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Monday, October 21, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

HOUSTON | While the San Francisco 49ers were slipping and sliding in the pouring rain all over the Washington Redskins Sunday at Ghost Town Field, the Washington Nationals were just a few miles down the road in the same downpour at Nationals Park preparing for the most important sporting event this town has seen in the last 86 years — the World Series.

Yes, that’s right — this town hasn’t seen an event like this since the last time Washington was in the World Series in 1933.


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Yes, there were the unforgettable three weeks of playoff games at RFK in 1982 against Detroit, Minnesota and the NFC title game against Dallas, probably the greatest stretch of sports drama Washington’s ever experienced.

But in terms of magnitude? Importance? Significance? When the Nationals come back to host games 3 and 4, and possibly Game 5, it will be something unprecedented that fans here will witness.

No, the Capitals’ Stanley Cup doesn’t measure up. No, the Bullets 1978 NBA championship isn’t comparable.

Houston, though — well, they’ve seen this before. It may be a cow town, but this is the Astros’ third time hosting World Series games — with Game 1 Tuesday night and Game 2 Wednesday.

They’ve done this as recently as 2017, winning that World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games. They know how to prepare.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch was asked to compare those two Astros teams.

“They’re different years, different teams,” he said. “There’s a few different players. We’re a little bit more mature, the guys that are here. But I haven’t given a lot of thought to try to historically compare them. They’re both really good teams. We both have gotten to the World Series; one’s got a ring, one doesn’t.”

There is nothing for Nationals manager Dave Martinez and his team to compare it to. They have no team road map on how to get ready for the World Series. But they did their best, after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in four games in the National League Championship Series and then having a five-day layoff before working out here at Minute Maid Park, to figure out how to get ready.

One of the ways they did so was to play a simulated game in the rain Sunday at Nationals Park.

“The weather was miserable and we had a scheduled workout,” Martinez said. “I didn’t think we were going to do anything, but the boys came out and practiced in the rain. We had a sim (simulated) game in the rain. It was cold, but they were all into it. (Anibal) Sanchez threw, a couple of our bullpen guys threw the hitters, we had a good time. They’re all in. They’re ready. These guys are excited to be here, and let’s go have some fun.”

There’s that “fun” word again. It’s Martinez’s go-to word, the word he used to relieve the pressure during the season when his team came back from a 19-31 start to make the wild card and finish with a 93-69 regular season record.

That is what has worked to date for Martinez and his boys — making a point of having fun, from dancing in the dugout to Gerardo Parra and the Baby Shark phenomenon.

Somehow I don’t think the Astros will be impressed with any of that. I think they look at this as serious business — though they have had their share of fun, the most recent celebrating Jose Altuve’s walkoff series-clinching home run in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series to defeat the Yankees.

Hinch’s word was “mature.”

The Nationals are doing all they can to ride the emotional wave that got them here. Martinez believes that despite the time that has passed since they celebrated their NLCS victory nearly a week ago, they are still in their wild-card frame of mind — go 1-0, win the next game.

“I truly believe that these guys are fired up to be here,” Martinez said. “We played a lot of unbelievable games this year. We’ve come a long way.

The Nationals will count on their emotional leader, Max Scherzer, to take the ball Tuesday night in Game 1 against Houston ace Gerrit Cole. They have tried to have fun for the last week to get ready for the biggest sporting event Washington has seen in nearly a century.

The Astros are trying to win their second World Series in three years. Nobody uses the word “fun” much on that side of the field.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.


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