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They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Based on that, the Washington Nationals made a lot of us like the Incredible Hulk last night in Game 1 of the World Series.
Pressure certainly makes games fun, as it is the uncertainty of how it’s all going to end that makes everything interesting. But at some point the Nationals crossed from pressure to paralyzing fear in the late innings before holding on to a 5-4 win in Game 1.
Proving it was the gift that kept giving, sleep for the first hour or two was impossible after the final pitch. I guess clenching every muscle in your body and not exhaling for an hour will do that.
If you got up early and went to work this morning, I tip my hat to you.
The early part of the game when the team fell behind 2-0 was surprisingly not bothersome for me. I have watched sports for over 50 years, and every now and then you see a team like the Nationals. They become a different group late in the season, they win a couple of games they shouldn’t, and that starts becoming the rule instead of the exception.
Observers like the Fox broadcast crew, who provoked me several times into thinking “have they even watched the Nats this season?” don’t get that. They will look at a snapshot of the team at some point during the regular season, and don’t understand that the team in May, July or even the first of September is not the same team that the Nats are now.
This team shakes off adversity. The old players know things will change. The young players are probably too young to worry about it. So when it was 2-0, I felt strongly this team was going to score at least 5 runs before the 7th inning, because they have for the last two weeks. The team that would watch a starter pitch a gem while only getting 2 hits and not scoring any runs has turned into Elvis, and left the building.
The Nats did get their five runs and led 5-2. But then they started administering the Washington sports water torture technique, where they slowly allow a team to creep closer and closer until you descend into madness. Not helping is the electronic village I have set up to watch these games, as I watch on a 65-inch television, then have a 40-inch and a 32-inch monitor on tables to the left of me.
On the 32-inch I put up Twitter, where I commiserate with dozens of other fans. On the 40-inch, I have a program called Dell Mobile Connect, which projects the texts on my phone onto the monitor. The texts are in big type so they are easy to see, and I can use my keyboard to type responses instead of squinting at a tiny screen and typing with my thumbs. I have about 5 people who want to talk about the game in real time via text, including my wife.
She was in prime general manager form last night, announcing she was going to cut Asdrubal Cabrera after he disappointed her on a time at bat, and saying she would ban all train whistles in Houston stadiums when she became MLB commissioner. Because of this, we watch the game in different rooms (she watches it from the den) and we correspond via text while the game is in play, in person between the innings.
Hey, I know it’s weird. But it works.
While I know I just said this team is not the same one that played in July, August or September, it is the same bullpen. The reason Davey Martinez has had so much more success in the playoffs with the unit is he’s bypassed it several times, bringing in a starter like Patrick Corbin for an inning or two rather than bring in guys who have prompted me to use the Lord’s name in vain. Many times.
The Nats could only use Corbin for so long, and then the real stress started. One friend I was texting with is an OCD sort of guy, and as the game got tighter, he had to do something with his hands to relieve that stress. As I’m watching each Tanner Rainey pitch be called as a ball, I’m seeing texts saying “I just finished vacuuming the den” and “I just dusted everything on the lower level.”
While most of you were watching baseball, I’m thinking if Rainey gives up one more hit, I’m going to see a text saying “I just baked a cake.”
When Daniel Hudson came in, my only thought was for him to get enough people out until Sean Doolittle could come in. I figured he had four outs in him to get, and I’m a believer that Sean when healthy has that big play gene in him that all the greats have. With the bright lights on while pitching on the biggest stage in baseball, I was pretty confident he’d get the job done.
But Hudson didn’t exactly get the job done quickly. I got a number of texts saying simply “I’m scared” and after one guy said it for the third time, I had to tell him “go find your wife and ask her to hold you like you’re a 6-year-old little girl.”
He stopped texting me he was scared for some reason after that.
Meanwhile over on Twitter, I have volunteered that at key moments of sports games recently, when I would go get some ice cream to relieve my own stress, the team I was watching would start doing better. So when Rainey had thrown 7 pitches in a row that were called balls, I got more ice cream. It seemed to work too, as Hudson came in and got the last two outs of the inning. The Nats still led 5-3.
But Hudson would falter in the 8th and give up the run that would make it 5-4. A dozen people on Twitter immediately treated me like a frozen version of the Chick-Fil-A cow, exhorting me to “Eat More Ice Cream.” If the stress of the game didn’t kill me, the dietary suggestions of my Twitter family certainly would.
Fortunately, my faith in Doolittle was well-founded. He got the three outs needed in the ninth. I was able to relax, exhale, and stop eating frozen dairy. I would then stay wide awake until about 2 AM, thinking about how the biggest World Series underdog in over a decade had just stunned the mighty Houston Astros, won game 1, and grabbed home field advantage for the rest of the Series.
All the Nats have to do now is play .500 ball the rest of the way. Then we can watch them hoist a trophy and ride in a parade one fine November day in DC.
If, of course, the Nats don’t kill us all first 😊