No billy goat or 'Bambino' but Washingtonians wonder if baseball team is jinxed

Willson Contreras of the Chicago Cubs celebrates next to Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals after Harper struck out to end Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series at Nationals Park on Oct. 13, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Washington — In the early hours of Friday the 13th in the 13th season of the Nationals in Washington, you could hardly blame even the team's most sensible fans for wondering if something had gone cosmically awry with a club that has mastered the art of merely getting close.

Unlike some other cities, Washington has no cute anecdotes about baseball jinxes – no "Curse of the Bambino," no billy goats said to be causing its baseball team to chronically underachieve when it matters most.


Fans at Washington's 9-8 season-ending divisional round playoff loss to the Chicago Cubs on Thursday night did say there is a man who habitually sacrifices rubber chickens during losing streaks. "He cuts their heads off. He seems like a nice guy though," said Nationals fan Keith Zukowski of Falls Church, Va.

But a jinx?


"I think it's overblown a little bit, but it causes D.C. fans to be apprehensive," said Grant Daniels of Lorton, Va. "If this happens again four or five more times, we'll get there."

Cursed or not, Washington now has a run of 93 years without winning a postseason baseball series. The city hasn't only lost baseball games, it has lost teams – twice (to Minnesota and Texas). The Nationals, who arrived from Montreal in 2005 after the nation's capital went 33 years without a team, were eliminated in the first playoff round in 2012, 2014, 2016 and this year.

Three of the four elimination games – most memorably the one in 2012 when Washington lost a six-run lead – have come at Nationals Park.

Washington was twice a strike away from victory in the 2012 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

That game seems to stick with the city like August humidity.

"I still feel how I felt at the end of that [2012] game," said Daniels' wife, Lindsay. "We were in Section 203. It's very vivid. It was heartbreaking."

Baseball purists don't usually believe in jinxes.

"It's the idea there is something in the air or the water here that causes people to lose. It's silly," said MASN broadcaster Phil Wood, a Washington baseball historian.


Wood notes that the Atlanta Braves won 14 straight division titles from 1991 to 2005 but just one World Series during the stretch. The Los Angeles Dodgers have won five straight National League West division titles without a pennant.

But even the talk of a jinx seems to create a mythical psychological wall that grows each time the club falls short in October.

"You can't put that pressure on you," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said before Thursday night's game, in which his team lost a 4-1 lead in front of a packed house of mostly red-clad fans. "You try to simplify the pressure that, hey, we've got to win one game regardless of if you've never won a series here."

Baker acknowledged what many fans have said — that fans' fatalistic sense of the Nationals may be influenced by their perceptions of Washington's hockey and basketball teams.

Like the Nationals, the NHL's Capitals – who have a historic habit of losing 3-1 series advantages — staved off playoff elimination last season by defeating a rival (the Pittsburgh Penguins) on the road, only to lose the decisive game in front of the home fans. Neither the Capitals nor the NBA's Wizards have made it past the second round of the playoffs under Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the current ownership group.

Baker didn't know then what lay ahead of his team in Thursday's game: a misplayed ball by outfielder Jayson Werth and a passed ball and wild throw by catcher Matt Wieters, the former Oriole.


After the fifth-inning passed ball, Wieters argued — to no avail — that Javier Báez's bat had grazed him and that the batter should have been called out, ending the inning.

Washington fans flooded social media with complaints about the call, some reviving the hashtag #Natsjinx or #Natscurse from previous seasons.

"Last night's game was definitely heartbreaking and brought back some sad memories of Game 5 in 2012," said Grant Daniels, who shares a season-ticket plan with a group. "It is always disappointing to watch your favorite team not live up to their potential or deal with what seemed to be some questionable calls in my opinion."

But he said he and his wife will be back at the games next season.

Looking for answers, another fan blamed himself for the team's postseason woes.

"I think it's my fault because I was at the last Senators game," said Mark Grabowsky of Washington.


He was referring to the 1971 game in which fans stormed the RFK Stadium field in a mad dash for souvenirs with the Washington team leading 7-5. Washington had to forfeit the game and the franchise moved to Texas after the season and became the Rangers.

"I stole a seat at RFK Stadium and I brought it home," Grabowsky said. "My dad told me it was bad luck."