The Much Deserved Triumph of the Expos/Nationals

November 2, 2019

Yesterday, a neighbor and I talked about the recent nearby slaughter at one of our neighbor’s houses. She said that she had been up sewing, and heard so many rapid “booms” that she figured that it had to be firecrackers.

On Halloween evening, we only gave away about two-thirds of the candy we had purchased to give to neighborhood children. At first, there seemed to be a fair number of parents bringing around their young families, but as dusk coagulated, the streets grew very quiet. Few were willing to take a risk when it was not necessary.

Well, it feels incumbent to find something to affirm, and at least one of my favorite consolations has bestowed its blessing on those who were braced for yet another predicate of defeat. (“Washington, first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League” was one of the most repeated jibes of mid-century baseball lore.)

Today, the Washington Nationals will celebrate their World Series championship with a parade in our nation’s capital, and though I won’t have time to watch this exuberant display of fantasized affiliation, and savor others’ unexpected joy as representative of my wish fulfillments, I am delighted that this team finally shook off a half-century of frustration. For those in Los Angeles County who bemoan the three full decades during which the Los Angeles Dodgers have not provided its resident fans with such an occasion, I say, “Tough luck. What a bunch of crybabies.” Let them recall the fifth game of a playoff series between the Dodgers and the predecessors of the Nationals, the Montreal Expos, in 1981. With the tying run on second base, and two out in the bottom of the ninth, Bob Welch relieved the Dodgers’ starting pitcher, Fernando Valenzuela, and stymied the Expos’ rally. So close to comprehending the nectar of a World Series (in which they, too, would probably have defeated the NY Yankees), and yet denied the slightest taste.

That particular game was played under brutal conditions: the day before, intermittent snow and wind chill had forced the game’s postponement. The next day was hardly better, and though I was cheering for Fernando and the Dodgers, I felt a pang in knowing how disappointed Montreal’s fans must have been. Of course, compared to having their extraordinary 1994 season short-circuited by a labor strike, the loss in 1981 was merely a prelude to extended melancholy. There are no parades for runners-up, and monuments to second place are as scarce as a metaphor at a convention of literalists.

It’s true that the loss of Montreal’s baseball franchise did not cause the city to implode the same way that Brooklyn collapsed after the Dodgers deserted that borough. After all, the Montreal Conadians have won two dozen Stanley Cups in the past 110 years, so it’s hardly a city without a diadem of championship flags at its arena. Nevertheless, Anthony Rendon’s home run in the fifth game against Clayton Kershaw, followed by Juan Soto, seemed like long overdue payback for Rick Monday’s ninth inning home run in the fifth game of the 1981 series.

Am I sorry to see a pitcher of Kershaw’s caliber falter in a big game once again? Naw. He’s just like Nolan Ryan, unable to win a clutch game when it most matters. In point of fact, in my own fantasy of matching up players from over the ages, I would choose Fernando Valenzuela to start, in an elimination game, over Clayton Kershaw any day. Maybe Kershaw attains the Hall of Fame, but Dodger fans who cherish the game’s aleatory poignancy will always honor Fernando as the first among equals, after the truly great, such as Koufax and Drysdale.

(Post-script: Soto is the single most exciting young player I’ve seen in many years. While I understand how Trout’s statistics justify the acclaim he has earned, he seems somewhat flat in terms of personal depth. Soto brings a gracefulness to his exuberance for the game that makes him a joy to watch. He plays as if nothing else could be so natural, whereas it is a truth universally acknowledged that one of the hardest tasks of physical coordination is to hit a round object with the sweet spot of another round object.)

Comments are closed.