Saturday, October 13, 2012

You Never Get Used to Heart Break

By: Kerrance James

More so than any other sport, baseball is like a marriage. Maybe you feel more passionately about other sports, but with upwards of 185 games per season, baseball is in your life more often than not. At times, your baseball cap becomes as much a part of your wardrobe as your wedding ring. There are quirks amongst your players and announcers that others probably don’t notice, but you grow to love or despise the person for them. And though you almost always forgive your significant other when they wrong you, you never truly forget.

I feel bad for the Nationals’ fans whose playoff virginity was taken unceremoniously, and I hope that you never go through the déjà vu I just experienced.

Bob Brenly was kind enough to mention during Friday’s broadcast that Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS was the most painful game for the home crowd that he can remember since the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS. Considering my move to DC and subsequent transfer of allegiances from Houston to Washington at the beginning of the 2011 season, I feel pretty confident in saying I’m one of the few people in the world who can fully appreciate the comparison.

The entire District of Columbia had been getting nervous over the course of the 6 innings leading up to that fateful 9th, but most of those nerves were over having never been in that situation before, and not knowing what to expect. As a fan from that 2005 Astros team, my nerves weren’t so much uncertainty as they were PTSD. I texted my friend before the start of the 9th inning: “A 2 run lead. Against the Cardinals. To advance further than ever before in team history. I’m having flashbacks. This will not end well. Brad Lidge has ruined my life.” And then, just like in 2005, the lights out closer with the filthy slider got 2 outs without giving up a run before it all went to hell.

Some of the fans (myself included) were at the July 20th game against the Braves in which a 9-0 lead turned into an 11-10 loss, and maybe they thought it had prepared them for life as a fan in the playoffs (or worse, that a collapse like that couldn’t possibly happen again), but there’s more than a fine line between blowing a big lead in July and blowing one in October. Sure, it was a crucial game at the beginning of a 4 game series in a tight pennant race, but it still doesn’t even remotely compare to a post-season meltdown.

I was one of the “lucky” ones who had been there before. I thought the 2005 Astros had prepared me for the 2012 Nationals, but it turns out you don’t just get used to heartbreak. If anything, Drew Storen caused me more pain than Brad Lidge ever did.

At least when the Astros lost, they still had two more chances to win a game to advance to a World Series they ultimately had no chance of winning; the Nationals lost a winner-take-all, loser-plays-golf game.

At least when the Astros lost, they waited until the 7th inning to take a lead they would blow in quick, stomach-punching fashion 30 minutes later to one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game; the Nationals pain-stakingly pissed away a 6 run lead over the course of 3 hours against the likes of Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma. Seriously.

At least when the Astros lost, I was a freshman in college with little-to-no physical connection to the Astros and plenty of extracurricular activities to put my mind at ease after the game; now I'm in my mid-20's and have been to 40 Nationals games in the past 18 months and thus feel more of a connection with this local team than I’ve ever felt with any of the teams I arbitrarily decided to start following as a kid.

Worst of all, at least when the Astros lost, I didn’t see it coming; even the most optimistic Nationals' fans couldn't have ignored the warning signs tonight.

It hurts bad. I probably won’t sleep tonight. But I still love Drew Storen. I told him as much on Twitter. But I hope he doesn’t read it, because it’s inevitably sandwiched between tweets from some seriously messed up people who have been sending him hate messages and death threats. All this coming on the heels of the Matt Cassel situation. It’s no wonder most players don’t want to give back to the fans.

Drew will bounce back, and so will the Nationals and their fans. And hopefully we won’t have to hear the words “Strasburg” and “shut down” in the same sentence ever again. But you better believe that images of Drew Storen and Brad Lidge will be flashing through my mind if we make the playoffs again next year.

No lead is safe – especially against the Cardinals – but realizing that won’t make it any easier.

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