On Oct. 1, 2019, the Nationals began a stretch of 30 days never to be forgotten in the club's history books. After beginning the year 19-31, Washington clawed its way into the playoffs, becoming one of nine teams in MLB history to come back from being 12 games under .500 to earn a postseason berth, per the Elias Sports Bureau.
“It would’ve been way too easy for us to just pack it in and call it a season in May,” starter Stephen Strasburg said after clinching a playoff spot. “But we're not those type of guys in here.”
The Brewers had won 18 of 20 games heading into their last series of the regular season, when they were swept by the Rockies, forcing them into a winner-take-all game at Nationals Park. Home teams had been 6-8 in Wild Card matchups, and both clubs were up for a battle.
“I feel like we played really well at home, especially in the second half,” closer Sean Doolittle said in the build-up. “And hopefully we can make that happen.”
The Nationals loaded the mound with aces. Max Scherzer got the start against Brandon Woodruff. He allowed early home runs to Yasmani Grandal and Eric Thames, and the Brewers jumped out to a 3-0 lead by the end of the second inning. Scherzer settled in to throw a total of five frames with four hits, three runs, three walks and six strikeouts.
The Nats got run support in the third inning when Trea Turner homered off Woodruff to cut the deficit to 3-1.
After Scherzer exited in the fifth, Washington kept its foot on the gas with its pitching. Strasburg threw three scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and fanning four to keep the Brewers' offense at bay.
“What can you say about Stras?” said manager Dave Martinez. “He comes in out of the bullpen and shuts them down, gives us a chance to get back in the game.”
That’s when the Nationals’ bats went to work, and a young talent burst onto the playoff scene.
In the bottom of the eighth, Michael A. Taylor reached first after officials ruled he was struck in the left hand by a Josh Hader fastball before it ricocheted off his bat. Veteran Ryan Zimmerman pinch-hit for Adam Eaton and delivered with a broken-bat bloop single. With Taylor on third and Andrew Stevenson pinch-running for Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon patiently loaded the bases with a full-count, two-out walk.
An at-bat later, 20-year-old Juan Soto showed he was ready for the big stage by sending a Hader fastball into right field for what should have been a game-tying single. That’s where things took a turn.
The ball skipped past the Brewers' Trent Grisham, and Rendon raced around the bases to score the go-ahead run. Soto was tagged out when rounding second base. Washington never took an at-bat with the lead.
“Nothing Soto ever does surprises me,” said catcher Kurt Suzuki. “This kid's unbelievable.”
That key at-bat set the stage for a postseason in which Soto hit .277/.373./.554 with 14 RBIs and five home runs, including three in the World Series.
Daniel Hudson closed out the Wild Card Game -- just as he would go on to do in Game 7 of the World Series -- to send the Nationals to the NL Division Series against the Dodgers.
“You have to catch some breaks, but more importantly, you have to take advantage of them,” Zimmerman said. “In the past, it seems like it's gone the other way, but tonight we caught a couple breaks.
“Maybe it's finally our turn.”