SNYDER: The week Washington baseball grew up

  • 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)
Story Topics

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Washington Nationals and their newly-minted fans grew up this week. Over the course of three days in southeast D.C., they hung out with the defending World Series champions. The Cardinals showed them the ropes of autumn baseball, gave them glimpse of life in the postseason’s pressure cooker.

St. Louis even let the Nats & Co. take a quick sip from the victors’ cup, like older cousins overseeing a youngster’s first drink. But the Cardinals didn’t allow the Washingtonians to gulp it down. The champs snatched it away in mid-swallow, before anyone could became acclimated to the taste.

Now Washington knows how Texas felt last season, when the Rangers twice were one strike away from vanquishing the Cardinals. Now everyone knows what it’s like to be so close to a raucous playoff celebration that you see it in your mind as if it were unfolding in front of your face. Which should occur any second.

But then everything goes terribly wrong. The opponents score the go-ahead runs before the third out and there’s no miraculous comeback and the season is over in stunning fashion. That’s what St. Louis did to the Nats with a 9-7 victory Friday night in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

It’s as if the Cardinals put the Nats and this suddenly-feverish-about-baseball city through a cruel initiation process, a painful rite of passage for newbies looking to cross over. With a four-run rally in the ninth — completing the comeback from 6-0 hole — St. Louis both confrimed its standing and acknowledged the Nats’ arrival:

“Welcome to adulthood, kiddies. You made it. Go get ‘em next year.”

The shocking defeat in Game 5 will leave a mark that stings forever. No matter how many good times and how much winning might lie ahead, the Nats will always look back on Friday night with regret, thinking about what could’ve/should’ve happened. It’s like the lingering regret from blowing it with your first love, even though you moved on to enjoy successful relationships with others.

“I told them it’s nothing to hang your head about,” manager Davey Johnson said. “It was a great year. We overcome a lot of problems. We proved our worth and we just need to let this be a lesson. Learn from it, have more resolve, come back and carry it a lot farther.”

One lesson is never count out the Cards. Not when you’re up 6-0 after three innings. Not when you (finally) add an insurance run in the eighth inning, pushing the score to 7-5. And certainly not when your closer is on the mound and twice you’re one strike away from the National League Championship Series.

You never know when two walks, two hits and four runs might follow.

When St. Louis second baseman Daniel Descalso hit a game-tying, two-run single, there was a palpable sense of “What just happened?” in Nationals Park. Even the scoreboard operators were discombobulated. They momentarily put St. Louis ahead, 8-7, before correcting their mistake.

Drew Storen had blown the save, but he was one strike away of leaving the score tied when shortstop Pete Kozma lined a two-run single to right. The record crowd of 45,966, which moments earlier was as loud as a throng can be, was stunned speechless. Attempts to muster another “Let’s go Nats!” chant weren’t totally in vain, but the results were half-hearted and lifeless.

“I’m sure this will be a learning process,” Storen said. “But you’ve got to let the wound heal first.”

School was in session the past week, but not just for the Nats — most of whom had never reached the postseason before. This was a lesson for fans, too.

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About the Author

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’ 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @Its_Ball_Good or email him at deronsnyder@gmail.com.

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