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As players sprinted onto the grass infield and fireworks blasted high above Nationals Park at 11:08 p.m. on a crisp, fall evening, the past miseries of being of Nationals fan receded further into history. The 19-31 start. The struggling bullpen. The calls for the manager to be fired. The loss of a young superstar to a division rival. And those are just moments from the last eight months.
Instead, a feeling of hope and euphoria—of joy and possibilities—replaced those memories.
“Often bumpy roads lead to beautiful places,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez shouted into a microphone, “and this is a beautiful place!”
Martinez hasn’t been in the city for long, but his words resonated with the 43,976 fans in attendance on Tuesday night in Southeast D.C. Few, if any, dared to leave after the final out as the Nationals beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 7-4, to sweep the National League Championship Series in four games.
Fans had just witnessed history. For the first time since 1933, a baseball team in D.C. is going to the World Series. The commute home could wait a little longer.
“Started the way we started and finished the way finished. I couldn’t be prouder of any team I’ve ever been associated with,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters on the infield shortly after the game, “and it’s good to capture it here in front of crazy 44,000 fans here tonight.”
The Nationals, wearing their lucky Navy blue uniforms, scored all seven of their runs in the first inning.
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“I mention it all the time before the games, hey, let’s go out there, and let’s go first, especially in these games like that,” Martinez said after the game. “And they came out, and I mean, we started swinging the bats from the get go.”
The Nationals’ struggles in the playoffs have been well documented. They’ve become part of the lore of D.C. sports. Before Tuesday, the Nats hadn’t made it past the divisional series since baseball returned to the city in 2005, losing in the decisive Game 5 three separate times.
This team wasn’t even supposed to be in the playoffs, not with the way it played in the first three months of the season. But the players maintained their trust in Martinez and earned a wild-card berth against the Milwaukee Brewers with a late-season push. They then faced the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers, winners of the National League-leading 106 games in the regular season, and beat them in five games.
Against the favored Cardinals, the Nats offense came alive and their dominant pitching rotation shut down the feared St. Louis lineup.
“We have come up just an inch short so many times and I’ve been a part of that and been on the losing end and it’s just a gut punch every single time,” Max Scherzer said. “So when we can finally do it, the way we handled business against the Brewers, the Dodgers, and Cardinals, just great, great ball clubs in the National League, to finally punch through, it’s just an ultimate feeling that you can’t describe.”
When the remix of the song, “Calma,” by Pedro Capó and Farruko came on, TV cameras and reporters rushed over to capture a shirtless Dozier dancing along.
The Nats hope they have one more boozed-soaked celebration left this season. It would mean a World Series title.
“I feel like a wet dog right now,” Martinez joked in his press conference. “I ain’t going to lie to you. Every one gets better and better. You can never get enough. I told the boys, one more. Let’s have one more champagne pop, and it will be a lot more gratifying than this one.”