It’s irrelevant that the Washington Nationals lost against the Detroit Tigers tonight. They played like the scoreboard didn’t even exist; they played with the effort and intensity of a team who has a pure love for the game, a team infected with untreatable, incurable, inoperable, drug-resistant 'Tism, and that came through sublimely in the ninth inning, possibly the most exciting of the Nationals’ stellar season thus far.
By the top of the sixth inning, the Tigers led 9 to 1 and many spectators were heading for the parking lot, expecting that the game was already over. With two homers by Gary Sheffield and Marcus Thames and six runs scored by Detroit in the fifth, a comeback seemed improbable. But for those who embrace ‘Tism, this was a time to rally. Chair Manny looked focused, his determination and belief in his team unwavering, as Felipe Lopez stepped to the plate. As if possessed by the positivity that has propelled this club into a respectable standing, Lopez smacked a triple that drove home Christian Guzman and inspired singles from both Ryan Zimmerman and Dmitri Young. Austin Kearns walked to first, loading the bases, and by the end of the inning, Ryan Church and Brian Schneider had also helped to boost the Nats' score by four runs.
Their defensive cohesiveness and Manny-inspired confidence was at its best as Saul Rivera and Jon Rauch managed to hold the Tigers scoreless and keep the Nationals momentum going, and by the bottom of the ninth inning every remaining Nationals fan was on their feet, and damned if those Tigers fans, those fans of the elite second-place team about to blow a big one to an unwilling doormat, didn’t look noticeably nervous.
At the beginning of this season, in that dark first week that modern evidence suggests might never have existed, a four-run lead against the Nationals in the ninth would have meant that the opposing team could relax and wait out their win. After a recent series win against a now manager-less team that is not in this market, and game after game of proving themselves against allegedly stronger ball clubs, a four-run lead no longer means ultimate demise. It means the Nats have room to explode like fireworks over RFK stadium. And explode they did.
With a visibly concerned Todd Jones on the mound, Robert Fick (batting average now .200+!) and Ryan Langerhans (who DCO predicts will be quite the power hitter by the end of the season - 10 homers, put it in the book) effortlessly got on base, just in time for Christian Guzman to step up and triple for the fifth time this year, sending his boys home. Eliciting deafening cheers from the stands, Lopez, likely still hopped-up on Manny Motivation, stepped up and singled Guzman home. And although Young struck out and Ronnie Belliard hit a bouncing grounder to the short stop and prevented the tying run, the Nationals still accomplished a great feat by any standard.
They put the fear of God, if only momentarily, into one of the best teams in the league. They refused to roll over and die when the opposition tagged them for runs early on. They showed (most) underdogs all over the world that greatness is possible if you just inject a little ‘Tism into the mix. They didn’t "technically" get the win tonight, and maybe the Tigers left the field feeling only slightly less smug than usual, but in typical fashion the Nationals’ spirit and enthusiasm made us forget that we were even keeping score. And that’s evidence of a team that comes to PLAY, no matter what the circumstances. They may yet show us that even a defeat can be a springboard for a big run. Take note, nearby non-DC team.