By the time media members entered the Nationals clubhouse around 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Brian Dozier had already taken off his shirt. Sean Doolittle, a Star Wars fanatic, was in the middle of a dance circle, pumping the blue lightsaber he keeps in his locker high in the air. Ryan Zimmerman, who has been with the Nationals since the franchise returned to D.C. in 2005,calmly walked by the champagne showers while sipping on a bottle of Bud Light.
Exactly one week after celebrating the euphoria of clinching a National League wild-card spot, the Nationals found a reason to celebrate again. They rallied to beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 4-3, to advance to play the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series.
The team won in the most dramatic of ways, scoring three runs in the eighth inning against Brewers reliever Josh Hader to send the announced sold-out crowd of 42,993 into a beer-throwing frenzy.
“I don’t know, man,” Doolittle replied when asked how the team keeps winning in clutch games. “I was going to say that we really know how to use the force. I dunno. I think that going through what we went through in the beginning part of the season, we had to come together as a group, as a team. I know that sound so cliché, but like, we stuck together. There could’ve been a lot of finger pointing. There could’ve been a lot of back and forth, but there wasn’t, man … I don’t know if we win a game like tonight without having gone through some of that adversity.”
It’s been well documented that the Nats began the season 19-31 and reached what manager Dave Martinez called the “bottom” on May 24 after the team got swept by the New York Mets. The Nats have now won their last nine games.
Doolittle called Tuesday’s wild-card game “a microcosm of our season.” “The game played out is kinda similar to how our season’s played out,” Zimmerman said.
A few months ago, the events of the past week would’ve been incomprehensible.
“To the outside world, the world was coming to the end for the Nationals and we kinda got in our little cocoon here in Washington with this team and kinda grinded it out,” general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters in the booze-soaked clubhouse. “I feel good about this team. I think it’s a character team.”
In the first two innings on Tuesday, pitcher Max Scherzer gave up two home runs as the Brewers went up 3-0. A Trea Turner homer cut the lead by two, but the Nats would not score for the next five innings. Even the Nats presidents race in the middle of the fourth inning elicited boos from fans after the PA system went out, likely due to an issue with the stadium’s fire alarm.
The lack of momentum sucked the energy out of the fans, who only came alive with “MVP” chants when third baseman Anthony Rendon stepped to the plate.
Then came the eighth inning.
After Turner struck out, Zimmerman kept hopes alive with a single into center field. Rendon followed by drawing a walk to load the bases. Soto then hit a line drive that rolled under the glove of Brewers right fielder Trent Grisham, allowing Michael A. Taylor, pinch runner Andrew Stevenson, and Rendon to score.
“There’s just been this feeling of relax over like two or three months of the season, where you’re not exactly sure how it’s going to happen, but there’s a feeling we’re going to find a way to win,” Doolittle explained. “We had that optimism, we had that confidence that we’ve had the entire back half of the season.”
As fireworks lit up the sky at the end of the game, a Nationals fan in the 300 section shouted, “We want the Dodgers!” Further down the stadium, another fan admonished those who left early. “If you left early, you blew it!” he screamed.
Luckily for them, the Nats are still alive. Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-five NLDS will be tomorrow and Friday in Los Angeles. The team will play Game 3 at Nats Park on Sunday.
“It’s the funnest team I’ve been on,” Dozier said while watching his teammates dance in the clubhouse. “As you can see, we do a lot of crazy stuff, but at the end of the day we’re all winners, and I think it showed tonight.”