The Washington Nationals won a World Series that was all about heart

BY Martin Rogers u2014 @MrogersFOX • October 31, 2019

David Ortiz has a habit of not mincing his words, and he put a perfect cap on a remarkable World Series.

“How great is baseball, guys?” Ortiz said on FOX’s postgame broadcast after the Washington Nationals triumphed in Game 7 on Wednesday night. “How great is baseball?”

Baseball doesn’t feel too great for the Houston Astros today, but it likely feels pretty darn good for everyone else. It was a strange season, this one that just went into the books, but sometimes the stranger baseball gets, the more compelling it becomes.

It was a year of home runs galore, but pitching was the focus of the Fall Classic. It was a year of record-setting dominance by a collection of heavyweights, yet a wildcard team that at one point sat 12 games below .500 won it all.

We’re sports fans, which means that big games and great triumphs evoke emotional reactions within us. Fueled by that, in the heat of the moment, it feels like the Nationals’ story should be the spark for a new trend in not just this sport, but others too. Even after franchise figurehead Bryce Harper left in free agency, even after a 19-31 start, even amid calls for Dave Martinez to be fired, the Nationals didn’t throw in the towel.

The club that turned into a world champion could have tossed it away at the deadline. Plenty of other fringe postseason contenders did. Washington didn’t go huge — they didn’t make a Zack Greinke-style splash. But they did some smart business and ultimately, two days before November dawned, it was deadline pick-up Daniel Hudson who recorded the final out and clinched the title.

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“Unbelievable,” said FOX’s Alex Rodriguez. “There was a lot of talk about firing Martinez. ‘What is life going to be in the nation’s capital without Bryce Harper?’ It was a little bit of the laughing stock of the market and there was a lot of panic and anxiety. What has happened (tonight) is pretty incredible.”

This is why we tell our kids to never give up. This is why statistical predictors only get us so far. This is why perseverance, which should be one of the most mundane words in the dictionary, is sometimes one of its most powerful.

Baseball is obsessed with statistics, but none of them can account for Ryan Zimmerman’s heart, or a 21-year-old Juan Soto reaching into his soul to become a World Series legend just as his career is getting started. As mighty as Houston’s triple-punch of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Greinke seemed, the Nationals found a way to overcome it.

“This is not all about the money; it is about the heart, what you bring to the table,” said Ortiz. “How you try to win ballgames; what city you represent.”

In truth, baseball is so statistic-based that it seems unlikely the Nationals’ blueprint will lead to a trend. When the deadline rolls around again next season, it won’t lead to a surge of bravery. Managers will get fired before they’ve had a real chance to turn it around. There will once again be teams not far removed from the postseason picture who refuse to roll the dice, instead looking to stockpile draft picks for future attempts.

Sabermetricians have their place and this isn’t an attempt to bash them. But just because there are no metrics that define heart, don’t be fooled into thinking it doesn’t matter. Oh, it plays — and we just saw the ultimate evidence of it.

When adversity arrived for the Washington Nationals in this World Series, they stared it in the eye and welcomed it like an old friend, one they’d dealt with and conquered and knew it was nothing to fear.

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They went through their gauntlet of fire back in the summer and took their time to struggle through it. They were ready for October and everything it had to throw at them.

There, they faced five elimination games. They overcame an absolute legion of hot arms. They survived Max Scherzer’s body locking up at the most inopportune time. In the end, for all of Stephen Strasburg’s brilliance and Scherzer’s courage, and the lightning arms of the Houston pitching triumvirate, it was the least-heralded starter of the series, Patrick Corbin, who got the critical win ... as a reliever.

For goodness’ sake, Washington had a three-game home skid smack in the middle of the World Series and still found a way to win it. By contrast, when the 107-win Astros’ moment of truth presented itself and they couldn’t rise to it, there were no second chances. It was too late.

In all likelihood, this isn’t the start of a Nationals dynasty. They’re probably not built for it. The oddsmakers still think Houston will be the stronger team in 2020, as they wake up on October 31 the 4-to-1 favorites to win it all next year.

Washington won’t care much — not now, as they dive headlong into the party of all parties — and likely won’t care moving forward either. There were one of the biggest World Series underdogs of modern times and confounded those numbers. They wrote one of the most remarkable stories in recent American sports.

They reminded us that while it might be smarter to play safe and look to the future when things turn against you, that’s not how magic happens.

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