The good news for the Washington Nationals is that they are in their first World Series. They beat the champions of the National League West and now they’ve swept the champs of the NL Central. They were down two games to one to the Dodgers and came back to win Game 4. They were down 3-1 in the late innings of Game 5 at Dodger Stadium, and then Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto hit back-to-back home runs against Clayton Kershaw, and Howie Kendrick began turning into Mr. October for the Nats. Now here they are.
That’s the bad news for the Nationals, riding all this crazy momentum. They wait and keep waiting until the series between the Astros and Yankees is over. And while they wait, they hope that when they start playing again, at either Minute Maid Park or at Yankee Stadium, that they won’t have suffered from the Curse of the Tigers.
Which might be a thing.
Twice under Jim Leyland, one of the great managers of all time, the Tigers swept the American League Championship Series, and then basically had to wait a week to start the World Series. The first time was in 2006. They swept the Oakland A’s. They were the ones riding crazy momentum. They had a talented kid named Justin Verlander pitching for them. And then they waited while the Cardinals and the Mets went seven long and dramatic games. That NLCS didn’t end until the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 at Shea Stadium, when Adam Wainwright -- he was the talented kid pitching for the Cardinals that year -- struck out Carlos Beltran, looking, with a curve ball that seemed to start up in the skyline of New York City and drop down to lower Manhattan, even though the Mets had runners on the bases who could have won them the pennant.
The Tigers watched that one, and waited. And when they finally did start playing baseball again, they looked more stale than stale bread, and lost to the Cardinals in five games. All season long you play games, day after day and night after night. Then you get a longer layoff than most players get during the All-Star break. We hear all the time about how baseball players are creatures of habit. The Tigers fell out of their habits and came crashing to earth. It doesn’t mean they would have beaten the Cardinals if they’d gone right from a Game 7 of their own to Game 1 of a World Series. But we’ll never know.
Six years later, it happened to the Tigers exactly the same way. They swept the Yankees in the ALCS, finishing them off with ease at Comerica Park.
And then they waited. Again. This time it was the Giants and the Cardinals in a long and grueling and dramatic NLCS. The Giants finally won Game 7. While Jim Leyland and the Tigers, whose two aces that year were a couple of pretty decent right-handers named Verlander and Max Scherzer -- they won 33 games between them that season -- once again waited to rejoin October.
This is what Leyland said seven years ago after his Tigers had once again swept a League Championship Series:
“I do think the lull between our playoff and the World Series did work against us in 2006. Now, that's not to take anything away from the St. Louis Cardinals. But all of a sudden, our emotion went from so high to just a blah, looking at each other for six days of staring at each other with really no action. That's hard.''
No action. Really hard. Even harder than they remembered. This time Leyland’s Tigers, unable to shake off the rust, didn’t lose the World Series in five games.
They got swept by Bruce Bochy’s Giants, the second championship club of the manager’s three between 2010 and ‘14. In the spring of this year, this is what Verlander told the Detroit media about his Tiger teams not winning the World Series while he was pitching in Detroit:
"The reason was the time off before the two World Series. We had the talent to do it for many years. When it comes to playoff time, it's kind of a roll of the dice. It comes down to the hottest team at the right time. I think we were that team, twice, and we got cooled off by the week layoff for the World Series both times. It sucks; that's the name of the game. … It's probably the one sport, this sport, where the time off like that wouldn't help you. Every other sport I think it's a benefit, but this one, it is absolutely a negative."
He and his teammates found out the hard way. Twice. If his Astros go on to win the ALCS, even in a long series, maybe he will be the beneficiary of the other team’s layoff this time. Or maybe two of his old teammates, Scherzer and Aníbal Sánchez, will change things all around for their new team. Reverse the curse. Curse of the Tigers. Maybe it’s not really a thing. We’ll see, starting next week.