Baseball is the most poetic of games. From the mad genius of Yogi Berra, to the innumerable platitudes that teach us the happenings on the diamond are a metaphor for life itself, there is no sport with quite as rich a history, or such a wealth of memorable characters and anecdotes. There is one saying, though, that never became gospel in the annals of America’s pastime, or at least in the minds of the Washington Nationals:
If you score 7 runs at home against Matt Harvey in a crucial, season-defining game, you’d better pull out a win.
Yes, folks, disappointment wore a big curly “W” in 2015 and at no point was that more painfully obvious than the night of September 8. On that fateful evening, I endeavored to attend my first Nationals game of the year, deciding that the magnitude of the contest was worth more than the pain I would endure waking up at 5 a.m. for work the next morning. This remarkable miscalculation yielded a Mourning After, and no amount of sleep would have repaired my shattered soul.
If you pay an inkling of attention to the enormously disappointing baseball team occupying southeast D.C., you are no doubt aware of the late-night massacre that took place that Tuesday night. The Nationals, in a pivotal game with the season quite literally in the balance, jumped to a 7-1 lead against the upstart New York Mets and their superlative star pitcher, Matt Harvey. A win would pull the Nats to within five games of the division lead—a large deficit, to be sure, but wholly surmountable given how many games were left in the season. A loss would all but cancel the postseason parade that so many predicted would march down South Capitol street.
Over a grueling final three innings, the Nats imploded in a way that is difficult to fully appreciate had you not been in the stands.
On stadiums, having the air sucked out of
I’ve seen my share of train wrecks on TV. I watched helplessly as Michael Vick turned into Dan Marino with wheels and torched the Redskins for 59 points on national television. I cringed as Damon Jones sunk the Wizards with a corner three in Game 6, and I fell to my knees in dismay when Jaroslav Halak impersonated a brick wall and singlehandedly eliminated the Capitals from the playoffs. More recently, I stood silently in the aftermath of an 18-inning assisted suicide attempt as the San Francisco Giants danced on the ghosts of Matt Williams’ decisions on the Nats home field.
But never in my 23 years have I experienced a feeling such as the malaise that settled over Nationals Park that warm September evening. Presence is exponentially more affecting than viewing, as this night proved. And when Williams lifted Jordan Zimermann with two outs in the sixth inning and a 3-1 lead, you could already feel a wave of unease wash over those in attendance. The Nationals had to have this game, and visions of Pete Kozma began dancing in my head. I presciently formed a picture in my mind of Drew Storen flailing on the mound in the deciding game of the 2012 playoffs. These fears were well-founded.
Blake Treinen, Felipe Rivero, and Storen combined to end the Nationals’ season, tossing up an inning that saw six walks, six earned runs, and 70 consecutive pitches without a swinging strike. The inning ended with the game tied 7-7, and the Mets golfed one out of the park against Jonathan Papelbon in the next inning to seal the deal.
Back to that seventh inning. Words escaped me that night. I’m generally stolid when watching sports, even when I’m at a live event, but I was getting excited for this. I was on my feet. It was a big game! And then there was a ball. And another. And another. And another. On and on, self-destruction the likes of which I had never seen in a professional setting. There were more groans in the park that evening than a Canadian comedy club. You know when announcers on TV proclaim that the home fans are starting to seem “restless?” Restless is underselling what I felt. Almost 40,000 people were collectively heartbroken, having been punched in the gut for an excruciating near-hour of incompetence.
Every time I attend a baseball game, I look to fulfill that old adage, “You never know what you’ll see when you come to the ballpark.” Michael Taylor’s little league grand slam early in the game should have been that moment; instead, it was a mere footnote. I witnessed, as I later surmised, the single worst regular season game in the history of the Washington Nationals.
What a time to be alive.
Moments matter to me. I value experiences over material possessions, so I will forever cherish what happened on September 8, 2015. The following morning, the Mourning After, I decided that I was lucky to have been there.
Why, David? Why were you lucky to have been at such a cataclysmic affair?
Because I will remember it. Forever.
I didn’t go to a game the Nationals won 7-3. I didn’t go to a game they lost 4-2. I attended the Worst Regular Season Loss in franchise history. And as a D.C. sports fan, that’s something special. It’s another piece of heartbreak I can file away in my ever-expanding junkyard of depressing memories. I’m not being sarcastic here, this is the complete and unvarnished truth: I’m happy I went to that game.
It put a cap on what is officially the most disappointing year of any sports team I have ever followed. The 2013 Nationals were a massive failure and the 2006 Redskins lived up to approximately zero expectations, but the 2015 Nationals were different brand of misery. Never have the stakes been so high, and the fall so great.
It’s years like this, folks, that make us proclaim to the heavens, “Next year, D.C.!”