The 2019 Championship will be embedded in Nats fans memories forever, as the almost dream-like run from the 4th worst record in baseball to winning the World Series as a Wild Card team was absolutely one of the greatest championship runs not only just in baseball, but in the history of sports. Especially with the Nats beginning a rebuild, reminiscing on the good days is a given.
October of 2019 was the craziest mix of highs and lows I’ve ever felt as a sports fan. It felt like I had just watched the world’s greatest movie after they got that final out in Houston. Every game they won of that October run, even some of the ones they lost, was great in its own way. So, without further ado, my top 5 favorite games of the Nats 2019 run.
5. NLCS Game 4
This game did not really have any kind of huge moment or game-changing play, but it was the game that clinched the Nats the NL Pennant, and it was a statement game. The Nats had absolutely waxed the St. Louis Cardinals in this series thus far, with Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer both nearly no-hitting them to lift the Nats to a 2-0 series lead in St. Louis. Then Stephen Strasburg had an outstanding 7-inning, 1 unearned run, 12 strikeout performance as the Nats offense clobbered their way to an 8-1 victory. And in the final game of the series, the Nats showed absolutely no mercy and just proved what kind of team they were.
After dominating their way to a 3-0 series lead, what did the Nats do? They scored 7 runs in the first inning of game 4, and this series was all but over. The Cardinals offense, again, just had absolutely no answer whatsoever, as Patrick Corbin was blowing away all of them with 12 strikeouts in 5 innings. While the Nats spent most of the playoffs coming back from deficits in dramatic fashion, this game and this series was just a straight-up ass whooping. While the Cardinals did get some runs back and things did get a little dicey later in the game, the Nationals held on to win 7-4, and it did not matter that they used up all their runs in the first inning. They lifted the team to their first ever NL Pennant and World Series birth. The ALCS was still going on at the time, and this showed the Astros and Yankees the Nats were not going to be a walk in the park as their opponent in the World Series.
4. World Series Game 1
As good of a team as the Nationals were, they were considered heavy underdogs against the juggernaut Houston Astros. The 2019 Astros were simply just built different. A three-headed monster of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke, and a lineup with downright scary bats top to bottom. The Astros were the best team in baseball, and also one of the best regular season teams in baseball history. There was merit in doubting the Nationals, but they had shown in the playoffs thus far that they didn’t care who they were playing, and they were going to do just that once again.
Gerrit Cole had come into the World Series not losing a game since May. I mean, just what? How can you beat this guy? And it looked bleak early. After giving up an infield single to Trea Turner, he got Adam Eaton to pop up and absolutely blew away Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, arguably the best 3/4 hitter combo in baseball at the time, to strike them out. The Astros then proceeded to get off to a quick 2-0 lead after Max Scherzer gives up a double to Yuli Gurriel. It was looking a lot like this series wasn’t going to last for very long.
But remember when I said the Nats didn’t care? Well, they didn’t. In the top of the 2nd, Ryan Zimmerman laced a solo shot to dead center field to make it 2-1. Cole left a heater right down the middle and knew it, and Zimmerman was all over it. The next 2 innings were quiet as Scherzer found his groove, but Cole was about to feel the wrath of the Childish Bambino. Soto led off the top of the 4th and absolutely blasted an opposite-field solo shot up onto the train tracks at Minute Maid Park. He got a high and away fastball and knew exactly what to do with it. Welcome to the World Series, Juan Soto.
Cole wasn’t the same after that. He gave up multiple hits and a walk, including a go-ahead RBI single to Adam Eaton to make it 3-2 Nats. Soto then digs in to strike again. He absolutely grinds the best pitcher in the American League to a pulp in this at bat, and then somehow is sitting on a 3-2 changeup and takes it the other way again to bang it off the left field wall for a 2-run double. This is just when you knew not to sleep on the Washington Nationals. They came into the World Series and were pooping on the best pitcher they had faced thus far in the playoffs.
The game didn’t let up in intensity after this, though. Tanner Rainey surrendered a mammoth solo shot to George Springer to make it 5-3, and later Daniel Hudson almost served up another homer that Springer ended up watching for a little too long to make it 5-4. But the Nats held on, getting the save from Doolittle and taking Game 1 in Houston. Not only was it a legitimately great baseball game, but it was the game that showed everyone: not so fast.
3. Wild Card Game
The Juan Soto game. I will try not to have too much bias as I was in attendance for this game which made the atmosphere way cooler, but oh my God what an insane experience. Max Scherzer serving up the 2-run shot to Yasmani Grandal 2 batters into the game was peak October Nationals right off the bat, and you could just immediately feel the dynamic in the ballpark change. Even more so when Eric Thames made it 3-0 with a solo shot the very next inning. At least half the ballpark was thinking “here we go again.”
This game was a pitching duel for the most part. After giving up the 2 homers, Scherzer settled in and found his groove for 5 strong innings before Strasburg came in for 3 and continued to shut the door on the Brewers offense. Aside from a solo shot from Trea Turner, the Nationals offense had been dormant all night against a great Milwaukee pitching staff. Again, peak October Nationals.
And then the 8th inning happened. The best inning of live baseball I have ever watched in my entire life. The Nationals, down 3-1, are looking just about finished as the Brewers go to the most lockdown closer in the league in Josh Hader. After Hader hits Michael A. Taylor on the hand with a pitch, he strikes out Victor Robles and Trea Turner, gives up a broken bat bloop single to Ryan Zimmerman, and walks Anthony Rendon.
