Washington Nationals Collapse: The Nationals 'Earned' That Ouster

Squeeze schmeese.

Washington fans can protest all they like about the final, depressing minutes of their baseball team’s previously magical season crumbling in a 9-7 loss in Game 5 of the National League Division Series Friday night in the nation’s capital. They can point to how home plate ump Alfonso Marquez was a little tight about reliever Drew Storen’s offerings, to how St. Louis wasn’t in the same class all season long, to how it just didn’t seem right.

Truth is, the Nationals fell for the same reason most others do in similar, stressful situations. Being under duress and feeling the pressure, they caved – big time.

It happens. Deal with it.

Storen wasn’t squeezed. The guy couldn’t even find the guts to throw the ball on the inside half of the plate. Every pitch was outside, outside, outside, as he tried to paint the black away from the batter. He pitched, well, scared, as if he felt doom loomed.

After that, Bryce Harper batted scared. Did TBS announcer Dick Stockton actually say the rookie was over-aggressive at the plate in striking out in a pitiful 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth display by the NL East champs? Or was that Bob Brenly? Either way … huh?!!

The kid lost all confidence, facing triple-digit heat from St. Louis closer Jason Motte, and flailed away at anything because he was afraid of looking like a fool – which, unfortunately, sealed his fate of looking just like that anyway.

Amazingly, Motte gave each batter he faced a home-run ball in that fateful frame. First pitch, right down the pike, straight as an arrow, belt high – and Jayson Werth, Harper and even a pro’s pro like Ryan Zimmerman missed ’em all. It happens.

No, they all shared in this snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in D.C. Every single National who stepped on the field, along with manager Davey Johnson – how in the world he had no feel whatsoever for Storen’s implosion, or, worse, did nothing about it … is hard to believe.

Even Gio Gonzalez let D.C. down. The likely Cy Young winner for 2012 after posting a best-in-baseball 21 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA, the lefty would have seemed the guy you’d want to nail down a decisive Game 5 in the NL divisional series. Thanks, actually, to Werth, Harper and Zimmerman, Gonzo was staked to a 3-0 advantage after the first inning.

Later, that got bounced up to 6-0 after three, courtesy of Harper, again, and Michael Morse … and Washington’s ace immediately backed off the throttle, and the team as a whole sputtered and gasped and ultimately choked as the Cardinals chipped away, slowing, putting up one run in the fourth, two in the fifth, and single runs in the seventh and eighth before the Nats’ collapse became complete with a four-run ninth for the visitors – with Storen hurling every pitch … outside, of course.

So now, baseball is down to its final four – which will not include the team that secured the best record in the sport during the regular season.

Maybe the Nats shouldn’t feel too bad, though. The squad that posted the second-best mark, Cincinnati, didn’t just implode in one game – it dropped three straight to San Francisco, at home, to close out its campaign.

Now the Giants and Cardinals square off in a battle of which team is better at making the most out of its opportunities, talent notwithstanding.

That best-of-seven NL championship series starts tomorrow night in San Fran.

Tonight, in the AL’s more traditional version of seemingly deserving finalists, New York hosts Detroit in Game 1. Of course, those two “legit” contenders were extended to the limit before getting to this point as well, needing clutch Game 5 efforts by their own aces of Cy Young ilk (take note, Gio) to ultimately advance.

Hey, it ain’t easy playing under pressure – win or lose.