Stephen Strasburg. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY Sports
It was painful to watch, almost heartbreaking.
The Washington Nationals go 79 years between playoff appearances in our nation's capital, get humiliated Wednesday, and you feel like sending flowers and sympathy cards.
So why are we hearing laughter and celebration all across baseball?
The Nationals might have been the most compelling story this summer, but suddenly they've become the most hated team in the game.
After being embarrassed 8-0 by the St. Louis Cardinals and falling behind 2-1 in their National League Division Series, there was no compassion or a scintilla of empathy for them.
Instead, we kept hearing the same refrain: They got what they deserve.
"If we don't win the World Series, I don't care who does," one general manager told USA TODAY Sports, "as long as it's not those guys.
"They don't deserve to win it. Not after what they did."
Said a National League GM: "I hope they go down in flames. I hope it takes another 79 years before they get back to the playoffs. That's how strongly I feel about it."
The Nationals, baseball executives say, brought this on themselves. They were the defiant ones. They were the ones telling the world they were smarter than everyone else, shutting down ace Stephen Strasburg after 159 1/3 innings, believing they were protecting their prized asset for a lot of playoff games in their future.
"We'll be back," Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said after they clinched the National League East title, "and doing this a couple more times."
That was the quote heard 'round the baseball world, with general managers and executives making sure everyone saw it. Who do they think they are, the Yankees? Are the Philadelphia Phillies going to defect from the NL East? Are the Atlanta Braves retiring with Chipper Jones?
What if the Nationals don't get back during Strasburg's stay in Washington? What if this is their best chance to ever get to the Series? How do you live with that?
And how would you like to be Ross Detwiler today? He's the poor soul taking Strasburg's spot in the playoff rotation, which in three games has yielded a 9.00 ERA with 25 baserunners. Now, he's the one responsible for saving the season.
Win or lose today, the Strasburg talk will never completely go away.
Nationals players, particularly veterans, have grumbled and might sound off more once they depart.
"I don't think there's any way around it," Nats outfielder Jayson Werth said. "It's going to be a topic."
The shame is that general managers, executives and scouts greatly respect and admire Rizzo. He's a scout's scout, the one who turned a laughingstock into one of the most talented organizations in baseball.
Who knows, maybe Rizzo is even right this time. Maybe he'll get the last laugh, and the Nationals will win the World Series next year, and every year until Strasburg hits free agency.
But one more loss, and the reverberations of the Strasburg decision will begin.
USA TODAY Sports