"They've proven that if there's a team out there to do it, it's going to be them," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "It's a good group of guys over there. I think they got the leg up on us in experience, and now next year we can say we've got a little experience."
Certainly the way the team is built, a winning postseason team shouldn't be far behind.
Washington lost baseball when the Senators moved to Texas after the 1971 season and didn't get it back until the Expos moved to D.C. in 2005. The team they got needed some work, finishing last in the NL East in five of its first six years while new owners were found, a stadium was built and a farm system was rebuilt.
The 100-loss seasons in 2008 and 2009 were particularly brutal, but at least they put the Nationals in position to take blue-chippers Stephen Strasburg and Harper with the No. 1 overall draft picks in 2009 and 2010.
Built around such youth — and led by Johnson, the oldest manager in the majors — this year's 98-win team gave Washington its first postseason experience in 79 years.
"It hasn't been done since 1933," said starter Gio Gonzalez, who allowed three runs over five innings. "Look at the positive. We're doing this now in 2012, getting ready for 2013."
This was Washington's first elimination game since the 1925 World Series when the legendary Walter Johnson lost by the same 9-7 score to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Senators held a 6-3 lead in that game.
This series will also be remembered for an unanswered what-if quandary. Strasburg didn't pitch because the Nationals opted to shut him down early as a precaution in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.
Strasburg wasn't happy with the decision, but general manager Mike Rizzo never wavered. Still, the GM and everyone else associated with the franchise will forever be asked if the outcome might have been different had the staff ace who thrives on big-game pressure been available to pitch Games 1 and 5.
"I'm not going to think about it, no," Rizzo said. "We had a plan in mind, and it was something that we had from the beginning, and I stand by my decision, and we'll take the criticism as it comes. But we have to do what's best for the Washington Nationals, and we think we did."
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