DALY: Nationals inflict new kind of pain on D.C. sports fans

  • Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (11), right, walks off the field as the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate their win over the Washington Nationals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (11), right, walks off the field as the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate their win over the Washington Nationals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • A fan walks though centerfield plaza with an enlarged poster head of starting Nats pitcher Gio Gonzalez before Gamee 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Thursday, October 11, 2012. (Craig Bisacre/The Washington Times)A fan walks though centerfield plaza with an enlarged poster head of starting Nats pitcher Gio Gonzalez before Gamee 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Thursday, October 11, 2012. (Craig Bisacre/The Washington Times)
  • Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, throws out the first pitch before Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, throws out the first pitch before Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • Fans wave their rally towels before Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Thursday, October 11, 2012. (Craig Bisacre/The Washington Times)Fans wave their rally towels before Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Thursday, October 11, 2012. (Craig Bisacre/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) starts Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. Gonzalez would pitch five innings, giving up 3 earned runs.(Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) starts Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. Gonzalez would pitch five innings, giving up 3 earned runs.(Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34) rounds second before safely siding into third in the first inning in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Thursday, October 11, 2012. (Craig Bisacre/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34) rounds second before safely siding into third in the first inning in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Thursday, October 11, 2012. (Craig Bisacre/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20), left, celebrates as Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (11) hits a two run homer to bring Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34), right, home in the first inning to put the Washington Nationals up 3-0  against the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20), left, celebrates as Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (11) hits a two run homer to bring Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34), right, home in the first inning to put the Washington Nationals up 3-0 against the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34) hits a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning to put the Washington Nationals up 4-0  over the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34) hits a solo home run in the bottom of the third inning to put the Washington Nationals up 4-0 over the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals left fielder Michael Morse (38) its a two run homer to left center in the bottom of the third inning to put the Washington Nationals up 6-0 over the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals left fielder Michael Morse (38) its a two run homer to left center in the bottom of the third inning to put the Washington Nationals up 6-0 over the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki (24) gets St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma (38) out at home on a fielders choice in at the top of the fifth inning as the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki (24) gets St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma (38) out at home on a fielders choice in at the top of the fifth inning as the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) is pulled after the fifth inning after giving up 3 runs as the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) is pulled after the fifth inning after giving up 3 runs as the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Friday, October 12, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • The Nationals celebrate an RBI single by Kurt Suzuki that gave the team a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the 8th inning that Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)The Nationals celebrate an RBI single by Kurt Suzuki that gave the team a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the 8th inning that Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20) chases a two-run single by St. Louis Cardinals Daniel Descalso in the top of the 9th inning that tied the game 7-7 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond (20) chases a two-run single by St. Louis CardinalsDaniel Descalso in the top of the 9th inning that tied the game 7-7 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso (33) drives in two run after hitting a hard single to center to tie the game 7-7 as the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso (33) drives in two run after hitting a hard single to center to tie the game 7-7 as the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen (22) shows his frustration after giving up four runs in the top of the 9th to relinquish the lead to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen (22) shows his frustration after giving up four runs in the top of the 9th to relinquish the lead to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese (23) celebrates with Jon Jay (19) after scoring in the top of the 9th inning, giving his team a 9-7 lead in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese (23) celebrates with Jon Jay (19) after scoring in the top of the 9th inning, giving his team a 9-7 lead in Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals relief pitcher Drew Storen (22) sits on the bench in the bottom of the ninth inning after giving up four runs to put the St. Louis Cardinals up 9-7 over the Washington Nationals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals relief pitcher Drew Storen (22) sits on the bench in the bottom of the ninth inning after giving up four runs to put the St. Louis Cardinals up 9-7 over the Washington Nationals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso (33) celebrates after catching a pop up for the final out of the game as the Washington Nationals lose to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso (33) celebrates after catching a pop up for the final out of the game as the Washington Nationals lose to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki (24) and Bryce Harper (34) head to the clubhouse after Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki (24) and Bryce Harper (34) head to the clubhouse after Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals fans watch as the Washington Nationals lose to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals fans watch as the Washington Nationals lose to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • (L to R) Paul Hefner, 16, and Isabel Hefner, 18, from Great Falls, Va., sit dejected in the stands after the Washington Nationals loss to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)(L to R) Paul Hefner, 16, and Isabel Hefner, 18, from Great Falls, Va., sit dejected in the stands after the Washington Nationals loss to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Friday, October 12, 2012. (Preston Keres/Special to The Washington Times)
  • Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34), left, and right fielder Jayson Werth (28), right, watch as the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate their win over the Washington Nationals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34), left, and right fielder Jayson Werth (28), right, watch as the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate their win over the Washington Nationals in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
  • A fan covers his face as the Washington Nationals lose to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)A fan covers his face as the Washington Nationals lose to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 in game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Where shall we hang this one in the D.C. Sports Hall of Horrors? Over here, next to the Redskins’ 73-0 annihilation in 1940 title game? (Nah. That disaster deserves a mausoleum of its own.) Maybe over here, near the Bullets’ no-show in the ‘75 finals. Or over here, beside the sweeping of the Capitals in the ‘98 finals.

