With their 3-2 defeat of the Arizona Diamondbacks last evening, the Nationals became the second Nationals team to win nine games in a row. The 2009, 2011 and 2012 Nationals all won eight in a row, but only the 2005 team won as many as nine in a row when they won 10 in a row from June 2 to June 12. That Nationals team sat 2 1/2 games out of first place on June 2 and by the end of the streak had a 1 1/2-game lead in the division. The 2005 Nationals would hold onto first place all the way until July 26, when Andruw Jones would earn a walk-off off reliever Luis Ayala after he and Mike Stanton loaded the bases.
The story of the 2005 Nationals isn’t the second-half collapse, but instead the 10-game winning streak that captured the hearts and minds of the Washington fan base in that first season of baseball’s return to the District. The Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, weren’t supposed to be any good. They weren’t supposed to have a chance at anything but last place. And there was no chance they’d have a winning record for any part of the season.
The streak was part of a 13-game homestand in which the Nationals went 12-1, but all of this happened after they came limping home from a 2-7 road trip through Toronto, Cincinnati and St. Louis. It looked like the early surprise of an over .500 Nationals squad was over, and the other shoe was dropping. The 2005 Nationals were a team that played over their heads all season. In the first half, they had a knack for winning close games and earned the nickname of the one-run wonders. It would happen, as it does in baseball, that things evened out and that Nationals team ended up 30-31 in one run games.
The 2005 Nationals were a team built around pitching. They were lead by a strong starting rotation featuring Livan Hernandez, Esteban Loaiza and John Patterson, and a back of a bullpen of Luis Ayala, Hector Carrasco and “The Chief,” Chad Cordero. With the combination of a good front of the rotation and back of the bullpen, the 2005 Nationals would end up fourth in the National League in team ERA. But as good as the pitching was, the offense was bad and they would finish last in runs per game.
But for 10 days, from June 2 to June 12, that Nationals squad was unbeatable. The streak started modestly enough against the Atlanta Braves. Esteban Loaiza would outduel Horacio Ramirez, allowing two runs over six innings of work, but Gary Majewski would blow the save, allowing four runs in the top of the eight as Jones hit a sac fly and Johnny Estrada a bases-loaded bases-clearing double.
With how the Nationals scored that season, the game appeared over from there, but they would answer the very next half-inning as Brad Wilkerson walked but was erased on Jamey Carroll’s fielder’s choice. Jose Guillen would single followed by a run-scoring single off the bat of Carlos Baerga and a double by Vinny Castilla. With two runs scored and it now a one run game, backup catcher Gary Bennett would deliver the knockout bases-clearing double after an intentional walk to Marlon Byrd loaded the bases.
The 2005 Nationals would go on to sweep the still-Florida Marlins, Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners before the streak came to the end against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. During the streak, the Nationals won five one-run games and the last of those was the blueprint for how that team won. Tony Armas Jr. would pitch five scoreless innings before handing it over to the bullpen, and the Nationals offense scrapped out three runs off of Seattle starter Ryan Franklin coming off a Junior Spivey home run and Jamey Carroll single. The Seattle offense would score two off of Majewski, but Ayala would come in and strike out Michael Morse to end the threat in the seventh and go on to pitch a scoreless eighth before handing the ball over to Cordero for the ninth.
None of the players that played during that streak are still on the Nationals and few are even still in baseball. There was excitement about having a team back in Washington in 2005, but it was those 10 games that hooked people on the Nationals. They showed that they weren’t just here to play baseball but to compete. And as of this writing, it is the longest winning streak in Nationals history.
David Huzzard blogs about the Nationals at Citizens of Natstown. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHuzzard. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our regular roster of writers.