They hardly ever hold team meetings, and on those rare occasions when Davey Martinez does gather the Nationals together they keep what was said within what they like to refer as their “circle of trust.”
The second-year manager did, however, have a few words to share with his players following Saturday night’s 8-1 loss to the Astros, a loss that left the World Series tied after four games. And the basic message was simple, not needing to be withheld from public consumption.
“I just told the boys: ‘Hey, we’re in the World Series,’” Martinez shared. “We’re going to play Game 5, tied 2-2. Who would have thought that in the beginning?”
It’s a message that in a vacuum would’ve been wholeheartedly embraced by anybody who works or roots for the Nationals. It would’ve been embraced in March before the season began. It would’ve been embraced in May when things looked so dour. It would’ve been embraced in August as the playoff push kicked into high gear. And it would’ve been embraced at any point from Oct. 1-21, when the idea simply of reaching the World Series was reason for full-scale celebration.
Can it still be embraced now, though, after the Nationals turned a 2-0 series advantage into a 2-2 deadlock, winning twice on the road but then losing twice at home to spoil any hopes of winning the series in front of their own fans this weekend?
“I mean, it’s about perspective,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “If you feel that way, if people feel that way, then I feel like you’re only making it harder for yourself the next three games. If you look it as a three-game series to win a World Series, I would think every team in the MLB would take it and gladly play and have fun doing it.”
The Nationals do have a few things going for them. Most notably, they have Max Scherzer starting Game 5 tonight at home and Stephen Strasburg starting Game 6 on Tuesday in Houston. Those two aces have meant more toward the team’s success this month than anybody else.
When Scherzer and/or Strasburg have pitched this postseason, the Nationals have gone 8-0. When neither has pitched, they’ve gone 2-4. They’re guaranteed to each pitch at least once more. And if the series extends to a winner-take-all game Wednesday night, both would be available in some capacity in relief of Aníbal Sánchez.
“We feel good about the two guys going the next three days,” Turner said. “And if it has to go to a Game 7, we feel good about our third guy as well.”
Of course, the Astros deservedly feel good about their chances at this point. They’ve already clawed their way back from a 2-0 series deficit. Now they can send Gerrit Cole to the mound for Game 5 and Justin Verlander to the mound for Game 6, with Zack Greinke (and perhaps Cole again in relief) in line for a potential Game 7.
The best thing the Nationals could do to help their chances is to become the first home team to win a game in this series. This is only the fifth time in 115 World Series in which the road team has won each of the first four games, an oddity that previously occurred in 1906, 1923, 1986 and 1996. Only twice (1906 and 1996) has the road team won the first five games of a series. Never before has the streak reached Game 6.
The sellout crowd that packs Nationals Park tonight - with President Trump expected to be in attendance at some point after the game begins - won’t be quite as amped as it would’ve been if there was a chance of a series clinch.
“We’ve got to come out tomorrow and give the crowd something to cheer about,” right fielder Adam Eaton said.
No matter the result, they know this will be the last time they play at home this year. Might as well try to leave ‘em wanting more.