There are plenty of places the Nationals’ ninth-inning unraveling Friday night might fit in Washington’s museum of athletic misery. Twice they were within a strike of a 7-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals — and a berth in the National League Championship Series. But Drew Storen, their normally reliable closer, couldn’t finish it off. With a man on second and two outs, he loaded the bases with a pair of walks, then gave up singles to Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma to turn a celebration at Nationals Park into a wake.

Cards 9, Nats 7. Good thing we’ve built up an immunity to this stuff, right?

Let’s face it, pain has been the D.C. sports fan’s constant companion in recent years. The pain of a Redskins franchise run aground. The pain of one Caps playoff flameout after another. The pain of the Wizards violating the laws of basketball and society. It hurts, on some level, to follow any of these teams; it’s like watching a tear-jerker you already know the ending to.

And in their first seven seasons in Washington, the Nats were right there with them, averaging 95 losses for a five-year stretch and topping 100 twice. But those Nats have been replaced, miraculously, by the best-record-in-baseball Nats, and for eight innings Friday they seemed poised to take away some of D.C.’s pain, perhaps a lot of D.C.’s pain.

Twenty-four hours after they staved off the hangman in Game 4 thanks to a Jayson Werth walk-off homer, they got the crowd of 45,966 — a Nationals Park record — jumping by scoring three in the first and three in the second. That’s right, they gave their best pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, a six-run cushion.

We’re not used to this in the nation’s capital. We’re not used to clutch performances in pressure situations. We’re used to Eagles 59, Redskins 28, on Monday Night Football. We’re used to Penguins 6, Caps 2, in Game 7. (Both of which, I regrettably remind you, took place in Washington.) We’re used to clubs with more bark than bite, clubs that drive for show but don’t putt for dough.

But for 8 2/3 innings Friday, the Nationals looked like they might break the spell. Ryan Zimmerman’s homer was an encouraging sign, but the dingers by Bryce Harper and Michael Morse seemed even more portentous, since they’d hardly been heard from in the series. Besides, how many times this season had Davey Johnson’s best-in-baseball pitching staff blown a big lead?

But the Cardinals are a team that, a year ago, refused to be defeated, rallying time and again when their season appeared to be over. A gamer World Series champ you’ll never find. And in Game 5 they showed the same resolve, chiseling away at the deficit with a run in the fourth, two in the fifth, another in the seventh off Edwin Jackson and another in the eighth off Tyler Clippard.

That made it 6-5. It also made those 45,966 hearts beat a lot faster. And with good reason. The Cardinals were coming back, sure, but the Nats’ pitchers also were killing themselves with walks — eight in the last six innings (Gonzalez 4, Jackson 2, Storen 2). Incredibly, five of the Cards who walked came around to score.

“To give up that many free passes … that’s not the way you win ballgames,” Johnson said. “I think [Storen] just tried to be too fine. He’s got a great-moving live fastball. Just need to throw it over. [But] he wasn’t alone. It seemed like Gio had the [same] problem. You just can’t win big ballgames by giving free passes. You’ve got to trust your defense behind you, go after ‘em. … Got to make ‘em earn it.”

Despite all this self-destruction, the Nationals almost lived to tell about it. Kurt Suzuki, the ever-helpful late-season pickup, drove in an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, giving Storen a bit more margin for error. But then …

“I think the last three outs are the hardest in baseball,” Adam LaRoche said. “I don’t know why it is, but crazy stuff happens. You’ve got a guy like Drew, who throws some of the nastiest stuff in the game …”

I’ll finish the sentence for him: but if you can’t hit the strike zone when you need to, it doesn’t do you much good.

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About the Author
Dan Daly

Dan Daly

Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at ddaly@washingtontimes.com.

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