The Nats’ First World Series Win: Cherish the Moment

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Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals hits a home run in Game 1 of the 2019 World Series. Courtesy MLB.

We won! Last night was the moment, when the Washington Nationals learned for sure that they were a National League Champion worthy of the name — that they could indeed beat anybody, anytime, and in many ways.

Forget everything else. Forget the latest impeachment inquiry testimony and the responses to them. Forget President Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Ukraine, or the latest people bearing witness behind closed doors, which used to be the title of a fairly good country music song. Forget the Duchess of Essex and the nearly unbearable lightness of being a royal. Forget about, let’s see, “Joker” or the news from Syria or California.

Forget, for a moment about the next game, when anything might happen, as it routinely does in baseball, as well as at presidential press conferences. Forget about it.

Think about and relish what happened last night. The Nats won! The Nats won, 5-4! Not in the ninth inning or the first inning, but everywhere in between.

Although you may not have been there in the flesh, it still might make you think of King Henry, known to some and Shakespeare as Harry, or simple “Henry V,”  urging on his nervous troops the night before Agincourt.

We many, and happy but not few, watched as the Nationals, fretful early and struggling, but fearless later, triumphed over the best pitcher in baseball and the best anointed but not yet best team in baseball. We watched a knotty win emerge like a frayed but sturdy string, as star pitcher Mad Max Scherzer groggily marched  through a five-inning stint and made him a world series winning pitcher.

But with a little (and a lot) of the kid Juan Soto in the night, a perfectly placed home run by the stoic Zimmerman, that dented the invincibility of Houston ace Gerrit Cole (18-0 since May and an Earned Run Average nearly invisible), the National rose to smite the Astros, then hang on for dear life and Doolittle to prevail, in the end of a very long night (the first two innings alone took an hour out of the Fox Network prime time).

This saga—it had its moments Shakespearean or Greek triumphant—played out as a near perfect illustration of what baseball, both in its historical sense and its modern presentation, is all about and why it remains in some ways the most affecting game of hearts and minds at work in a sea of spectacle and irrationality.

It is a game, for instance, both languid in pace and sudden in shifts and outcomes. Depending on how you watch the game—in a crowd of thousands, in a bar or on a big screen at Nats stadium, as many did here in Washington, or in the close-up comfort of home on a not-so-big screen—it can be a shared expression of feeling, of exultation triumph and devastating, sullen loss. Or it can be an up-close-and-personal look at how the game is actually played, with its replays and close-ups of the journey of pitched ball to home plate outward bound as a home run.

For baseball buffs, the game, however experienced, in the moment always has the weight of long-past or recent moments going in. Baseball has a literature, of quotes and box scores and statistics, but also of books and phrases and real lives lived large in fame, and movies wholly fictional and moving.

“Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” a dying Lou Gehrig announced before the microphone in Yankee Stadium (or was that Gary Cooper?). “Daddy, there’s a man in the field” from “Field of Dreams,” and “There’s no crying in baseball” from “A League of their Own.” There’s Robert Redford embodying Roy Hobbs in “The Natural,” or just simply, the umpire in Houston shooing away a ball out of the strike zone.

Those things come into play in the World Series and the fact that Nationals, finally on an improbably fairy tale ride into the championship series, had never won one, as well as the journey itself which had climaxed in a four-game mashing of a very good St. Louis Cardinal team.

Still and all, this epic started out with an epic inning that took 20 minutes to play. Mad Max was mad, but he was also struggling in an obviously torturous way. He gave up two runs in the first inning, missed the plate often and threw too many pitches, even as Cole seemed to cruise along, striking out Soto on three pitches first time around.

Scherzer kept working hard, pounding his glove, striking people out,  throwing into the dirt, with his catcher Kurt Suzuki making like a human backstop.

If Soto, who contributed another homer against Cole, and a decisive two-run double, emerged as the young hero and superstar to come, Scherzer’s long five-inning battle—he allowed no more runs and struck out seven—was equally important. It was the often amazing king of strikeouts notched down to human size, but prevailing, nevertheless.

Then, there was Doolittle, the reliever, called on to get the last four outs with a 5-4 lead. With his glasses and slightly out-of-kilter beard, Doolittle looks like the studious sort, weighing every pitch, lengthening the game, stretching the suspense.

He got the job done.

So did Zimmerman. So did Eaton. So did Scherzer and so did Soto.

So did they all. And so did we all. Cherish the moment.

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