It’s official. Nationals Park will be open past Oct. 1 for the first time and playoff baseball is back in Washington for the first time since 1933.
The Nationals clinched playoff birth in front of a near sellout crowd with a win at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers Sept. 20. Normally after home runs and wins, a submarine horn is blown as a touch to the ballpark’s proximity to Navy Yard Metro Station, but on Thursday night red fireworks were shot off in celebration instead.
The Nats took on the red hot Milwaukee Brewers, who are pushing for a playoff spot themselves, Sept. 22. Cy Young award contender Gio Gonzalez took the mound at the start of the game as a sea of red chanted “Let’s go Gio.” The game started out as a pitcher’s duel until the third inning when third baseman Ryan Zimmerman hit a grand slam to left field into the Milwaukee bullpen. The horn was sounded as Chuck Brown’s DC classic “Bustin’ Loose” blasted throughout the stadium. Every fan was on his feet.
As the game started to get out of control for the Brewers, the Nats capitalized and scored two more runs off of 23-year-old Milwaukee ace Wily Peralta. After another strong inning by Gonzalez, it was “time for the main event,” the announcer said: the President’s race. Teddy took an early lead, leaving Abe, George and Tom in the dust, as the crowd cheered for the winless president. As Teddy neared the finish line, Abe smashed Teddy’s face into a wall by right field. The crowd booed Abe for his cheap shot as he crossed the finish line because once again, Teddy couldn’t come up with the win.
Former National starter Livan Hernandez came in for the Brewers and pitched all over the plate. The Nationals scored six runs, making the score 9-0 at the end of the fourth inning. The team was hitting home runs left and right sounding the horn a total of three times; Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman all hit home runs. The team tallied so many runs that fans were almost tired of standing up by the tenth run. Team flags were flying, playoff apparel was disappearing from concession stands, barbeque was grilling in the outfield and lemonade was being sold on the hot Saturday afternoon. The atmosphere was perfect for the Nats to seal their victory.
At the top of the seventh inning, Gonzalez slipped and fell off the mound when winding up to pitch. As he hit the ground, the ball rolled in front of him as he sat on the grass in what many thought was pain. His teammates rushed the mound to see if he was okay, but Gonzalez was simply laughing in embarrassment as he sat there. The incident made an appearance on the “Not-Top Plays” segment on SportsCenter the next morning. When Gonzalez stood up, he wiped his jersey off and saluted the crowd with his cap. The crowd erupted in response to the gesture and fans waved their caps and cheered in response. Gonzalez came back from the mishap by striking the next batter out and forcing the third batter to ground out. It was his last inning and he was on his way to become the first twenty game winner in the Major League.
In the ninth inning, the Brewers scored two more runs, but they weren’t enough to catch the Nats who pulled away with a 10-4 victory. As fans walked out of the stadium, they carried their free posters with smiles on their painted faces. Seeing almost 45,000 seats occupied was incredible, but the fans’ chanting and the team’s stellar performance were what sent chills down the spines of every spectator in the stadium.
Baseball is back in the district and whether the Nationals are playing in the World Series or not isn’t an issue; fans are proud of their team for getting this far. With the Redskins’ inconsistency, the NHL lockout and the Wizards’ struggles, Washington could potentially become a baseball town again.