Dear Washington Nationals, you had ONE job: Beating the Chicago Cubs, signed St. Louis Cardinals fans.
On the fifth anniversary of the team from our nation’s capitol’s epic choke against the Redbirds, the Nats found a way to torture their fans once again, coughing up a deciding game of a playoff series despite a large early lead.
Washington seemed well on its way to victory Thursday night when a three-run homer from its eighth-place hitter staked D.C. to a 4-1 lead in front of a delighted home crowd. But I never got too comfortable about the circumstances, remembering that in Game 5 of the 2010 National League Division Series, the Nationals bombed St. Louis for six runs in the first three innings before letting it slip away.
To this day, for some reason, utility player Pete Kozma (who was eventually run out of St. Louis for his poor hitting) is vilified in Nationals country for a timely, two-out double in the top of the ninth that led the Cardinals to a 9-7 victory. Never mind that fellow light-hitting utility infielder Daniel Descalso also hit a key double abd a home run to contribute to the come-from-behind win.
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I guess it’s easier to blame someone else than it is to blame yourself when you lose. But it’s at least got some comedic value to see Kozma booed every time he steps to the plate in Washington. But the Nationals seem like the perfect example of a top-heavy team that can rack up big win totals in the regular season but that fails to have the role players who can get the job done in the late innings of an all-or-nothing game.
In that game, half a decade ago, the Cardinals were able to overcome a star-studded Nationals roster that included Bryce Harper, Jayson Worth, Ryan Zimmerman and a killer starting rotation by pecking away to get back in the game and then brutalizing the Washington bullpen. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Gio Gonzalez, who started against the Cardinals five years ago in that fateful game, started against the Cubs again on Thursday. Despite a record of 15-9 with a 2.96 ERA during the regular season, Gonzalez was ineffective when it counted. He was chased from the game after allowing three runs in three innings and then it was up to the bullpen to hold the line.
It couldn’t. Pressed into emergency duty in the fifth inning, the richest pitcher in baseball, Max Scherzer, surrendered four runs to let things get out of control. After that experiment failed, the Cubs were able to tack on two more runs against a pair of traditional relievers.
In short, the Nationals, who are run by former Cubs skipper Dusty Baker (at least for the moment) out-Cubbed the Cubs. They spent a ton of money to put together a flashy regular-season team that disappoints in the playoffs time and time again.
At least the Cubs developed their “lovable losers” label out of that sort of play for 108 seasons. The Nationals, a modern team with all the advantages of a fancy ballpark, a big television contract and ownership with deep pockets, have never managed to win a single playoff series. Incredible.
Now the Cubs move on to face a team that is probably the biggest disappointment in baseball history. The Brooklyn Dodgers often were to the New York Yankees in the World Series what the Washington Generals were to the Harlem Globetrotters. Even after their move to LA, the Dodgers have been prone to disappoint, failing to win a pennant for 29 years despite a huge payroll playing in the second-largest market in the United States. Over the past 35 years, the Dodgers are 6-10 in playoff series.
So this is what Major League Baseball has come to: The two biggest punching bags in the history of the postseason facing off for the right to represent the Senior Circuit in the World Series. Yuck.
The only shock is that the Cleveland Indians, who haven’t won a Fall Classic since 1948, the longest active drought since the Cubs, Red Sox and White Sox snapped their dry spells, lost to the Yankees to eliminate the chance that they would be waiting to play the winner of the National League Championship Series.
Folks in the St. Louis Cardinals front office can’t allow this to stand. Get out there this winter and do something to return the pecking order in the NL to its natural state.