Going into the eighth inning of this particular game, it seemed like we were witnessing the sequel to a sad series of short stories that summed up the postseason history of the Washington Nationals. Every time the Nationals have made it to the playoffs, they’ve had lofty expectations and every year, it seemed like they’d slip up as soon they got out of the starting blocks.
For the first 16 innings of this series against the Cubs, it sure looked like we were witnessing another chapter in that tragic novella. Sure, the Nats picked up a solo home run from Anthony Rendon in the first inning to go ahead early in Game 2, but Wilson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo fired back with dingers of their own in the second and fourth innings, respectively, to put the Cubs in front.
The fifth inning brought about a pivotal moment for the Nationals. Jon Lester has had a rollercoaster season, often plagued by one big inning causing him a world of hurt, and it appeared that the fifth inning was going to be that frame in this game.
A wild pitch and two walks later, the Nationals had the bases loaded with two outs and Trea Turner at bat. It looked like all the Nats needed was a hit to break things open and give Lester another disastrous inning to add to his collection.
There was no reason for Turner to chase that pitch, but he did and the Nationals came away from that inning empty handed. Nationals Park was once again devoid of energy. Lester was done after the sixth inning, and I’d imagine that the main story would have been Lester managing to avoid disaster and the Nationals staying on the mat after being knocked down once again.
However, the author decided that it was time to put a twist in the story for a change. The Nationals may be used to postseason failure, but 12-year veteran Adam Lind is new to all of this stuff, so he just went to the plate, got a pinch-hit, then went back to the dugout after getting his first taste of the playoffs as the rally began.
Well, the rally didn’t begin as much as it exploded into life thanks to the efforts from none other than the shining talisman of the Nationals himself, Bryce Harper. It’s probably a bad idea to hang a curveball high in the zone to any major-league hitter. If you do it to Bryce Harper, then you’re just asking for the ball to be put into orbit.
There’s no need to even look at where this landed. As soon as Harper made contact with that majestic swing of his, you knew where that ball was going and that the complexion of the game had completely changed.
A walk, a pitching change, and a single later, Ryan Zimmerman came up. If Harper’s homer brought the Nationals back to life, then Zimmerman’s fly ball that magically turned into a three-run home run was a shot of adrenaline that turned Nationals Park into the loudest gathering on the eastern seaboard.
Sixteen innings of doom and doldrums turned into joy and jubilee for Washington after that pivotal eighth inning. If the Nationals had to go to Chicago to attempt to dethrone the defending champions while down two games in a five-game series, that would’ve been a recipe for disaster and the once-likely extension of that same old sad story.
Instead, the Nationals have decided that the same old story isn’t good enough anymore. They’ll still have a tall task ahead of them, but they’ve got life now—plus Max Scherzer on the mound for Game 3—and they also have the hope that things won’t be the same this time around.