The Washington Nationals celebrate after Game 7 of the baseball World Series against the Houston Astros on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, in Houston. The Nationals won 6-2 to win the series. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) AP

HOUSTON — In the end, one last time, they were dead and found life. What was this, the 33rd time that happened this month — one for each of the summers Washington went without baseball?

The parade route through downtown Houston had been mapped out, and the Washington Nationals reoriented it to the northeast, to Constitution Avenue. They travel with defibrillators and don’t care how often they use them.

Wednesday night, in the seventh game of the World Series, the doctors on call were Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick.

They will be remembered in the District of Columbia — and well beyond — for the seventh-inning home runs that turned yet another certain loss into yet another improbable win. But if anyone wants to single them out, they will call in the rest of the Nationals who finished the Houston Astros with a 6-2 victory Wednesday night, because over the course of a rollicking summer and an inconceivable October, this team danced together, this team hugged each other, this team won together.

Let your mouth form the words and sing it out loud: The Washington Nationals won the World Series. Repeating it is allowed. Someday, it may even make it feel more real.

That day, though, wasn’t Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park, when the Nationals trailed the Astros — winners of 107 games, champions two years ago, heavy favorites this whole series — 2-0 in the seventh inning. That deficit, written in black and white, doesn’t seem daunting. In Game 7, it felt gaping.

But by now, those who rolled with these Nats through a wild-card victory (in which they trailed in the eighth inning), over a division series (in which they needed to win the final two games), and into the sixth game of this series (in which they trailed in the fifth) had learned what this team is about. There is no doubt. There is only hope.

Even before the homers from Rendon and Kendrick — not to mention Patrick Corbin’s brilliant outing in relief — that was true about this team. They won the World Series, Washington’s second after the 1924 Senators. More importantly, they transformed what their town — which watched those Senators relocate twice — believes is possible from its baseball team. Having baseball back doesn’t mean there’s only pain. Having it back can bring bliss.

There are kids in the District now who know nothing of life without this crazy sport, even kids who know nothing about entering a season expecting to lose 100 games.

But even with the utter urgency of the postseason, when every game even before Wednesday night feels like a must-win, there must be time to reflect. Major League Baseball moved the Montreal Expos to Washington for the 2005 season. The Lerner family, local real estate tycoons, were granted the keys in 2006. What, exactly, had they bought?

“We were less than an expansion franchise,” said general manager Mike Rizzo, hired that summer as the scouting director. “We had to get a lot better to be at the expansion-franchise level. No depth anywhere. We didn’t have much of a scouting and player development staff. We were very bare bones on almost each and every level.”

Back then, a night like Wednesday — and moments like Rendon’s and Kendrick’s — seemed impossible to envision. From 2006-10, the Nationals lost 91, 89, 102, 103 and 93 games, respectively. Losing seemed ingrained. The World Series was a television program.

And then the 2012 team — with Bryce Harper as a hair-on-fire rookie, Davey Johnson as the wiley manager and Stephen Strasburg shut down — broke through with a division title. The growth was slow. The pivot — in both expectations and possibilities — seemed sudden.

“You’re really talking about ’08 to ’12, so four years of growth for an organization to then be expected to make the playoffs,” said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the only player to appear in every Nats’ season. “And then all of a sudden, if you don’t get past the first round of the playoffs, you’re a huge disappointment. So it all happened kind of fast.”

Which makes Wednesday night, and the month that led to it, hard to process in the moment or even overnight. So much was accomplished over October, what with four previous games when a loss meant welcome to winter. Instead, they won, and extended fall. This team won the franchise’s first pennant. It hosted Washington’s first World Series games in 86 years. It forced itself — and that’s the right word, “forced,” because the Nats had to wrest a wild Game 6 from the Astros — into the seventh game of the World Series.

And then, to the seventh inning. Given everything that happened from then on, try to remember how dead the Nationals felt to that point.

Zack Greinke, the veteran Houston right-hander, looked as if he controlled the ball on a string. Through six innings, Washington’s offense against him: Juan Soto’s second-inning single and Kendrick’s fifth-inning walk.

The miracle, to that point, was that Houston’s lead was only 2-0.

Max Scherzer, the $210 million pitcher who was essentially signed to pitch in this game, tried to shake off a neck issue that had caused him to scratch from his scheduled start in Game 5. Scherzer was nothing if not game, but his stuff was not good. Each pitch felt like an impending disaster. The question ahead for the winter didn’t seem as if it would be, “How in the world did the Nats do that?” It seemed as if it would be, “Why in the world did Martinez stick with Max for so long?” Combine nine Astros left on base through five innings with Greinke’s easy mastery, and a 2-0 game somehow felt like it was 7-0.

And yet when Rendon came up with one out in the seventh, it was the perfect stage for the 2019 Nats — trailing, facing elimination with their flatlining superstar coming to the plate. It was Rendon who had helped push the Nats to Wednesday night with a two-run homer in Game 6. It was Rendon who could get them back in it in Game 7.

“Things are going crazy,” Rizzo said, “and he’s yawning in the batter’s box.”

So, then, ho-hum, Greinke’s 1-0 change-up was sent out to left field. Life, where there was none. To that point, in the Nats’ five elimination games this fall, Rendon had seven plate appearances in the seventh inning or later. The results: walk, double, homer, double, homer, double, homer.

“He’s one of the most impressive superstars in our game,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said.

His heroics meant nothing if Kendrick didn’t follow them up.

That opportunity came after Greinke walked Soto, his final hitter. Hinch went to Will Harris, the veteran reliever. Kendrick got an 0-1 cutter.

When Kendrick clanked it off the foul pole in right, and the Nats had a lead that never felt possible, he raced back to the dugout to dance.

The home run was for the guys in that dugout, of course. For Strasburg, whose masterpiece in Game 6 helped propel them here. For Adam Eaton, who couldn’t wait to shift gears in a pretend car at Kendrick’s side on the bench. For Zimmerman, the franchise leader in every meaningful category, often described as its face, but also its conscience and soul.

For all of them.

Remember not just that they won, but how they won. The 2019 Washington Nationals taught us all lessons — about patience and belief, about faith and fortitude, about finding life where none seemed to exist. They are champions because of all of that, even if — right now or next month or next year — it’s unfathomable they did it at all.


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