After an 86-year wait, the World Series comes to Washington

There have been 4,183 major league baseball games played in the District of Columbia since 1934. Long-gone Griffith Stadium hosted 2,150 of those through the 1961 season, with RFK Stadium opening in 1962 and hosting 1,047 games through the 2007 season (with, of course, a 33-year gap in the middle of all that). And then Nationals Park opened in 2008 and has since been the site of 986 ballgames, 16 of those coming in the postseason.

None of those previous games, not one, was played this late in October. None of them was played with this much at stake. Because none of them was a World Series game.

nats-park-crowd.pngSo that’s the backdrop for this weekend’s proceedings on South Capitol Street, beginning with Game 3 tonight against the Astros. The overwhelming majority of folks in attendance will have never experienced anything like this before.

Then throw in the fact the Nationals already won Games 1 and 2 in Houston and now have a not-insignificant chance of winning two more games in the next three nights to earn the city’s first World Series championship since 1924.

Stop and consider all that for a moment. Are you having a difficult time comprehending it? You’re probably not alone.

If you’ve been a baseball fan in this town for any length of time, you’ve known far more heartache than joy.

Maybe you’re old enough to have gone to Senators games at either Griffith or RFK, rooting for teams that never seriously threatened to be anything more than lovable losers.

Maybe you came of age during that dark period from 1972-2004 when there was no baseball in D.C., only a few fleeting dreams of luring the Padres or the Astros or an expansion team to town, none of which ever came true.

Maybe you fell in love with the sport again during the summer of 2005, when a low-budget but highly entertaining group of former Expos surprised everyone with an improbable first-half run to the top of the National League East, only to collapse after the All-Star break and finish its inaugural season with a .500 record.

Maybe you were excited to check out the $611 million ballpark along the Anacostia River when it opened in 2008 and was christened by a young third baseman with a walk-off homer on opening night, only to suffer through a 102-loss season followed by a 103-loss season.

Maybe you didn’t really get into the Nats until 2012, when a 19-year-old phenom burst onto the scene and a 33-year-old former World Series champ provided what stood for a long time as the greatest moment in club history ... only to have that joyous blast ruined 24 hours later by the worst moment in club history.

Maybe you allowed yourself to believe in the 2014, 2016 and 2017 versions of this team, all seemingly championship-caliber, all destined to lose in agonizing fashion in October.

And maybe because of all that history, you remained skeptical throughout this current baseball season. Maybe you gave up on the Nationals on May 23. Maybe you didn’t fully buy into them even when they got hot for four months, insisting it wouldn’t matter in the end because they weren’t capable of beating good teams when it really counted.

But then maybe, just maybe, you watched Juan Soto’s eighth-inning single off Josh Hader find grass in shallow right field and then improbably skip past Trent Grisham to set off the loudest 1-2 punch of a roar Nationals Park has ever experienced, and maybe you began to believe.

Maybe you watched Soto and Anthony Rendon homer off Clayton Kershaw, and then saw Howie Kendrick launch a grand slam off Joe Kelly at Dodger Stadium and you realized this time was going to be different.

And maybe you cheered over and over as a parade of Nationals crossed the plate during a seven-run first inning 10 days ago and didn’t even get too nervous when the Cardinals eventually brought the go-ahead run to the plate. No, you knew history wasn’t going to repeat itself that night, and so you cheered your heart out as the final out settled into Victor Robles’ glove, as red fireworks shot from the stadium roof and a temporary stage was wheeled out from behind the center field wall for a trophy presentation.

And maybe the prospect of facing Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander on back-to-back nights in Houston seemed daunting, but then you remembered the prospect of facing Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg had to seem just as daunting for the Astros. And when Ryan Zimmerman homered to center and Soto homered onto the train tracks and Kurt Suzuki gave the Nats the lead and a 107-win juggernaut became discombobulated in an instant, you finally understood what it felt like to see your team - not someone else’s team - seize control of a World Series.

So when you take your seat tonight - whether in Section 317, your living room or a local watering hole - and you see Chad Cordero take the mound to throw the ceremonial first pitch to Brian Schneider, and when you see Aníbal Sánchez release a few butterflies toward George Springer and Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, and when you see Trea Turner reach base to lead off an inning and Adam Eaton square around to bunt and Rendon and Soto try to drive them in, and when you see Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson enter from the bullpen to try to lock up another curly W, you’ll know it means so much more because of all of your baseball experiences in this town before tonight.

Perhaps, if the stars align just right, you’ll get to be part of the ultimate celebration either Saturday or Sunday night. Or perhaps you’ll have to wait until next week and watch it unfold from afar.

Or perhaps the Astros will do what the 1985 Royals, 1986 Mets and 1996 Yankees did and come back to win the World Series after losing Games 1 and 2 at home, and you’ll understand a whole new definition of heartbreak.

But no matter how this thing turns out, whether it’s a parade or a long winter spent wondering what if, you’ll never forget this season, this October and this weekend.

This is what you’ve always wanted, right? A World Series in Washington.

Enjoy the show.

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