- - Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Washington isn’t supposed to — and probably won’t — beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series that begins Thursday night.

Which means the Nationals have a great shot and just might pull it off.

Storybook seasons always have happy endings between the front cover and the back cover, but they typically come up short between the two foul poles. Eventually, either the pitching implodes, the bats go silent, or fluke plays and errors are ruinous. The favorite celebrates and the underdog is vanquished.

But every now and then, a Kardiac Kids-team survives long enough to hoist the trophy after the final out. (Whether OUR hearts can withstand the tense drama along the way is a different subject.) In defying the odds and common sense, unlikely champions provide locals with fond memories for a lifetime.

Prior to the NL wild card game, the Nats’ provided playoff memories that were unforgettable but not fond. A quartet of NL bluebloods had shredded Washingtonian dreams. The Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers and Cubs — with stirrup-socks older than our upstart franchise — issued stark reminders that baseball, generally, mostly hurts.

For a change, though, postseason pain gathered its belongings and relocated across the diamond Tuesday. It made itself comfortable amongst the Brewers. It became fast friends with flame-throwing reliever Josh Nader and outfielder/MVP-replacement Trent Grisham. It also established a meaningful relationship with everyone else on Milwaukee’s roster.

The Nationals were left for dead on May 23, when they owned the league’s second-worst record. Their prognosis wasn’t much better when Hader entered Tuesday’s game with a two-run lead that needed two innings of protection. Washington wasn’t supposed to prevail under those circumstances, wasn’t supposed to break its streak of bad luck and poor timing in win-or-go-home games. Yet, here we are.

I suggest not getting your hopes up as Washington faces the Dodgers. Not only does that guard against a letdown, it goes hand-in-hand with overriding feelings during the season’s low point.

All of this is brand new for the Nats and fans. Past years featured runaway division titles and best-in-baseball won-loss records. Overwhelming success led only to NLDS heartbreak — including three times in series finales at Nationals Park. This season has been the exact opposite.

Getting off to a horrible start. Battling to make themselves relevant. Fighting their way into contention. Holding on for a wild-card berth.

The team’s remarkable turnaround and its penchant for comebacks kept hope alive among the throng on South Capitol Street as Milwaukee’s first six batters created a 3-0 lead. But deep down inside, there was a nagging, unavoidable feeling of here we go again.

Second-guessers got a head start on the autopsy, chastising manager Dave Martinez for starting Max Scherzer instead of Stephen Strasburg, and for letting Scherzer bat in the third inning. A secondary cause of death was lining up to be Michael A. Taylor pinch-hitting for Strasburg in the eighth inning.

But Martinez had the golden touch in his first postseason game as a manager. He resisted a thought to pull Scherzer with one out and the bases empty in the third, betting that his ace would settle down. Besides, making a move that early could’ve been viewed as panicking, not the vibe you want coursing through your dugout.

The pivotal eighth inning turned on Taylor’s hit by pitch, Ryan Zimmerman’s two-out, broken-bat bloop, and Anthony Rendon’s two-out, full-count walk, setting the stage for Juan Soto’s game-winning hit and bedlam in the stands.

Winning one wild card game doesn’t make up for losing four first-round series.

But the victory kept those memories sealed and made them less vivid, replaced with scenes that we’ll joyfully replay forever.

Unfortunately, those visions won’t necessarily help Washington beat L.A.

The Dodgers won 106 games this season and they’re loaded with arms and hammers, ranked first among NL teams in several pitching and batting categories. Having played in back-to-back World Series without winning either, they’re also hungry to complete the task.

Maybe that pressure will work in Washington’s favor.

L.A. won its division by 21 games and enjoyed at least a five-game lead since May 19. The Dodgers haven’t been in true “must-win” mode since losing Game 5 against Boston in last year’s World Series. Conversely, the Nats are coming off an elimination-game thriller that was preceded by four months of playoff-like baseball.

Momentum is nice.

But deep lineups and a reliable bullpen are great, which makes L.A. the favorite (and rightfully so). The Nats, 0-4 all-time in the NLDS, are poised to add one for the thumb.

That’s OK. We’ll always have Tuesday night.

Win or lose this round, celebrate the Nats’ opportunity to stay in the fight.

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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