Since the last out of the 2019 World Series was made Wednesday night, there’s been a rush to find the proper word to describe the phenomenon of the champion Washington Nationals.
You know what, phenomenonal might be the perfect way to define a team that rose from the basement, refused to quit and fought with unrelenting intensity to bring its city its first Major League baseball title since 1924.
The Nationals won in the fashion no professional sports team in history ever had. They won four road games in the first best-of-seven series in MLB, NBA or NHL history during which the home team lost every time.
MLB.com tells us road teams win games 46.5 percent of the time. That would mean the odds of a home team losing seven straight in series like this are 0.47 percent. That means it would happen five times out of 1,000 times.
Obviously, those incredible odds are not enough to salve the open wound the Astros incurred by losing Games 1 and 2 and 6 and 7 in a stadium in which it dominated opponents all season by leading the Majors with 60 wins.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch was asked following Game 7 if its was hard to imagine his team failing to win a World Series home game.
“It’s easy to me,” said Hinch. “I just lived it. It’s not that hard for me.”
Much like the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, who rallied from being the worst team in the league on Jan. 3 to win the Stanley Cup, the Nationals rebounded from 19-31 on May 24 to win the World Series.
Since the introduction of the Wild Card in 1995, only one other team – the 2005 Astros – were that bad after 50 games but still made the playoffs. That team also played in the World Series, losing to the Chicago White Sox.
Washington and the 1914 Boston Braves are the only teams to win a World Series after dipping at least 12 games under .500 at one point in the season.
You want to hear something truly amazing? Both the Nationals and the Detroit Tigers were 12 games under .500 on May 24 and the Tigers ended up losing 114 games.
Washington won eight of their nine road games in the postseason. Its the sixth straight season the champion clinched on the road, the fourth straight World Series Game 7 in which the road team was victorious.
The Nationals truly earned their championship. Game 7 was the fifth time in the postseason during which they trailed in an elimination game and roared back to win, a new MLB record. They trailed 3-1 in the eighth inning of their wild card win over the Brewers and the deciding Game 5 of the NLDS against the Dodgers.
“I’m going to get emotional. But the stuff and the things that these guys have overcome, it’s truly amazing,” Nats hitting coach Kevin Long told The Athletic. “I really do think this was a dream team. I really think this was one of the most amazing feats that any team has ever accomplished. If somebody had said that we’d beat the (2017) world champions in Houston tonight and they’d crown us world champions, I don’t think anybody would believe that.
“We were down in the Wild Card game. I mean, are you kidding me? We were down five times [in elimination games]. Really? I can’t say that enough. We were down in all these games late, and just continued to fight and come back and stay together. And the pitchers knew if they just stayed close, we’d find a way to win. And we certainly did.”
Only two other teams in the game’s history had won a World Series against an opponent with as large a run differential disadvantage (-14) as the Nationals had against Houston entering the postseason. One of them happened in 1906.
“There was something going on,” said Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle. “We totally felt it. We totally fed off it. We kind of thought coming into the series that the pressure was on them. We could tell right away from the questions that they got on Media Day, versus the questions we got on Media Day. There was a totally different vibe to those questions.
“They were getting asked, `What are you gonna do after you win the World Series? What are you gonna buy?’ And people were asking us, like: `What does it mean to be in the first World Series ever in Nationals history?’ And we were like, `I don’t know. It’s cool. We’re happy to be here.’ So we were very aware that they were the team to beat and we were the biggest underdogs, according to Vegas, in the last – what? – 15 years? Something like that? But you know what Hans Solo says: `Never tell me the odds.’”
The Nationals are the first team in MLB history to defeat teams with 106 (the Dodgers) and 107 wins (Astros) in the same postseason.
“You know, momentum’s tough to change,” said Long said. “And something like that really, really lifted everyone’s spirits in the dugout. You could see it on the field. It was almost like those [Astros] said, `Oh no. Here they come.’”
The offseason may be difficult for the Nationals. Third baseman Anthony Rendon is a free agent and has already turned down a lucrative seven-year offer from the team that would have averaged about $30 million a year.
And righthander Stephen Strasburg, the World Series MVP, needs to tell the team before the end of the week if he plans on opting out of a deal set to pay him $100 million over the next four seasons.
If both take off, the Nationals will have two major voids to fill, larger that the one Juan Soto and Adam Eaton sealed after Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies.
But if that happens, the Nationals will always be able to look back on the improbable, in many ways historic, run to the 2019 World Series championship.
“My whole life, I dreamed of being a big leaguer,” Max Scherzer, the Nationals Game 7 starter, told ESPN. “And when you dream of being a big leaguer, you dream of winning the World Series.”