Here comes 20-year-old Juan Soto with the bases loaded, 2 outs, the season basically on the line against the best reliever in baseball. So, what does he do? Just absolutely laces one of the most unhittable fastballs in baseball right into right field, where Trent Grisham misses it and lets it roll to the wall. I’d recall what was happening at the park at this time, but I think I blacked out. I just remember the stadium absolutely erupting, beer flying everywhere. It was stunning. No one could believe that just happened. The Nats were 4 outs away from yet another playoff heartbreak, and just like that they were in the lead with 3 outs to go. And it got done. Just an absolute classic of a game, and a rightful start for the insanity that was to come.
2. NLDS Game 5
This was the game the demons were finally released. And this was the game Howie Kendrick first made his mark as a playoff hero. The Nationals had won a playoff series, and they did it by beating the 106 win Los Angeles Dodgers in an absolutely stunning elimination game in L.A. It instantly was looking like the Nats season was going to be coming to a close in the NLDS for the 5th time, as they were down early 3-0 after Stephen Strasburg gave up a 2-run shot to Max Muncy and a solo shot to Kiké Hernandez. Buehler was untouchable all night until Juan Soto knocked an RBI single in the 6th to make it 3-1. Here we go.
Clayton Kershaw comes in to relieve Buehler with the bases loaded. We all know about Playoff Kershaw, but he was not here yet. He made Adam Eaton look stupid with 3 straight strikes to retire the side. But the next inning was a different story. Anthony Rendon goes down and gets a pitch for a solo shot to make it 3-2. You can see Kershaw start to panic. The volume in Dodger Stadium lowers considerably. Juan Soto steps up. Kershaw throws him an absolute bacon egg n’ cheese right down the pipe. Soto destroys the longest homer of his career to tie it up. Kershaw goes down on the mound with his hands on his head. Dodger Stadium now sounded like the air had been sucked out of it.
I mean, this is just when you knew this team was different. I was absolutely stunned out of my mind. These were not the October Nationals I had come to know over my life. They had absolutely no fear whatsoever. They didn’t care what the situation was, and they knew they would be fine. And it translated as the game went into extra innings. After Joe Kelly loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the 10th, I was on the edge of my seat. I would have been happy with a sac fly, but knowing this team and how Howie Kendrick had been going in the playoffs at that time, I completely expected him to ground into a triple play.
And then I see him just absolutely smash a grand slam to dead center field. And all I could do was scream. This was the physical representation of the Nationals playoff demons being released. After everything this team had been through in October, they did it. They were moving on to the NLCS. At the time, this was the biggest euphoria I had ever felt as a baseball fan. Just a perfect game for a perfect situation.
1. World Series Game 6
I mean, this is an easy pick for the greatest playoff game in Nationals franchise history. It had absolutely everything you could ask for as a baseball fan. I can’t count the number of highlights I’ve watched and numbers of times I’ve replayed this game. It was just sensational.
We know how the story goes, but let’s tell it again anyone. The Nationals return to Houston after being swept 3-0 in D.C., one game away from elimination. Stephen Strasburg vs Justin Verlander, Round 2. Right off the bat, the Nats show they couldn’t give less of a shit that they’re on the brink of losing the World Series. Anthony Rendon gets them off to a fast 1-0 start with a single through the wide-open right side of the infield. Alex Bregman answers with a 2-run shot off Strasburg to take the lead, carrying his bat all the way to first base like he knows the Astros are going to wrap it up tonight. For the next 4 innings, Strasburg and Verlander were locked in a pitcher’s duel. Just gritty, peak postseason starting pitching. This ended when Verlander folded in the top of the 5th and gave up a game-tying solo shot to Adam Eaton. Uh oh.
After getting Anthony Rendon to pop up, Juan Soto steps in, not even close to fazed against the future Hall of Famer. He shuffles in Verlander’s face and gets in his head. Verlander grooves Soto a 3-1 fastball and he just absolutely unleashes a godly nuke into the upper deck, mocking Bregman by bringing his bat to first base as well. It was the greatest thing I have ever seen in my entire life. Nats had the lead back.
Then the Trea Turner drama happened. Here we were, still on Cloud 9 after watching Soto just vaporize a ball, seeing a horrible rule come into effect right as the Nationals had the lead back. Davey Martinez absolutely exploding on the umpires and getting tossed was an unreal sight to see. I obviously have had many gripes about Davey’s management during the regular season, but in the playoffs that man was a different animal. You could also see just how much he was willing to go to war for his guys. His fire ended up coming to fruition as Rendon rescued the inning with a 2-run shot off Will Harris, who I always forget is on this team, to raise the score to 5-2 and make the Turner situation not matter. Rendon eventually added a 2-run double his next time up to lift the Nats to a 7-2 victory, forcing a game 7 with an incredible 3-4 with 5 RBI performance. Remember the Bregman homer Strasburg served up? He was untouchable after that. He went 8.1 IP, giving up just 2 runs, walking 2, and striking out 7. Just another absurd start to add to his 7 inning, 2-run game 2 that eventually earned him WS MVP honors. This game was the just another embodiment of what the Nats went through in 2019. Down early, stormed back to win it. Bias aside, I truly think this was one of the best World Series games in the last few years.
You might be shocked to see Game 7 of the World Series was not included in this list. Do not get me wrong, the Howie Kendrick foul pole moment and winning it all was the thrill of a lifetime, but these other games just stand out to me more in regard to the Nationals entire postseason journey. These are the games I truly look back on the most.