Sorry Nats fans, but history is not written by the losers

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Yeah, it’s totally crazy to think that the team is better with one of the best pitchers in baseball.  In a postseason where anything can happen, and where nine of the ten teams who enter will not leave alive, it’s always the case that the best on-paper team wins it. The ones who lose never ever wish that they had an extra ace pitcher at their disposal. It’s ludicrous to suggest otherwise.

Craig Calcaterra, quite sarcastically, on September 3, 2012.

Cheap shot? Sorry, get used to it Nats fans. And not from me (well, not just from me).  Because after last night’s stunning loss, you don’t get to write the history of the 2012 Washington Nationals. Everyone else does. That history is going to always mention Stephen Strasburg, and your arguments to the contrary won’t matter. That’s just how it goes.

At the outset, yes, there were so, so many non-Strasburg reasons the Nats lost that lead and then the series last night.  Drew Storen not throwing strikes in the ninth. Davey Johnson sticking with him (and pitching him the previous couple of days too). Ian Desmond not getting to that Descalso single. Any number of things that happened while the Cards chip, chip chipped away at the 6-0 lead throughout the game.

And as I said on Wednesday after the loss that put Washington down 2-1 in the series: the failures were many. The offense in games 2-3 (and 1 and 4 too, though that didn’t matter). Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson pitching poorly. The Cards, you know, being good. In light of that, it is overly simplistic to say that having Stephen Strasburg available would have given the series to Washington. Any number of other things could have given the series to Washington. The Nats could have and almost did advance without him.

But people are certainly saying it this morning and they’re going to say it all winter.  And frankly, I don’t have a problem with that, even if it doesn’t represent the best and sharpest analysis in the world. For the simple reason that when you lose and lose big like Washington did, you no longer get to author your own narrative. The Nationals, their fans, and a great number of the team’s surrogates in the media set the terms of debate in the middle of the season and those terms were uncompromising: “this team was good enough to win the World Series without Stephen Strasburg!” they said. And woe be to anyone who suggested that wasn’t the case. We could kiss their press pass if we disagreed.

That is now undeniably not the case, and it would be beyond hubris to say “but we were good enough, we were!” The losers never get to set the narrative. Just ask the Buffalo Bills fans who want their great early 90s run recognized as a success rather than a failure. Just ask Atlanta Braves fans (cough, cough) who have tried for years to say that their team was better than any other one-time World Series champ. Ask anyone else who roots for a team that, however good, doesn’t follow through on its promise. You can say you were good enough among friends and you can all make yourself feel better about things by doing so, but you’re never going to convince anyone else of it. Sports don’t work that way. Winners are the winners and losers are the losers, and when you conspicuously tempt fate and conventional wisdom the way the Nationals did with Strasburg, the voices calling you losers will be even louder.

Nats fans can look at Zimmermann and Jackson’s bad starts and say “hey, they would have started anyway, so it’s not the fault of the shutdown.”  They can look at Ross Detwiler’s great start on Thursday and say Stephen Strasburg’s playoff rotation replacement did just as good a job as Strasburg would have done, if not better.  They can also say that they twice came within one strike of advancing last night, and Stephen Strasburg would not have been throwing those pitches.  But guess what: it’s futile.

Because everyone else will note that the Nationals (a) willingly chose to enter the playoffs with their best pitcher on the bench; (b) lost a series in which they gave up 32 runs and had only one quality start in five games; and (c) used a starting pitcher in relief in Game 5 on short rest, so all hands — except for their best hand — were obviously on deck.

And no matter what holes you can poke in that argument, Nats fans, the fact is that your team did not advance. They lost, and losers do not get to write the history when it comes to such matters. Believe me. I know from experience.

Pujols has 2 more RBIs, Cardinals beat Pirates 8-7 in 10

Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals
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PITTSBURGH – Albert Pujols drove in two more runs and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 in 10 innings Tuesday night.

