Right Field

Game 5 at Nationals Park

Rich offered condolences to Nationals fans after Friday night’s 9–7 season-ending loss to the Cardinals.

I did the same at Nationals Park moments after Ryan Zimmerman popped up a 1–2 pitch that landed in Daniel Descalso’s glove.

From the moment General Martin Dempsey threw out the first pitch, the ballpark was way louder than at any game I have attended since the Expos moved to Washington after the 2004 season. The crowd of nearly 46,000 reacted loudly and waved their red towels in response to every pitch Gio Gonzalez threw in the top of the first inning. Jayson Werth led off the bottom half with a double. Bryce Harper followed with a triple, and when Zimmerman socked a 2–1 pitch into the right-center field stands to put the Nats up 3-0, well, the joint was on fire.

After the Nats doubled their lead in the third, thanks to home runs from Harper and Michael Morse, everyone around me felt certain of victory. (And why not? Only Red Sox fans would think differently.)

Even as chillier fall weather descended on the ballpark and the Cards chipped away at the lead — one run in the fourth, two in the fifth, one in the seventh, one in the eighth — the crowd remained wild, lifting themselves out of their seats to chant so often that it started resembling a synagogue’s congregation during Rosh Hashanah services.

Whatever doubts might have crept into people’s minds after Descalso hit the solo home run in the eighth were set aside moments later when Kurt Suzuki knocked in an insurance run.

In the top of the ninth, closer Drew Storen gave up a leadoff double to Carlos Beltran, but after a groundout and strikeout, everyone was confident that he would get that final out.

Two strikes on Yadier Molina? “One more, Drew!”

Alas, Molina walked and the tying run was on base.

Two strikes on David Freese? “One more, Drew!”

Alas, Freese walked and the bases were loaded, with the tying run in scoring position.

By now, the euphoria was long gone, having been replaced with extreme skittishness. The only folks talking smack now were wearing St. Louis caps or Molina jerseys. Descalsco tied the game with a bullet up the middle that Ian Desmond could not smother. After Pete Kozma poked a ball into right field, putting the Cards up by two, the nervousness pretty much gave way to shock.

And in the ninth, after Harper chased a pitch over his head for strike three, the ballpark grew dead quiet and numerous fans started streaming for the exits. Moments later, the season was over, and those who remained got to watch the Cardinals celebrate on the diamond.

Interestingly, I don’t recall seeing any Nats players come out of the dugout to wave good-bye to the fans. Contrast with the scene at O.co Coliseum on Thursday after the A’s had been eliminated.

On the walk up to the lower-level concourse, with our jackets now zippered up, we heard numerous folks wonder what had gone so horribly wrong, even as they realized there would be no game against the Giants on Sunday and Monday, no more walk-off celebrations, A-Ha “Take on Me” renditions, presidents’ races, or Clint showing off with his T-shirt tosses that often landed in the 200-level seats.

Not in 2012, anyway.

Jason Epstein is the president of Southfive Strategies, LLC. He was a public-relations consultant for the Turkish embassy in Washington from 2002 to 2007.


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