Maybe it’s the human tendency to glorify the past and diminish the present. Maybe it’s the constant churn of modern media that forces us to move on before we can fully digest recent events.
For whatever reason, the 2019 Nationals don’t get their proper due.
The Nationals began last season 19-31—a 62-100 pace—and ended it World Series champions. No team in baseball history has ever had a record that bad through 50 games and won the World Series.
The Nationals’ comeback was larger than the 1914 “Miracle” Braves. It was larger than the 1969 “Amazin’” Mets. It was larger than the 1978 Yankees or 1995 Mariners or 2011 Cardinals, or any other team whose in-season rally is indelibly etched into baseball lore.
What the Nationals accomplished was a singular historical achievement unmatched in baseball history.
Jesse Dougherty, the Nationals beat writer for the Washington Post, provides a compelling behind-the-scenes look at how it happened in his debut book Buzz Saw: The Improbable Story of How the Washington Nationals Won the World Series.
Dougherty pivots off of key dates throughout the season to illustrate just how low the Nationals fell and the events that kept them going. While the big picture unfolds from chapter-to-chapter, the strength of Dougherty’s book is his reporting of the small details that made a big difference.
Dougherty’s behind-the-scenes look of general manager Mike Rizzo’s process on trade deadline day—and how the club ended up acquiring three relievers who weren’t even on their radar when the day began—is particularly insightful. His retelling of what Nationals advance scout Jim Cuthbert saw during the Braves-Cardinals National League Division Series, and its direct effect helping the Nationals steamroll the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series, is arguably the highlight of the book and a testament to how critical in-person scouting is even in an era rapid of technological advancement. Dougherty’s coup de grace is his reporting on how Nationals scouting coordinator Jonathan Tosches discovered Stephen Strasburg was tipping his pitches during the first inning of Game 6 of the World Series and the process the club went through to get Strasburg the information before it was too late.
While the background stories of key figures and the retelling of critical games keep the book moving, the overarching strength of “Buzz Saw” is Dougherty’s illustration of just how many people—many of whom will never be seen or heard by the general public—played roles in keeping the Nationals alive at critical junctures. It is too often forgotten just how many things have to click for a team to win a World Series even when things are going well, and for the 2019 Nationals, there was zero margin for error for more than six months.
The greatest comeback in baseball history would not have taken place without Anthony Rendon’s high-leverage heroics or Howie Kendrick’s go-ahead home runs or Max Scherzer’s incredible perseverance through pain, but it also would not have happened without a GM skillfully executing Plan G at the trade deadline or scouts picking up on subtle tells or a manager pushing for a .198-hitting, just-released Gerardo Parra to be signed at midseason.
Dougherty details both the big and small moments that made the Nationals resurgence possible. The final product makes Buzz Saw the needed work that puts the miraculousness of the Nationals comeback in perspective.