Beautiful Beginning on a Hopeful Journey
The weather was a little cool, but the crispness of the day made the grass all the greener. The sun was shining brightly and the first post-season game played at Nationals Park could not have started under better conditions. The stadium was awash in a sea of red as Nat-ily attired fans sported crimson colored Nationals swag and waved scarlet rally rags. The crowd of 45,000–standing room only–was there to see a historic beginning, to plant this newest flag of DC baseball back in the land of the post-season.
Since the Expos removed to Washington in 2005, there has been scant hope for a playoff game in the nation’s capital. There have been loyal fans who have followed the rise of minor league prospects, but there was little warning that the “tomorrow” they were awaiting anxiously had arrived in the spring of 2012. But here we all are six months later, 98 wins to the good trying to prove to the Cardinals–one of the great franchises in the history of the game–that Washington belongs in their elite company.
The Cardinals are the reigning World Champions, but that hasn’t mattered for much in the playoffs unless you are the New York Yankees. Yet when Edwin Jackson let fly with the first pitch of the game, it was hard not to think about all of the great Cardinal teams, as well as all of the players up and down their current lineup that have played in many an October match up. St. Louis has been in the playoffs seven of the last ten years. They have made it to the World Series three times and won twice.
Yet it was only one of their veterans that mattered yesterday: Chris Carpenter. The 37-year old work horse has started 15 post-season games since Washington fielded their first team in 2005. But he managed only three starts in an injury-marred 2012 season. Not to worry, he managed to keep the Nationals hitters off-balance for almost six innings. The St. Louis bullpen was equally efficient and the Nationals could solve none of the four pitchers that fashioned an 8-0 shutout.
By contrast, the Cardinal lineup lit up Edwin Jackson early and often and the St. Louis hitters had equal ease with our bullpen as they banged out fourteen hits. The team with the best run differential in 2012 has been outscored 22-7 over three games. It is tough to win when you neither pitch nor hit well.
Yes the Nationals miss Stephen Strasburg, but that is a topic for another day. Davey Johnson has said that the extra days of rest has bothered his starters, but the bullpen has been little better. To the un-trained eye, the inability of Washington pitchers to get anything other than a fastball over the plate has been the culprit.
This is the same team that crowed about its average fastball velocity being the best in baseball. And yes the Nationals pitchers can throw hard. But St. Louis has proven to be a fastball hitting team–which is not exactly a rarity. Edwin Jackson was throwing much harder than Chris Carpenter, and when the Cardinals made contact with Jackson’s pitches, they were likewise travelling much faster than Carpenter’s.
Washington fans have known so much disappointment over the years. They have watched teams leave town twice. They have traveled to Baltimore in a vain attempt to claim a team that is not their own. We should be prepared to lose the first playoff game at Nationals Park, but it was still a bitter pill.
Still, there is another day. The Nationals send out Ross Detwiler to challenge the Cardinal hitters. If he tries to throw the ball past the Cardinal hitters it will be the same long day that Jordan Zimmerman and Edwin Jackson had. But there is always hope. That precious commodity got us through thirty-three seasons without baseball and through the years of waiting for these Washington Nationals to finally field a winner. We have been waiting a long time, so what is another day in the scheme of things? It is just a chance for a new beginning. And that is always a good thing.
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