It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.
I was at Nationals Park last evening to the bitter end. The spring promise of the 3-0 lead after the first three batters inevitably (it seems in retrospect) led to the chilly fall loneliness of five potential game-winning last strikes that never came.
To sum it up, Thomas Boswell had one of his classic columns in this morning’s Washington Post. Boswell has been writing intelligently about baseball for decades. But this past week, for the first time, he’s been able to write about playoff baseball where his hometown team is involved. And the bitter pill of last evening’s Game 5 loss in the deciding game of the NLCS series was captured perfectly in his opening line:
You don’t get the whole feast in the first course. But Washington and its baseball fans, in their first visit to baseball’s postseason banquet, didn’t expect to be served arsenic in the appetizer.
Boswell deserved better…and the fans in Washington so wanted to see the Nats keep winning and to keep reading Boswell’s columns about this magical season. But it wasn’t to be.
Get used to it. That’s the nature of the baseball beast. The trek to a pennant, to World Series visits, even to a title, usually take years and, almost always, pass through dark, cold and unforgiving nights like this.
I took at least five pictures last night, hoping to get the glorious final pitch that would take the Nats to the battle against San Francisco for the National League championship. But the strikes were never called. It simply wasn’t to be.
A friend and I were among the largest crowd ever at Nats Park. It was electric (and I have the rally towel and playoff hoodie to prove it). And even with the loss, I wouldn’t trade a minute.
After hours of standing and cheering, the crowd finally found itself more in the mood for kneeling, and perhaps praying.
But in the fashion of a true baseball fan, Boswell ends up looking ahead:
In the last two days, an entire city has grasped why baseball — the October version for the highest stakes — produces millions of baseball fans. And, as Washington has also learned, those fans end up in three categories: incurably fanatic, temporarily in remission or still recuperating in intensive care.
This week, the Nationals ended a season but probably began an era. After generations of competitive starvation, the District hosted three playoff games with the Nats holding the best regular-season record in the sport.
There will be other seasons. But, for the Nats, none so thrilling, so shattering, so moving, as the first — the first, that is, that really mattered.
And we’ll give Giamatti the last word at explaining why it matters:
It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised.
Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.
Thanks Nats. Thanks Jayson, Bam Bam, Zim, LaRoche, The Beast, Ian, Danny, Suzuki, Jesus, Chad, DeRosa, Lombo, Shark, Wilson, Tyler, Ankiel and all this year’s position players. Thanks Stras, Nat Gio, Jordan, Edwin, Ross, John, Ryan, Craig, Michael, Christian, Tom, Sean, Clip, and yes…thanks Drew. And Davey – even though I was dying through the pitching changes in the middle of the game and on the decision to pitch to Kozma with the game tied – a special thanks to you. This was a hell of a year and we’ll be back for many more.
More to come…