As everyone expected, the 2013 Washington Nationals season started off with a bang. Literally. In the first inning of the season, Bryce Harper the Nats 20-year-old emotional leader, cranked a solo home run to right field. He would hit another several innings later to give Washington a 2-0 victory over the Miami Marlins.
In that moment, it seemed so apparent that the Washington Nationals’ time had arrived. A young star, with a flair for the dramatic, stepped up immediately and gave his team the boost they needed. The club, off of a crushing playoff loss, had retooled, and had entered a season with something it had never had before, confidence. They had star power, and they had fire power.
As we now know a series of unfortunate events and quite frankly, pure bad luck, had put the progression of the Nats season on pause for months. Harper, Strasburg, Zimmerman, Detwiler, and Werth have all suffered injuries. Danny Espinosa, once a promising second baseman, has seen his career take a nose dive. Things have been bleak in Washington ever since that bright April afternoon when the Nats claimed their inaugural win of the season after a Bryce Harper solo shot.
Last night, Bryce Harper hit the reset button on 2013 when he came to the plate in the bottom of the first inning, his first at bat in over a month, and fired a rocket to left center field to give the Nats a 1-0 lead. The crowd erupted, and demanded a curtain call from the 20-year-old, not because he had just given the team the advantage, but because everyone in attendance knew that his return and his home run represented a re-birth for the Nationals 2013 campaign. They knew that, while nothing more than symbolic, that home run will serve as a second chance for Washington, an opportunity for them to start over.
At 42-40, Washington stands six games behind the Atlanta Braves, with 80 more games left in the season to play. They have time to slowly regain the National League East and to play their confident and efficient style of baseball. But that’s not what I see for Washington in the coming months. I see a team that has been held down by the emotional toll of hard luck losses and horrible injuries. A team that had been living in a hangover of a devastating Game 5 NLDS loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. A team that has been desperately searching for a way to start over.
This is their opportunity, and the confidence in the way Washington played last night makes me believe they are ready to take off.