Night Terrors and Day Drinking: The Self Inflicted Trauma of Being a DC Sports Fan Part 11
Matt Williams, Adam Oates, and Bruce Allen all bungled their way through 2014. Oates was let go after that season while Matt Williams got to keep his job for one more and Bruce Allen is still around because he’s a loyal lapdog to Dan Snyder. Might as well rename him Vinny Cerrato II. As long as Bruce Allen does the boss’s bidding he’s going to stay around in DC. 2014 gave us playoff losses by the Wizards and Nationals, the Capitals missing the playoffs for the first time in several seasons, and Bruce Allen uttering the phrase winning off the field while the Redskins did anything but. I think by now you’re getting the picture of what it’s like to be a DC sports fan but there is still more fun to come. If you consider choking an MVP and blowing more 3-1 series leads to be fun.
The Capitals and playoff misfortune go hand in hand. This isn’t even something new in my lifetime. The Capitals have been blowing two game series leads since 1985. The Capitals lose in the playoffs. It is kind of their thing, but before recent memory they haven’t been the favored team. They were a team sneaking into the playoffs as a lower seed. During the Alex Ovechkin era they’ve been a dynasty in all but winning a championship, and that makes it all that much more frustrating. When the eighth seeded Bullets give the number one Chicago Bulls a run for their money and end up losing you can feel good about just being there, but when the Capitals are the first overall seed in the playoffs and are consistently losing in the first or second round there is nothing to feel good about. Most Greek tortures of hell were about getting close to your desire but never being able to achieve them, and the Capitals more than any other team have excelled at that aspect of torture.
In May of 2015 the Washington Capitals had a 3-1 series lead over the New York Rangers. It should be a familiar feeling by now. The Capitals and a 3-1 series lead, but as always they gave us a lot of hope that this was the year it would be different because you see with less than two minutes left in the game they had a 1-0 lead. Then 18 minutes and 19 seconds into the third period Chris Krieder scored the game tying goal and Ryan McDonagh scored the game winning goal nine minutes and 37 seconds into overtime. The Capital were still up in the series and by all rights should have won that game, but the feeling of here we go again persisted. The Capitals would lose game six by a one goal margin but it was only close because of third period goals by Joel Ward and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The final game of the series would be another game seven overtime loss for the Capitals and again a game where they drew first blood on a first period Alexander Ovechkin goal.
Nothing ends like an overtime loss in an NHL elimination game. The players are skating around and playing hard and trying to get the puck back and then suddenly it’s in the back of the net and the season is over. Every playoff loss stings, but by now Capitals fans had calluses. The Halak loss was a body blow that bruised a couple ribs, the Nationals game 5 loss in 2012 opened a gash over the eye, but this loss was just another one to add to the pile. It stung and it hurt but it was like trying to cut through scare tissue at this point. The Capitals had been doing this for so long that it was the story of the Alexander Ovechkin era. It just couldn’t hurt anymore because there had been too many injuries that proceeded.
The other big playoff to do of early 2015 was when the Wizards got ousted by the Atlanta Hawks. This shouldn’t have been a big deal in any conceivable way except in pure DC sports fashion the team decided to give you just enough hope to then snuff it out. Paul Pierce called game, or that was the quote on all the t-shirts after his buzzer beater to put the Wizards up 2-1 in the series after they’d already swept the Toronto Raptors. It looked like the Wizards were ready to ride a wave of momentum into the Eastern Conference finals but like all DC sports stories it was not to be. Even with the loss it wasn’t the soul crushing defeat we’ve become so accustomed to. This was the Wizards second playoff appearance in as many seasons but the NBA is different among sports and as long as the Warriors and LeBron James exist it is going to be a surprise for any other team to make it to the NBA finals or have a chance to win a championship, and while it would be nice to be the team with the chance at the upset it is unexpected enough that the losses don’t hurt nearly as much as the top seeded Capitals or Nationals continued short comings.
2015 for the Washington Nationals needs no introduction. I am certain you remember what went wrong that year. Oh yes that was the year that Bryce Harper won the MVP and nothing else important happened. Especially any incident between Bryce Harper and another player on the team. Nope. Nothing at all happened that season. I know acceptance is the first step to recovery but I always have felt denial gets a bad rap. So if we completely ignore the existence of Jonathon Papelbon from now until the end of time it will be like he never existed at all. Of course we can’t do that and the image of Papelbon chocking Harper while Matt Williams stood blissfully unware on the opposite end of the dugout is ingrained in the minds of any DC sports fan well versed in the misery of our collective sub-conscience.
Matt Williams 2015 as manager of the Washington Nationals can be summed up by saying, “He’s our closer. He closes the games.” Matt Williams wouldn’t not use a struggling Jonathon Papelbon and Drew Storen made it so those struggles didn’t much matter. If any future relief pitchers need a textbook on how not to be closer Drew Storen has provided it. Think about when Soriano was brought in and he started to struggle and the team couldn’t go to Storen because he was also struggling but they finally did in 2014 because they had almost no other option and then Papelbon is brought in and he starts to struggle and again the team can’t turn to Drew Storen because he’s also bad. If Drew Storen had just kept pitching well the Nationals would have given him back the job he wanted and may never have gone away from him again.
The 2015 Nationals needed bullpen help and they failed to add a set-up man so they decided to add a closer and push the rest of the bullpen down in roles. In theory it should have worked but Papelbon was already over the hill and coming to DC did nothing to help. He struggled, Storen mentally broke, and the rest of the bullpen remained not good enough. The Nats entered August with a one game lead in the division playing the Mets and ended August down by 6.5 games with no hope of coming back. It was one of the fastest and most demoralizing turn arounds I’ve seen in sports and as the reality set in further and further Matt Williams pushed more and more of the wrong buttons until frustrations overflowed and Jonathon Papelbon attempted to choke the life out of Bryce Harper in the Nationals dugout.
In 2015 the Nationals didn’t give people a whole lot to like, but Kirk Cousins did. You like that? While RGIII attempted to manufacture catchphrases and locker room drama Kirk Cousins just went about his business and was finally made the unquestioned starter heading into the 2015 season. The Redskins had drafted Cousins three rounds after they did Griffin in 2012 and the reason should have been obvious. Griffin was a small mobile quarterback and was going to be prone to injury. They needed a solid back-up. Kirk Cousins was more than that however and early on there were people in Ashburn that preferred him to Griffin and in 2015 he had a chance to prove those people right. Kirk Cousins in 2015 completed nearly 70% of his passes for 4166 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and led the Redskins on a four game winning streak to close out the season and secure a division title. The Redskins then lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Green Bay Packers in a game that saw the Redskins jump out to an early 11-0 lead and had them leading 18-17 as late as the third quarter before Aaron Rodgers and the Packers took over for good and won going away 35-18.