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Like its team, a deflated crowd must regroup

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Photo - Nationals fans line up for food during the first home game in the National League Division Series, against the St Louis Cardinals, on Oct. 10. (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Nationals fans line up for food during the first home game in the National League Division Series, against the St Louis Cardinals, on Oct. 10. (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Beanballs,Sports,Brian McNally

It was the largest crowd in Nationals Park history, standing-room only tickets swelling the number of fans to 45,017. Only three bigger have watched Nats baseball since the club moved to the District from Montreal in 2005: The very first home game at RFK Stadium back on April 14, 2005 and a pair of contests against the Yankees in June of the following season.

But this one was different. There was a small smattering of St. Louis Cardinals fans throughout the ballpark for Game 3 of a National League Division Series on Wednesday, but they were vastly outnumbered for once. It doesn’t sound all that novel until you remember during the dark years between 2006 and 2010 how often opposing fans filled otherwise empty seats and cheered against the Nats. This time, during the first postseason baseball game in the District since 1933, they came out in force for the home team.

“The atmosphere and the crowd is great. And then the game starts and – it’s not irrelevant because you obviously hear it – but when you’re playing or you’re hitting you tend to tune those things out,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “But to see the stadium full with our fans, not the Yankees or the Phillies fans, but actually Washington baseball fans – it’s nice to see because we’ve come a long way as an organization. It didn’t used to be like this.”

Unfortunately, the Nats didn’t give them much of a chance to yell and scream. Oh, it happened during player introductions. Even pitching coach Steve McCatty drew a loud ovation. Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg, still the center of controversy weeks after the team shut him down for the season, were rewarded with thunderous roars. Mascot Teddy Roosevelt, after a dance takeoff on the omnipresent Gangnam Style video, again won the Presidents’ Race – two in a row now! Baseball Hall-of-Famer – and former Nats manager – Frank Robinson garnered another warm round of applause as he strolled to the mound to toss out the ceremonial first pitch. But it was raw emotion that was difficult to sustain after an early Cardinals run.

“Everybody’s excited about the opening ceremonies with all of the dignitaries and the flyover,” manager Davey Johnson said. “But you know, if you get behind early, sometimes it takes the wind out of your sails.”

Even after Washington fell behind 4-0 the decibel level rose as Michael Morse strode to the plate with the bases loaded. But he flew out to right field and the noise died again. It never really returned during an 8-0 loss that pushed the Nats to the brink of elimination. By the eighth inning fans were headed for the exits to try and beat rush hour traffic home.

“It was second to none, I think. Those guys, the fans that is, they were excited,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “You could tell they hadn’t had a playoff game here in a while. But 45,000 strong? It’s unfortunate that some of them were leaving in the seventh, eighth inning. But I don’t blame them. We should have given them a better showing. But like I said we’ve got five games and hopefully they come back [Thursday].

“I think this is the first time I’ve actually seen it filled to the brim,” outfielder Jayson Werth said. “We’ve sold out before, but I didn’t see any empty seats. The rally towels, that’s the first time we’ve had that I think. And they were into it. They didn’t really have a whole lot to cheer about, unfortunately, but I’m hoping they show up [Thursday] and we give them something to cheer about.”

Added Zimmerman: “To see the stadium full and people excited, it’s a long time coming is the best way to put it. Unfortunately we didn’t give them too much to cheer about. But that happens sometimes. But this is great for the fans, it’s great for the city having baseball back, winning baseball back in this town is good. It gives them something to root for other than the Redskins, hopefully, every year.”

Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14

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