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D.C. goes electric with return of postseason baseball

Washington Nationals fans celebrate after their team won

Washington Nationals fans celebrate after their team won 5-1 in a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Washington. (Oct. 3, 2012) Credit: AP

WASHINGTON -- If baseball fans in this city had realized how long they would have to wait to see another postseason game, they would have raised a huge toast at the last one. Then again, that would have been tricky, given that the last time there was postseason baseball in Washington -- Oct. 7, 1933 -- the country was still about two months shy of repealing Prohibition.

Yes, the United States still was officially dry when Mel Ott of the Giants hit a 10th-inning home run to clinch the climactic Game 5 of the World Series over the Washington Senators. The real enduring dry spell was the one involving meaningful October baseball in the nation's capital, a streak that finally will end Wednesday when the Nationals host the Cardinals in Game 3 of the Division Series.

To paraphrase an inside-the-Beltway saying, the long national nightmare is over.

"Well, I think it's going to be great. I mean, our fan base all year long has been outstanding, and they have been into the games as good as any fans I've ever been around," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who takes a lot of razzing about being old at 69, but even he was not born until 10 years after the postseason last appeared in Washington.

Back when Washington's Joe Kuhel struck out with two on in the bottom of the 10th of the 4-3 loss 79 years ago, a gallon of gas cost 10 cents. The average annual income for an American worker was $1,550.

The funny thing is, until the last year or so, postseason baseball seemed as distant to this city as the Prohibition era did. The original Senators left for Minnesota, replaced by the expansion Senators, who left for Texas. Around baseball, people put a new spin on a historical phrase, saying, "Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."

The National League's Montreal Expos moved in, became the Nationals and took their lumps. Even in winning the East this year, they had the challenge of claiming a true home-field advantage in their nice modern park. Many spectators rooted for the other side, especially when the Phillies visited.

"We're all excited to go out there in front of a full stadium of Nationals fans, finally," said Ryan Zimmerman, the third baseman who has been with the franchise throughout his eight-season major-league career. "They've waited for a good team to root for and now they have an exciting young team that's going to be good for a long while."

This Washington team has more urgent priorities, such as overcoming a 12-4 loss in St. Louis on Monday (Johnson called it "the shellacking") that evened the series at 1. The Nationals' strength has been starting pitching. So they will put their hopes Wednesday on Edwin Jackson. It will be Jackson, who won a Division Series game for the Cardinals last year, against Chris Carpenter, who missed most of the Cardinals' season with a neck and shoulder condition after having won Game 7 of the 2011 World Series. The Cardinals removed injured pitcher Jaime Garcia from the roster and replaced him with Shelby Miller.

Last year seems like ancient history to the likes of Nationals phenom Bryce Harper, 19. The outfielder didn't even watch the 2011 postseason. "Last year, college football was on," said the rookie All-Star who helped end a 79-year drought. "I just want to be in the postseason, I don't want to be home watching on the couch. Hopefully, we can keep going further and further."

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