The Nats players were pretty emotional after the loss to the Cubs knocked them out of the playoffs, as one could imagine.
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the longest-tenured National, reflected on what felt like an abrupt end to a winning campaign.
The Cubs came back from a 4-1 deficit to beat the Nats 9-8 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series Thursday night, winning the series 3-2. Chicago faces the Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday night in Game 1 of the League Championship Series.
The fifth inning was difficult for the Nats as they watched their ace pitcher, Max Scherzer, struggle to get one out after retiring the first batter he faced. The Cubs scored four runs in the inning to take the lead for good.
“It’s part of the game,” Zimmerman said. “I think everyone knows what Max has done for this team. Two outs, two strikes, and kind of a seeing-eye single up the middle. From there, things went haywire. Max is obviously unbelievable for this team and pitched great for this team. But it is what it is.”
Zimmerman said his club never gave up, despite being down 8-4. They managed to cut the lead to 9-8 in the eighth and had runners on base before Jose Lobaton was picked off first base.
“Crazy game. One of the craziest games I think I’ve ever been a part of,” Zimmerman said. “I’m proud of the way we battled back. It could’ve easily been when we were down 3-4-5 runs, I don’t even remember what it was right now, but this team has battled back all year like that. Crazy series, crazy game. I’m proud of this team. Obviously not the outcome we wanted, but what a group of guys.”
It had to be difficult for Zimmerman and his teammates, after the thrill of the home runs from Daniel Murphy and Michael A. Taylor that provided the 4-1 advantage early on, to see the Cubs retaliate with seven unanswered runs.
“It’s not the situation you want to be in, in Game 5, down that many runs in the middle of the game,” Zimmerman lamented. “But that’s the situation we were in. We were just telling each other to keep grinding, try to get a run or two here, a run or two there and get back to within striking distance. We did a great job of doing that. Then their guy comes in and pitches how many ever innings he pitched. You’ve got to give him some credit.”
But being the face of the franchise means Zimmerman has read the ending to this chapter before. In 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017 the Nats have failed to get out of the division series after winning the National League East.
Zimmerman has talked before about a season being a failure because the Nats did not reach their ultimate goal, even in seasons in which they won 95 or more games. But Zimmerman said this one feels a bit different because the Nats have now fallen short in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Perhaps that the club has become a consistent contender provides a glimmer of hope for the future.
“Obviously, right now it’s easy to say it’s a failure,” Zimmerman said. “Like I said earlier, it’s a failure for every team but one. I think we don’t need to lose sight of what this organization has done over the past five or six years. I think there’s a lot to be proud of. We all want to win. We all want to win the World Series. We all want to do this, that. But to be competitive, to do what we do every year, it’s a pretty special organization.”
And that’s the key point for Zimmerman in 2017: that now they have won their division and reached a Game 5 two seasons in a row. There is something to be said for that consistency, even if it isn’t the ultimate prize they seek.
“I’m not going to say it’s a successful season. Every year you win the division, I don’t think it’s a bad season. I think it just shows how far we’ve come when you win the division, you win almost 100 games, and you have to ask that question. So, I guess I’m proud you have to ask me that question. About five or six years ago, I never thought I’d be standing here doing this pretty much every year.”
And for Zimmerman personally, it was a bounceback-type campaign. Last year, he struggled with injuries and was limited to 115 regular season games. This season, he played 144 games and pushed his batting average from .218 to .303. His home run total jumped from 15 to a career-high 36. It is a credit to his hard work and determination that he was able to have a consistent season health-wise and return to form at the plate.
Unfortunately, the club was not consistent enough at the plate in this playoff series to win more than two games.