I don’t care how many games out of the standings the Nationals and Mets are. I don’t care how many fans were in the stands at the time. I don’t care how insignificant this game was in the grand scheme of a miserable season.
None of that matters right now, because Justin Maxwell just got to live out every little kid’s dream on a major league baseball field, and those who were here to see it will never forget it.
You’ve undoubtedly played out the same scenario in your head at some point in your lives, standing in the backyard facing a Whiffle Ball pitch from your father. Bottom of the ninth. Bases loaded. 3-2 count. Your team trailing.
You know how that situation plays out everytime in the backyard? Well, it happened for Maxwell tonight. After fighting his way through a nine-pitch at-bat against one of the toughest closers in baseball (Francisco Rodriguez) he turned on 92-mph fastball and sent it soaring toward left field. The ball fell right near the top of the fence as the Mets’ Angel Pagan leaped to try to make a game-saving catch. Pagan came down, and there was a split second of silence throughout Nationals Park as everyone waited to see whether Pagan caught it or whether the ball cleared the fence. Then came the signal from third base umpire Rob Drake: Home run.
Grand slam. Game over. Nats win, 7-4. Maxwell rounds the bases and leaps into the waiting mob of teammates at the plate as the crowd roars. The only thing missing from the scene was the exploding stadium lights, a la “The Natural.”
Oh, and did we mention this was the final home game of the season for the Nats? What a way to send everyone home for the winter.
“Before the inning started, I knew I was like seventh or whatever up,” Maxwell said. “I was like, ‘Alright, we get a couple guys on, I might be able to come out with the bases loaded.’ It worked out kind of storybook.”
Yes, it did, and the crowd of 23,944 appreciated it more than Maxwell will ever know. Sure, this would have been a lot cooler had the stadium been sold out and had this clinched the division title or something. But we knew that wasn’t going to happen, not in Washington, not this year. This was the closest they were going to get to that dream scenario.
“The way these fans are into it, that game actually — it may be stretching it — but it had like a playoff atmosphere, the way the fans reacted to what took place there,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “We’re 37 games out of first place and the last game at home, the fans are there, and for the game to end that way, with just great at-bat after great at-bat, the fans are just getting into it more and more and more. Win or lose, it was just really a great thing to see from these fans here.”
I have no idea whether Justin Maxwell is going to become a great major league player, or even just an average major league player. I will say that he has made some significant strides this season and has looked for the last month like a guy who could succeed at this level.
But even if he doesn’t, the kid from Olney and the University of Maryland will always have this moment. While the rest of us dream all our lives of hitting a game-winning grand slam, Maxwell can say he actually did it.