Pujols hit a two-run single in the third inning to push his career total to 2,218 RBIs. That came a night after he broke a tie with Babe Ruth for second place on the career list. Hank Aaron holds the record with 2,287.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol then removed the 42-year-old Pujols at the end of the inning. St. Louis opens postseason play Friday when it hosts a best-of-three National League wild-card series.

Juan Yepez gave the Cardinals the win when he hit a tiebreaking single with one in the 10th inning off Chase De Jong (6-3) to score automatic runner Ben Deluzio.

“Tonight was interesting because you’re fairly scripted in who you want to use and who you don’t want to use and what you want tomorrow to look like so you can get ready for Friday,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It was a good one to still figure out a way to come out on top.”

The Cardinals threw out the potential tying run at home in the bottom of the 10th when automatic runner Kevin Newman tried to score from second base on Oneil Cruz‘s line single off the glove of first baseman Alec Burleson. The ball deflected to second baseman Brendon Donovan, who threw home to catcher Andrew Knizner.

The Pirates challenged the call, but it was upheld on video review.

“I thought we were going to get it overturned,” Newman said. “I just thought he didn’t tag me until he got higher up on the body.”

It was the Pirates’ 100th loss, the second year in a row they have reached that mark.

The Cardinals got two hits each from Donovan, Corey Dickerson, Knizner and Paul DeJong.

Cruz had three hits for the Pirates and Bryan Reynolds, Rodolfo Castro, Jack Suwinski, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Ji-Hwan Bae added two apiece. Miguel Andujar drove in two runs.

Chris Stratton (10-4) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.

“They weren’t the prettiest two innings I’ve ever pitched but I got a great play from the defense in the 10th inning to help me out,” Stratton said. “It was a good play all the way around.’

Pujols’ hit put the Cardinals ahead 3-1 but the Pirates answered with six runs in the bottom of the third. Andujar’s run-scoring double highlighted an inning that includes RBI singles by Castro, Suwinski, Ben Gamel and Bae.

The Cardinals then scored four runs in the seventh inning to tie the score at 7-all. Donovan hit an RBI single, Dickerson drove in two runs with a double and the tying run scored on a throwing error by Cruz, the rookie shortstop.

Both starting pitchers lasted just 2 2/3 innings. The Cardinals’ Dakota Hudson was rocked for seven runs and nine hits while the Pirates’ JT Brubaker allowed three runs on four hits.

Brubaker was activated from the injured list before the game. He had been out since Sept. 16 with right lat discomfort.

HELSLEY HURT

Reliever Ryan Helsley, the Cardinals’ closer, left in the eighth inning with a jammed right middle finger. Helsley was injured after catching a line drive by Bae and using his hands to brace himself while dodging a piece of a broken bat.

Helsley said he expects to be ready to pitch Friday.

“I don’t think there was anything super wrong with it,” Helsley said. `Just give it some rest and let it resolve itself.”

ROSTER MOVES

The Pirates optioned right-hander Roansy Contreras to Triple-A Indianapolis to clear a roster spot for Brubaker. They also recalled infielder/outfielder Tucapita Marcano from Indianapolis and optioned catcher Jose Godoy to the same club.

PIRATES AWARDS

Center fielder Bryan Reynolds was voted the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, emblematic of the Pirates’ MVP, by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Mitch Keller won the Steve Blass Award for best pitcher. Former infielder Michael Chavis was voted the Chuck Tanner Good Guy Award.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cardinals: OF Tyler O'Neill (strained right hamstring) has been ruled out for the wild-card series but St. Louis is hopeful he can play in the NLDS round if it advances. . 3B Nolan Arenado (left quadriceps tightness) missed his second straight game but could play Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Have not decided on a starter for Wednesday, though Marmol said LHP Matthew Liberatore (2-1, 5.46) and RHP Jake Woodford (4-0, 2.33) are possibilities.

Pirates: RHP Johan Oviedo (4-3, 3.12), who was acquired from the Cardinals on Aug. 1, gets the start.