One Strike Away

The perfect moment is baseball is the inaction proceeding the action. The phrase, “One strike away,” in more than a few ways is baseball perfection. It symbolizes that moment before any action can happen and is as double edged as any great metaphor. Think back to last October when Drew Storen and the Nats were one strike away from advancing to the NLCS. The last moment of peace in that game was with two out, Beltran at third, and a 3-2 count on Yadier Molina. It was after that pitch that everything came undone. The time after the 2-2 and before the 3-2 pitch to Molina is sports perfect moment.

Those are the moments that make baseball great and yet so harrowing. The Nats were one strike away from Nationals Park exploding into a sea of exuberant excitement. Instead Molina walked, Freese walked, Descalso singled, and Pete “Fucking” Kozma. While Pete Kozma gets all the scorn from the Nats fan base it is the moment before the 3-2 pitch to Molina that continues to replay in my mind. Even now I can close my eyes, feel the chill of the October air, hear the growing concern in the crowd around me, and I can see Storen on the mound taking on last inhale before throwing the pitch. It all comes rushing back. It is as familiar to me as any other reoccurring dream.  

One strike away. The Nationals were one strike away from advancing to the NLCS and the Cardinals one strike away from elimination. That isn’t all being one strike away can mean but the balancing point the Nats and Cards found themselves in on that October evening is why we watch sports. The fact that it was a 3-2 pitch makes it even more tense. One pitch, either a ball or a strike, will head to the plate and the batter will swing or he won’t. It was a ball and Molina didn’t swing, and what happened next is the nightmare that all Nats fans have relived this off-season.

The Nats were there. They got as close to the NLCS as they could without making it. The circumstance of events didn’t go their way and left them with unfinished business. That is what 2013 is. It is proving that 2012 was no fluke. That the Nationals were not one year wonders or a team of young players that lacked the necessary experience to advance. The Nats are hardened by Game 5. Like steel held in a fire, melted, and reformed a new Nats team has emerged. Eager and ready for new challenges. Eager and ready to build on the successes and the failures of 2012. The Nats got as close as one strike away, and then before they knew it they were eliminated.  

Baseball is about the inaction before the action. It is about being one strike away, but eventually that strike has to be thrown, and sometimes it isn’t, and by the time it is it is laced into left for a go ahead single by Pete Kozma. The Nats ran into the circumstances of playoff baseball. 162 games proved them to be the best time in baseball, but events played out in a way that ended with them out of the playoffs. 2013 could be much the same, or it could be very different. The Nats have the means and motivation to finish what was started in 2012.

All that waits is for April 1 to arrive. Baseball is about the inaction before the action, but six months is far too much inaction for a team and its fan base to stew in bad memories. The moment has replayed itself in my head half a hundred times, Yadier Molina at the plate, Drew Storen on the mound, and the Nats one strike away. “You got this Drew. You got this,” words whispered in a dream, but Drew never had this. The moment was not his to have. The 2012 season is caught, perpetually, being one strike away.