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It has taken 7 years. But finally, the monster is dead.
The monster I speak of was that horrible night in October of 2012. The Nats were in the deciding game of a series against the St. Louis Cardinals. They had a 6-0 lead. Everyone was feeling pretty good.
Then we all watched in horror at one of the most soul-crushing, gut-wrenching, black hole of depression things to ever happen. It was so bad, many of us still refer to that contest as “the game that can never be mentioned.”
But tonight, those same two teams met in a playoff game at Nats Park for the first time since that black Friday in 2012. Just like seven years ago, the Nationals took a 6-0 lead.
But this time, the ghosts of the past were exorcised. The lead didn’t crumble. Instead of blowing the lead, the Nats actually grew the lead into an 8-1 win to give the Nats a 3-0 lead in the series and place them one game from playing in its first World Series.
The biggest difference? Pitching. In 2012 Gio Gonzales made it through 5 innings, had a big lead, then faltered. By the time he left it was 6-3. After Craig Stammen, Sean Burnett, Edwin Jackson and Tyler Clippard were done, it was 6-5. The Nats would score a run in the bottom of the eighth, then Drew Storen would have his day of infamy, turning a 7-5 lead into a 9-7 loss.
This year, the Nats didn't even need to rely on the bullpen because of Stephen Strasburg. If you missed the 97 times WTBS pointed it out, yes, he was shutdown in 2012 and didn’t pitch in the series. But man, did he pitch tonight…so well that by the time he left after 7 innings, he turned over such a big lead that the Nats didn’t even have to use their best relievers. With a big lead, Fernando Rodney and Tanner Rainey went in relaxed, threw like they had nothing to lose, and retired the side in the 8th and 9th without giving up a single run.
A month ago, the Nationals were a team some weren’t sure would make the playoffs. They were the team that never won a playoff series and never played in a World Series. The shutdown of Strasburg in 2012 is still talked about to this day, and the closest they had gotten to winning a postseason series remained that heart-breaking collapse against St. Louis in Game 5.
Tonight, all wrongs were settled. Instead of focusing on the 2012 shutdown, media should notice Strasburg is now 3-0 in the postseason and the best pitcher still going among the remaining teams. The meltdown in 2012 still stings, but beating St. Louis to get to the World Series is more than enough salve to ease that pain. With a win tomorrow, the team that could never win in the postseason will eliminate its third team this postseason and advance to its very first World Series.
On a Friday night in October back in 2012, I watched in horror and kept saying “this can’t be happening. This can’t be real.” But unfortunately, it was.
Tonight – 7 years and two days to the exact night – I watched in utter awe, and kept saying “this can’t be happening. This can’t be real.”
But fortunately, it is.
Payback is complete.
I go to bed a very happy man.