Night Terrors and Day Drinking: The Self Inflicted Trauma of eing a DC Sports Fan Part 9
I will never forget that moment. My seats for game five of the 2012 NLDS were right across from the Nationals dugout and as soon as there were two outs they all stood on the top step ready to jump the rail and mob Drew Storen on the mound. That would never happen and as Storen walked Molina and gave up a game tying hit to Daniel Descalso and the go ahead hit to Pete Kozma the players shrank back into the dugout. I stood there that entire inning mutter, “Let’s go Drew. You’ve got this Drew.” It is the worst of my unanswered prayers because Drew did not got this and he had no interest in going. I don’t know if any loss has ever felt as bad as this or if anything ever will again. It is the closest I’ve come to knowing what death feels like. In front of me where players that had fought and won and given us the best season we’d ever seen. It was the first division title in Washington Baseball history and they had fought back in game four off of a Jayson Werth walk-off homerun. They jumped out early to a 6-0 lead and then a series of very unfortunate events took it all away, and the NLCS that was all but assumed earlier in the night remains a phantom limb.
The loss wouldn’t have been so glaringly bad if it weren’t for what made the 2012 baseball season so great. Ian Desmond had a surprise breakout season, Gio Gonzalez came over in a trade from the Oakland A’s and won 20 games, and Bryce Harper made it to the majors and was the rookie of the year. Then there was Stephen Strasburg and the Strasburg shutdown. Prospective is different now with all the Mets starters and Kris Medlen being injured but the Nationals were widely criticized at the time and it was the Nationals and Nationals fans against the world. The Nationals clearly didn’t care about winning if they weren’t going to give their best pitcher the ball in the post-season and they didn’t deserve to win. To many their blowing a 6-0 lead to the Cardinals in game five was karma for the Strasburg shutdown, but as I said before this is just a story people tell themselves to fulfill their desire to make sense of nonsensical events. In reality Strasburg didn’t matter. His replacement on the playoff roster Ross Detwiler pitched the game of his life in game four and Gio Gonzalez who finished third in the Cy Young that season was on the mound for game five, and even with all that went before the Nationals entered the ninth inning with a two run lead, and had two outs when everything went to hell.
Of all the playoff losses by all the DC teams I think this one will forever hurt. As silly as it was at times during the 2012 season I felt like I had earned this. I suffered with the team through the hundred loss seasons of 2008 and 2009. I’d been there since 2005 and I had watched how this team was built. It felt like my loyalty was being rewarded as they finished with the best record in baseball and earned the top seed in the 2012 playoffs, and in less than a blink of an eye it was all taken away. For days after that game I would wake up muttering to myself the incantation of, “Let’s go Drew. You’ve got this Drew,” like it would somehow take me back in time and the moment would be different. Drew would have it this time and the Nats would be going to their first NLCS. This was the closest they’ve come. Two outs in the top of the ninth. The game by all rights was over.
What should have been is the ever haunting refrain of DC sports fandom. Getting close and having it all snatched away over and over and over and over again. This is where the Nationals joined the Capitals in knowing this type of pain. Halak had ruptured Caps fans souls just a few seasons earlier and now Pete Kozma had done it to the Nationals. It was Nats fans turn to know what it truly meant to be a DC sports fan. They had arrived and as they say misery loves company.
When it comes to what could have been there is almost no better DC sports story than that of RGIII. In 2012 he was magnificent. Remember how it all started? Remember the surprise win against the New Orleans Saints and the run down the sideline against the Minnesota Vikings? Do you remember? How can you forget? 2012 could have been the best year of our lives. Imagine if the Nationals didn’t blow it against the Cardinals and RGIII’s didn’t blow out against the Seahawks. It could have been the best year of our lives, but instead it was one of the worst.
I remember exactly where I was during that playoff game against the Seahawks. I was driving to diner with my in-laws. My wife and I listened to the game on the radio and the Redskins jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Then RGIII was hit and crumbled to the ground. That should have been the end of his night. Kirk Cousins should have taken over at quarterback at that exact moment and RGIII shouldn’t have seen the field again until either the next round or the next season, but that isn’t what happened. The Redskins had to Redskin and they left RGIII in. They left him in to take a beating and to suffer and to take away all the promise of what could have been. It’s become the thing to believe there is a right and wrong side in the Mike Shanahan vs RGIII feud that has developed but at that time there was only one right side. Mike Shanahan was the coach. His job was to guide the Redskins to victory and to protect the career of his star quarterback and he failed at both.