By Sam Bush
Long-suffering Washington baseball fans will welcome back the World Series for the first time in 86 years when the Nationals play the Astros starting tomorrow night.
The Nationals, ousted in their first playoff series four times since 2012, swept St. Louis to reach the best-of-seven final for the first time since the team was founded in 1969 as the Montreal Expos.
Half a century later, after moving from Canada to the US capital following the 2004 campaign, the team has revived the passion for the national pastime with a new “Nattitude” in Washington.
“This is huge for us and for the city and the community,” Nationals slugger Ryan Zimmerman said.
“I still talk to season ticket holders now that have been here since (2005). We went through those things together. We’ve had some chances and couldn’t come through.
“A lot of those failures taught us and pushed us to get to where we are now. I feel like me, the fans, the community are kind of one, and they deserve this just as much as we do.”
It’s an epic history of futility in Washington, which went 33 years without even a baseball team to call its own.
The US capital went 26 years without a title in any of the four biggest US sports leagues until the NHL Capitals won the 2018 Stanley Cup.
Washington celebrated its only World Series champion in 1924, cheered on by President Calvin Coolidge, as the original Senators captured the crown in a seventh-game thriller.- Only title 95 years ago –
At a time when a loaf of bread cost nine cents and radio was an expensive new electronic marvel, Hall of Famer Walter Johnson pitched four scoreless relief innings at age 36 to set up a 12th-inning finish considered one of the most dramatic in World Series history.
New York Giants catcher Hank Gowdy stepped on his own thrown-off mask and dropped a pop-up by Washington’s Muddy Ruel. Given a second chance, Ruel doubled. Johnson reached first base on another error and Earl McNeely bounced a ground ball over Giants third baseman Freddie Lindstrom to score Ruel with the deciding run.
A year later, the Senators suffered the biggest collapse in a World Series game seven, squandering a four-run lead and losing to Pittsburgh. The Senators also lost to the Giants in the 1933 World Series and would never reach such lofty levels again.
There was a World Series in Washington after 1933 but not the MLB version. Several games in the Negro League World Series were played in the nation’s capital by the Homestead Grays in the 1940s, the club winning titles in 1943 and 1944 with games in Washington before the league faded after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier in 1947.
Senators owner Calvin Griffith moved his team to Minnesota after the 1960 season, replaced by an expansion club that lasted only until 1971, when it relocated and became the Texas Rangers — the oldest MLB club never to win a World Series title at 59 seasons and counting.
Washington went without baseball from 1972 until the arrival of the Expos, who had their own heartache. The best team in club history was dominating in 1994 before a labor dispute led to the season being shut down and no World Series being played, a sting fans never fully forgave, setting up the 2004-05 move.
It took until 2012 for the Nationals to enjoy a winning season but they haven’t suffered a losing one since, making the playoffs in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017.
In 2012, a team that last made the post-season in 1981 went to a winner-take-all game five against St.Louis. Washington jumped ahead 6-0 after three innings only to lose, falling short just one out from victory.
In 2014, San Francisco beat Washington in four games, losing 2-1 in a second game settled by Brandon Belt’s home run in the 18th inning.
The Los Angeles Dodgers inflicted the heartbreak two years later in another do-or-die fifth game, the Nationals blowing a 2-1 series lead with a pair of one-run losses.
In 2016, the Chicago Cubs edged Washington 9-8 in the fifth game on their way to winning their first World Series crown since 1908.
The Nationals, who saw star Bryce Harper leave for Philadelphia in the off-season, began this year 19-31 and many fans wrote them off, only to watch them battle into the playoffs as a wildcard and stunningly into the World Series at long last.
“It was simple,” Zimmerman said. “We could either basically roll over and quit or come in each day and try and win that game that day. We chose the second one.”