So much was strange about the first year the Nationals played in Washington.
For one thing, a baseball team in Washington seemed like something from a distant time. The Senators played their final game in DC in 1971. I was born in 1972. It was no different for me emotionally to think of a big league team in Brooklyn as it was to have a team in Washington.
And I so loved having a team in Montreal. But like a bad marriage, the Expos leaving Montreal was inevitable. Except of course it dragged on. Baseball needed to strike a deal with the Orioles, who relied on the DC market for television revenue.
Makes sense. Everyone knew that. So why not take 3 years to do it? Whatever deal was struck after the 2004 season could have been made before the 2002 season when MLB took over the Expos and the fiasco was on its way.
All of 2002, 2003 and 2004, baseball put on a charade as if to say “Well, we are trying to figure out where the Expos can play.”
Washington was the only place! They had a city that could support them and a stadium, albeit a crappy one in RFK, that they could move into. So strike the deal with the Orioles and get on with it.
The Expos could not call up September roster players because of budget constraints being owned by MLB. And two Wild Card runs were derailed because of it.
The charade ended, a deal was struck that favored Baltimore and the Nationals stumbled into existence in 2005.
And for a while, the Frank Robinson led team looked like they were going to do something extraordinary: They were going to bring Washington their first post season team since the 1933 AL Champion Senators.
A 5 game winning streak in April, including their first home games in DC, put them in first early on. Throughout May, the Nationals hovered around .500, but the Braves, always the winner of the East, was not off to a great start either. Washington was hanging around.
Then, out of nowhere, the Nationals won 13 out of 14 games in June. They went from even .500 to 11 games over in a few weeks and took a 3 game lead in the Division by June 15th. They took 3 of 4 from Atlanta during the stretch. Livan Hernandez pitched like an ace for a big chunk of the first half while Marlon Byrd, Nick Johnson and Jose Guillen supplied the fire power.
On July 3, the Nationals won a 12 inning game against the Cubs. They were 5 1/2 games in first place roughly half way through the year. This was more than just an April winning streak padding their early numbers. This was a team that was defying expectations and suddenly gave Washington fans legitimate reason to believe.
Then the losing started. Between July 4 and August 2, they went 6-19. On July 26th, they fell out of first place. The team that had a 5 1/2 game lead on July 3 was 6 1/2 games out on August 10th. By August 28th, they were 7 games out and in last place, but still with a winning record. The NL East was quite strong that year while the NL West barely had a team over .500.
The Nationals limped to the finish line. A 3 game sweep by the Phillies to end the season prevented even a winning year, let alone a playoff spot. They finished at 81-81, a far cry from the team that sat alone at the top of the standings at the All Star Break.
Washington fans would have to wait until 2012 for their first playoff team since 1933. For much of 2005, it looked like they were going to be treated right away.