Associated Press photo
Drew Storen and the rest of the Nats dugout were in shock as Game 5 ended.
OK, it's probably the last local sporting event anyone wants to re-live on the morning after an especially memorable event by another local sports franchise -- by the way, who would've guessed that the least surprising D.C. division champion in 2012 would be the Nationals? -- but bear with me here as I attempt to spin the most devastating loss of the year into a potentially positive development moving forward.
You already know how Game 5 of the National League Division Series played out. How the home team stormed out to an early 6-0 lead that left Nationals Park bouncing and shaking with anticipation of a celebration at night's end. Then how Gio Gonzalez labored to complete five innings and put pressure on the bullpen to close this one out. Then how Davey Johnson surprisingly gave the ball to Edwin Jackson in the seventh. Then how Tyler Clippard gave up a homer to Daniel Descalso in the eighth. Then how Drew Storen got within one strike of wrapping up a 7-5 victory, only to serve up back-to-back, two-run singles to Descalso and Pete Kozma and leave an entire stadium in stunned disbelief after a 9-7 loss.
That sense of stunned disbelief still permeated in the Nationals' clubhouse an hour later, with hardly a word uttered amid the surreal scene of rolled-up tarps and stain-proof carpets that had been in place in case of a champagne celebration that never happened.
But over time, that disbelief has transformed into resolve. No one who was in that clubhouse that night wants to go through that experience ever again, creating a new sense of motivation heading into 2013.
This team already would have reported for spring training with lofty goals, no matter how its previous season ended. But given the manner in which it did end, those goals will be sky-high, and there won't be one person in uniform who isn't determined to reach them.
"World Series or bust," Davey Johnson proclaimed earlier this month at the Winter Meetings. "That's probably the slogan this year. But I'm comfortable with that."
Baseball history is littered with franchises and fan bases that were made to suffer through some of the worst pain this sport can muster up. In many cases, those same franchises and fan bases got a chance to experience the thrill of victory and redemption later on, making all the suffering worthwhile. In some cases, it never happened and those teams and towns continue to be haunted by what almost was.
We don't know yet how the saga will end for the Nationals, whether they give themselves an opportunity for redemption in 2013 or whether they can't get past the image of that fateful October night on South Capitol Street.
But this much we do know: The entire 2013 season will be framed around the game that ended the 2012 season. "One more strike" will be the rallying cry and give a team that already enters the year with plenty of reason to believe in itself even more motivation.
It may have been the most difficult moment of the year to accept. But that's also what made it the most significant moment of the year.