“Devastating”

The Nationals couldn’t hold a six run lead, then couldn’t hold a three run lead, then couldn’t hold a two run lead, and then usually steady closer Drew Storen gave up four runs in the 9th inning, and the Washington Nationals lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, 9-7 to close out their 2012 campaign. This was the toughest of tough losses. “Devastating,” is how reliever Tyler Clippard described it. And it was.

In fact, this is one that the Nationals will long remember as a game that they could have and should have won: they were one strike away from going to the National League Championship Series, twice. But they couldn’t put away the St. Louis Cardinals, who will now go on to face the San Francisco Giants in a seven game playoff for the right to play in the World Series.

The 9th inning of Friday night’s game is likely to be remembered for a long time: for its agony. Storen entered the game with a 7-5 lead, but immediately gave up a double to Redbird slugger Carlos Beltran. Still, Storen seemed on his game. Matt Holliday grounded out and Allen Craig struck out swinging. There were two outs in the inning.

But then things fell apart. Storen walked Yadier Molina and David Freese. For Nationals fans, those 45,000-plus who packed Nationals Park, it looked suspiciously like the strike zone had suddenly shrunk. But Storen’s pitches, while close, were just nipping the corners and could have been called either way. They were called balls.

With the bases loaded, Daniel Descalso singled, bringing Beltran and pinch runner Adron Chambers home. The score was locked at seven. Davey Johnson then decided that Storen should pitch to Peter Kozma, who laced a single into right field, scoring another two runs. And that was the game.

Nats’ manager Davey Johnson addressed the team after the loss. “I just told them it was nothing to hang your head about,” he told the press. “It was a great year. We overcame a lot of problems. We proved our worth, and we just need to let this be a lesson and learn from it, have more resolve, come back and carry it a lot farther.”

Of course, youngster Storen blamed himself for the collapse. But shouldn’t. Gio Gonzalez was not his usual self (5 innings, 5 hits, 3 ER), life isn’t complete without Tyler Clippard giving up an inexplicable home run (why does he do that), and we still don’t understand why Edwin Jackson needed to be brought in in relief — but Davey gets a pass, because he’s Davey.

“It was a great season, but a disappointing end. I’m proud of the guys, and you have the knock the champ out,” G.M. Mike Rizzo said. “We had them on the ropes, but couldn’t knock them out. It’s a testament to them, but we couldn’t be prouder of a bunch of our guys. It was a great season with a disappointing ending.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: So that’s that. Or maybe not quite. We found the post-game radio call-in comments emblematic of Washington’s trauma, as well as the community’s general lack of baseball knowledge. For the most part, those who attend the games know the game. We wish that were true of those who call in to 106.7 to express their sense of sorrow . . .

“Why does this always seem to happen to us?” one caller asked, and then went on to cite the Wizards and Redskins and the lack of success of the Nationals over the last seven years. The caller was not, obviously, a native of Chicago. Another expressed the opinion that what happened at Nats Park on Friday was unique. In truth it’s not . . .

The “one strike away” is a staple of baseball, and true fans know that it can happen. That a game is never truly won until it’s won. It’s happened, in my lifetime, to the Cubs, Mets, Rangers (twice!) Red Sox, and Angels — and that’s just five examples that I can remember. There’s undoubtedly more . . .

“I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth that’s going to stay there for a couple of months,” Drew Storen said last night. “It’s probably never going to leave.” He’s probably right. But Drew should know that while nearly everyone remembers Kirk Gibson’s epic blast in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, few remember that it was served up by Dennis Eckersley. Eckersley’s in the Hall . . .

All this stuff about how baseball is just a game and that it’s a metaphor for life is a bunch of bullshit. Baseball isn’t a metaphor for life, it is life. That the Nationals had the best record this year meant nothing, as we saw last night. What mattered, in the end, is that the guy behind the plate decided that Storen’s 3-2 pitch was a ball, not a strike. It was that close. But then, it always is . . .

There’s little true justice in any of this, because there’s little true justice in anything. Bones and tendons snap, slumps take on epic proportions, elbows swell and all for no reason at all. Average guys who put on pinstripes become World Series champs, while other guys who are great never wear a ring . . . some guys get hit on the head and never play again. It’s Not Fair . . .

Get some perspective. When all of this started, back in April, most of us thought that it would be a pretty good season if this team finished about ten games above .500. They didn’t. They won and won and won. They had no right to be winning in April and May, but they did anyway . . .

These guys played their hearts out. Let’s admit it. Okay. We’re disappointed. But that Werth home run the other night will remain with me, and with those who saw it, for the rest of our lives. It was worth the price of admission for every game we saw . . .

Then too, it’s not like the Cardinals (despite their run of franchise success) haven’t had their share of head-shaking moments. They were once three outs away from a World Series victory, when they got a bad umpire call, and went on to lose it all. That was in 1985. Here’s the kicker: they led their opponent in the Series (the ought-to-have-their-entrails-burned-in-public Royals) by three games to zip . . .

What’s amazing about last night, was not that it was amazing, but that it wasn’t. “A Comeback Unlike Any Other?” Puhleeeeez!! It happens. It will happen again. Maybe next time, we’ll be on the other end. In the meantime, let’s get some perspective. And while we’re at it, let’s rebuild the bullpen . . .

  • Bgbg32

    To all those blaming Nats closer Storen, look at some of thosepitches Storen threw to Molina and Freesein the ninth. Both Freese and Molina were down to one strike, and Storen nipped the corners on pitches that would have been calledstrike threeby the homeplate ump in Game 4. But it was a different ump in Game 5 who called those strikes balls. The Cards were lucky once again.