August. That utter Joy disappeared in a span of 40 minutes, and the season ended in the blink of an eye.
So let it burn Nats fans. Feel this pain. Remember this pain. If for no other reason than that sometimes you can’t really appreciate how much you love something until it is taken away from you. Let this pain build your passion. Let this pain grow your love for this team, and let this pain serve as a constant reminder that nothing as a fan is ever guaranteed, which means that every single thing you are given is a gift.
Remember how low this low feels, so that someday, whether it be next year or decades from now…you can really understand how good the high is.
This will hurt for a while, but just like the O's this was a learning experience for a very young club. I believe you will be celebrating a World Series victory in Washington sooner than later due to the great young talent your team has. I am also impressed with the Nats fans who aren't blaming other external issues for their loss and giving credit where credit is due (MUCH different from the uneducated Atlanta fans). Go beat out Atlanta next year and hopefully you will get another shot at the Cardinals next year.
I was there, too, and was there the day before. What a difference. I was stunned and didn't move for awhile either. You captured the pain pretty well. I made myself go to a movie yesterday to stop thinking about it for a while.
The frustration with the "tiny strike zone" was that it was a strike zone only for Drew. The CW that is being bandied about in St. Louis is that the zone frustrated the Nats because it was different from the day before -- the Cards adapted and we didn't. If that were the case, I'd be OK with that. BUT, THAT'S NOT THE CASE. Marquez actually called an accurate to loose game through the 9th - mostly accurate, with the exception of a little bit of room on the black, esp for low and high pitches. In the 9th for Drew and ONLY FOR DREW, the low strike in the zone went away. That should have been strike 1 on about 3 batters, but Drew started Ball 1 and was always behind. THEN, on several strike 2 and (what should have been strike 3) counts, the bit of room on the black went away. Drew was defenseless -- McCatty told him not to be so fine with his pitches and then crack -- hard hit ball off Desi to tie and then crack, hard hit single to right. No way anyone should doubt Drew as a closer because of this. 999 times out 1,000, he gets most of those strikes 1, 2, and 3, and we win. Drew is still the man.
I'll handle a loss, but only a fair one. Did the ump not want to decide the game based on a called strike? Had the Cards pressured him because Drew got some (within the game consistent) latitude in Game 1? Either way, Drew had not chance. The umps handed the Cards the Wild Card and then handed them the series against us.
If it's any consolation, I know exactly how you feel...brings back memories of 26 years ago, a little bouncer to first. Here's a warning, the flashbacks NEVER go away...
Well-written. This sums up my experience as well, though I slumped in my seat silent after the score went 9-7 in the 9th. And I had no words either. Just stunned. So close.
I was there. The single cruelest experience I've had at any sporting event in my nearly 50 years on the planet.
@NormanPlant Yeah, I was there for Game 4 also. What a great night. What a difference.
@JadedPearls Idk man, it seemed like Drew JUST missed...like, they had unworldly pate discipline. If anything, i though that the stl hitter (don't remember who, maybe Molina) went on that check swing.
@JadedPearls Can't really comment as I couldn't really see the zone from where we were sitting...but it seemed like he was getting squeezed. Did replay show this?