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Nationals' collapse in final inning recalls ending of Damn Yankees, without the glory

Updated on October 13, 2012

In the mid-1950s, when the Yankees were winning the World Series every year and the Washington Senators struggled perennially to stay out of last place, Douglas Wallop wrote a book called The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, which went on to become the Broadway smash hit Damn Yankees.

The basic premise of the book (and I assume play, although I’ve never seen the play) is that middle-aged, potbellied Senators fan Joe Boyd is so tired of seeing Washington lose that he makes a deal with the devil – his soul in exchange for Washington winning the pennant. Boyd is transformed into new Washington phenom Joe Hardy, a sort of mash-up of Bryce Harper and Miguel Cabrera.

Hardy leads the team to a first-place tie with New York. But along the way he determines to get out of the contract. Lola, a young woman who has sold her soul for eternal youth and beauty, tries to tempt him to stay. Hardy doesn’t fall for it, finds a loophole in the contract, and gets out of it. Unfortunately for him, the contract expires as he’s rounding third with the run that would clinch the pennant for the Senators. Suddenly back to middle-aged Boyd, he still manages to score the run. (This is how I remember the book, although the movie has him catching a fly ball off the bat of Mickey Mantle.)

Nationals' deal expires with two outs

On Friday night, the Washington Nationals’ contract with the devil seemed to expire in the middle of an at bat by David Freese (speaking of Freese, has he made some kind of deal to be at the plate in all situations like this? I swear he had batted just the inning before). Drew Storen suddenly couldn’t throw strikes and walked two straight batters. Sparkling defender Ian Desmond couldn’t quite get his glove on Daniel Descalso’s grounder and the tying runs scored. Storen threw a ball to Pete Kozma that looked like a beer-league softball pitch and Kozma singled to win the game.

Oh, the Nationals still had their final at bat, but the game was already over. Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman faced 12 fastballs and looked horribly overmatched on all of them, much like Boyd would have. Washington’s dream season had ended.

Debate on Strasburg shutdown begins anew

For the next six months to six years, stories will abound questioning the wisdom of shutting down ace Stephen Strasburg after 159 innings pitched to save his arm for future pennant chases. Writers will speculate that with Strasburg in the rotation, the Nationals would have won, possibly in four games (although to hear some people talk about, Strasburg seems capable of picking up all three wins in one night while pitching blindfolded and juggling three balls with his left hand).

I’m sure General Manager Mike Rizzo, the man with the grand plan to shut down Strasburg, has received texts since the loss saying something like “Karma is a bitch” and things infinitely worse (possibly from Strasburg himself).

Cardinals may have made their own deal

I’m not so sure that Strasburg would have changed the outcome. Having Strasburg going twice in the series certainly couldn’t have hurt. But the Cardinals contract seems to not have run out yet.

Let’s face it, St. Louis didn’t so much earn the newly-minted second Wild Card spot as the Los Angeles forced them to take it by not remembering how to win games. The Cards pretty much gave Washington Game 4, and seemed determined to do the same in Game 5 when they allowed the Nats to pick up an insurance run in the eighth. Even after Carlos Beltran’s double, they looked ready to sneak off quietly into the night.

And then, like Prometheus stealing fire from the gods, the Cardinals seemed to grab some of the Yankees’ mystique. By the time Kozma came to the plate Davey Johnson could have brought in Jesus himself and Kozma would have still lined a 110-mph slider (I’m assuming Jesus would have great stuff) into rightfield.

Nationals arrogant about Zimmermann too

I get the feeling that even had Strasburg started Game 5, and shut down the Cardinals for seven innings on one hit and no runs, the Cards still would have managed to find a way to score nine runs off the relievers. It may have been arrogant to shut down Strasburg for future pennants, but the Nationals’ bigger arrogance was in saving Jordan Zimmermann, who had effectively silenced St. Louis the day before, for Game 1 of the NLCS. Better to win Game 5 and then worry about who’s pitching the opener in the next series.

So there will be no feel-good story this year (unless you’re a Cardinals fan, of course). The Nationals (with a well-rested Zimmermann and Strasburg) will watch the next series in front of a television set, just like the rest of us Joe Boyds.

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