WASHINGTON -- They streamed down Half and First Streets on foot, ascending in waves from the Metro station into an unseasonably warm October evening. Hours before first pitch on Monday, Nationals fans piled into the Navy Yard, some stopping at the bars and restaurants that have popped up along the Anacostia River, others lining up before the turnstiles of Nationals Park.
For more than a decade, denizens from Washington and Maryland and Virginia and beyond have waited for a National League Championship Series at their home park. Given the chance to try to will their team to the cusp of a World Series, they whooped and they hollered and they cheered in Game 3. They serenaded Anthony Rendon with “M-V-P!” chants and showered Stephen Strasburg, the winning pitcher in an 8-1 victory over the Cardinals, with displays of adulation.
Fans enjoyed this thing. And the Nationals took notice.
“They’re seeing something that they’ve never seen before,” outfielder Adam Eaton said. “It’s pretty awesome that we can bring that to the city.”
Sitting in the bullpen, reliever Sean Doolittle marveled at those chanting well before first pitch. When Strasburg delivered a 96-mph strike to Dexter Fowler, they cheered some more. When he struck out Fowler on three pitches, they erupted.
It was like that all evening, reaching crescendos during the Nationals’ multi-run rallies in the third and fifth innings. When Strasburg found some trouble in the seventh, allowing three hits and an unearned run, the chorus backed him with increased decibels. When he struck out Matt Wieters and Fowler to end that rally, they threw a party that spanned all three seating tiers.
“Oh my God, it was absolutely electric,” Doolittle said. “It was crazier than anything I’ve seen here in my three years.”
Doolittle compared it to 2017 NL Division Series Game 5 against the Cubs, which the Nationals lost, 9-8. That last bit is what has prevented the team from more consistently experiencing this level of frenzy. Until this month, the Nats had never won a playoff series. They had never built the type of momentum that a fan base can ride from late September into early November. They had never had a day like Monday, when a lopsided win put them one win away from advancing to their first World Series.
In part for those reasons, baseball hasn’t always received the type of reception in the District that other sports do. Collegiate loyalties are important here. The NFL team elicits interest no matter how much heartbreak it delivers in return, and the NHL team cemented allegiance with a Stanley Cup championship.
As the newest pro team in town, without previous generations of fans on which to build a foundation, it’s different for the Nats.
“These fans show up for every postseason,” said the longest-tenured National, Ryan Zimmerman. “Everyone talks about how this is the first NLCS game, but the Wild Card was electric. The Division Series in the past have been great. They didn’t disappoint tonight.”
Monday’s crowd at Nationals Park was 43,675 strong, including a couple thousand limited to standing-room seats. A significant chunk stuck around until the end, watching the Nationals’ bald eagle mascot plant itself near second base, waving a “Nats win” flag for all to see.
Rendon called the support “nothing short of amazing,” noting that things should only grow wilder as the Nats advance deeper into October. More fans will line up before first pitch, spilling out of the Metro with or without tickets, trying to witness something they’ve never seen before.
“Just let them in,” Rendon said. “The more, the merrier.”