- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The last decade of sports in the nation’s capital was filled with both triumph and disappointment. With the exception of the last two years, there was more disappointment than triumph. 

Three of the District teams brought home championships for the first team in the history of their franchises. These momentous feats stand out as the best the decade had to offer. Yet, where there were highs, there were also lows.

 

Best players of the decade

1. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals forward



2. Max Scherzer, Nationals pitcher

3. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals pitcher

Every Washington team has been fortunate enough to spend all or part of this decade with at least one of their respective league’s superstars, from Bryce Harper to Robert Griffin III, and John Wall to Elena Delle Donne. But the crown for best athlete goes to the Great Eight, Alex Ovechkin.

The reason is a simple combination of the elite play he sustained throughout the decade — spent entirely with the Capitals — and the fact that he captained the Capitals’ Stanley Cup-winning team, the first Washington team to break through and win a title this decade.

No other player has all of that going for him or her. Ovechkin has scored 681 career goals, 12th on the all-time list and just 213 from tying Wayne Gretzky’s record. He’s led the NHL in goals in six of the last seven seasons. And the Capitals only missed the playoffs once this decade with Ovechkin as their centerpiece.

Choosing the rest of the top three was difficult, but it’s hard not to honor both Scherzer — who came to Washington in 2015 and won two Cy Young awards in a Nationals uniform — and Strasburg, the 2019 World Series MVP who spent the entire decade in Washington and, with his new contract, wants to spend his entire career here.

 

Best teams of the decade

1. 2019 Nationals, MLB

2. 2017-18 Capitals, NHL

3. 2019 Mystics, WNBA

The story of the 2019 Nationals can’t be told without mentioning May 24. That’s the date, Washington was just 19-31 and looked like a change at manager was necessary. You know what happened next: The Nationals finished 93-69 and put together a postseason run that cleared every hurdle they had been unable to do previously.

As a team, the Nationals’ chemistry helped them stay the course. Aníbal Sánchez and the addition of Gerardo Parra kept things loose. From a talent perspective, the Nationals had a star-studded rotation topped by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. They also produced offensively with a stacked lineup including the punch of Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. So much about Washington’s postseason was memorable — from Howie Kendrick’s grand slam in the NLDS to the Nationals’ rally in Game 7 of the World Series over the Houston Astros. Perhaps what’s most remarkable about the Nationals, what separates them from the 2017-18 Capitals and 2019 Mystics in ranking as the D.C. team of the decade, is the fact they were so successful after losing Bryce Harper in free agency.

As great as they were, would the Capitals or the Mystics still have been able to win if one of their best players had left? After years of magazine predictions which ranked them as postseason favorites, the Nationals finally accomplished winning their first World Series in the year everyone had ruled them out. 

 

Best moments of the decade

1. “The Save” by Braden Holtby in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final

2. Howie Kendrick’s grand slam
to lift the Nationals in 2019 NLDS

3. John Wall’s game-winning 3-pointer in Game 6 of the 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals 

There are certainly plenty of moments from the Capitals’ run to the Stanley Cup that will stand out in fans’ memories, from finally vanquishing the Penguins in the second round on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s overtime goal to Lars Eller’s series-clinching goal in Game 5 of the finals. But only one has a sweet, simple nickname like “The Save.”

After the expansion Vegas Golden Knights took Game 1 of the finals, the Capitals still had never won a Stanley Cup Final game in franchise history, and Vegas was looking like a team of destiny. The Capitals led 3-2 in Game 2 when Alex Tuch fired on an open left side of the net with two minutes to go. Braden Holtby could only dive to his right and slam his stick down on the incoming puck, saving the shot under the paddle. Had Vegas scored, the game could have gone to overtime, the Golden Knights could have taken a 2-0 series lead and the whole complexion of the series would have changed.

With the stakes that high, “The Save” beats out some of the most thrilling moments in local baseball and basketball — Howie Kendrick’s go-ahead grand slam that ultimately pushed the formerly-snakebitten Nationals to their first NLDS victory, and John Wall’s clutch shot with 3.5 seconds left to force an Eastern Conference semifinals Game 7 between the Wizards and Celtics. 

 

Worst moments of the decade

1. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III tears his ACL and LCL in wild card

2. Nationals blow Game 5 of 2012 NLDS with Drew Storen meltdown

3. Redskins’ “Monday Night Massacre” loss to Eagles in 2010

When discussing the worst moments of the decade for D.C. sports, this list could have been entirely about the Redskins. Under team president Bruce Allen, the Redskins have gone 62-95-1 and made the playoffs only twice since 2010. Ironically, the team’s most painful moment happened in the postseason — Robert Griffin III’s torn ACL.

Facing the Seattle Seahawks in the 2013 NFC Wild Card game, an already hobbled Griffin looked gimpy all game before his right knee buckled in the fourth quarter of the Redskins’ 24-14 loss. Griffin went down without contact and test results confirmed fans’ worst fears. The injury was particularly painful because not only was Griffin never the same, but the 2012 Redskins appeared to be the start of a promising turnaround with a dynamic quarterback and an innovative offense designed by coach Mike Shanahan.

Other low moments this decade — Drew Storen’s meltdown in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, Michael Vick destroying the Redskins on “Monday Night Football” in 2010 — don’t capture the same type of hopelessness that involved Griffin’s injury. With Griffin’s injury, there will always be a haunting “what if” — and that’s why it continues to plague Redskins fans to this day. 

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