The "What If" No One Is Talking About

The past few days have been nothing but what-ifs from every corner of the sports media universe when it comes to the Nats' loss in Game 5 of the 2012 National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. What if Gio had lasted longer? What if one of those pitches in the zone called balls for Freese and Molina had been called a strike? What if the decision had been made to walk Pete Kozma before he batted in the winning runs? What if the offense had stayed alive when a crisp autumnal chill settled down to cool the bats that had given the Nats a 6-0 lead?

Analysis, schmanalysis. The fact remains that the Nats are actually .500 in postseason elimination games, and that's an important thing to realize. What if the Nats had never made it to Friday in the first place? 

This totally could have happened, but for the incredible at-bat that Jayson Werth had on Thursday night. Sure, there were other ways we could have walked that win off (we've had some memorable not-homer walkoffs this season, to be sure), but there was just as much chance that the Cards would stick something to us in the top of the 10th, just like they did during the top of the 9th the following night. 

So while we mourn and deconstruct and rage at having our season of glory stolen out from under us, let's consider for a moment what it would have been like to have had our season terminated a day earlier.  

It would have meant that we'd been beaten three days in a row.

It would have meant that we were the only team to lose our NLDS series in fewer than 5 games. 

It would have meant that we fell short of 100 wins total for the year by one game.

For some, it would have started the post-mortem bemoaning of the Strasburg shutdown that much sooner, but whatever. That's the what-if that EVERYONE is talking about, and we need not belabor that here.

It would have put us out of that misery a day earlier, quietly, and with considerably less fanfare, considering there wouldn't have been unused, rolled plastic on the walls for the celebration that never came (and as a result, got added to the narrative of the loss).

But it also would have meant that we would not have experienced Thursday.

For all that we had our hearts ripped out of us on Friday, nothing--NOTHING--will take that Thursday game away from us. Not the following night's loss, not the pundits' merciless second-guessing, not anything that happens in the coming years, good or bad. I was at both games, and the memory that will stay with me for the rest of my life was that moment sitting in 409 with total strangers, jumping to my feet and screaming with joy as tears streamed down my face while Jayson rounded the bases after his home run. Hugging total strangers, including the usher for our section; hugging friends that I had trouble finding because I'd spent 20 minutes chanting "Let's Go Nats!" with the thousands of others wending their way down from the upper sections. This call, played over and over again for the next 24 hours until overshadowed by Game 5. 

Some will say that the loss Friday was harder for the win on Thursday. Shame on them. If we'd gone out in four, it would have sucked the air completely out of things, our first postseason a sputtering meh of a heartbreak. The narrative would be completely different, and not nearly as exhilarating to read. Sure, we lost the second game, but what the experience brings to a young team like a Nats isn't something you can get any other way. As @ballwonk said on Twitter, "The loss was tough, but it was also toughening. Losing Game 4 would have been a weak anticlimax."

The way I see it, it was going to end sometime, whether in exuberance or devastation. There would be no in between. And between Thursday and Friday, we got both. But better to have gotten both than only the latter.

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