The Washington Nationals had three chances to win the World Series this weekend, or at least go back to Houston with a series lead. Instead, their unexpected 2-0 lead has turned into a 2-3 quagmire.
The Nats scored just three total runs in three games and batted .175 as a team. They had better offensive innings on the road to start the series than their 27 combined innings at home.
But maybe that was the only way for this particular team to win: as underdogs with their backs to the wall.
Maybe this was the only way for the Nationals to win: as underdogs with their backs to the wall.
After all, they turned high expectations in spring training into a 19-31 start to the regular season. Then they started winning.
They caught fire in August, seizing control of the top Wild Card spot. The Nats became the "hottest team in baseball," a label that seemed to jinx them against the Braves. A 7-10 start to September sealed their Wild Card finish. Then they got hot to close out the month.
In the Wild Card game, the Nats fell behind 3-0 and didn't score until the seventh inning. Then they scored four straight runs to beat the Brewers.
In the NLDS, the Nats didn't beat the Dodgers twice in a row until they had to – in Games 4 and 5 – to prevent elimination. In Game 5, they trailed 3-0 before bashing their way to a 7-3 victory.
"We wouldn't have it any other way, I guess," Nats catcher Kurt Suzuki told the media after NLDS Game 4. "That's kind of how our season's been. We've played with our backs against the wall since May when everybody was counting us out.
"It's no different now. You've just got to play for your season."
With a championship season on the line, the Nats return to do-or-die mode.
The fans did everything you could want as a player, showing up before first pitch, gleefully chomping along to "Baby Shark," and hanging around cheering for late-inning magic.
The love from the city to the team is real, but these Nats don't need that. They generate their own energy, from the dugout dances and hugs to the "roadfield advantage" they've enjoyed throughout the postseason (6-1 record).
The Nats return to Houston where they've already won two enormous victories. They will have Stephen Strasburg on the mound for Game 6, and may even get Max Scherzer back for a Game 7 winner-take-all showdown.
The circumstances are different on this team charter flight to Houston, but the mindset shouldn't be. This is a team that plays loose when they've already been counted out.
As long as they embrace a return to the underdog role, they have a chance to win it all.