In 1996, the New York Yankees had been in the postseason only once in 14 years. Pinstripe tradition was dormant. That season, Derek Jeter, 22, was rookie of the year and starred on a world champion. It simply reinforced his sense of himself as a champion, just as it did another rookie, Jorge Posada, and two young Yanks in their second season, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. This year, Jeter will go to the playoffs for the 16th time.
Repeat: The best education in how to win is victory itself. The Braves, babies in 1991 with three star starting pitchers aged 21, 24 and 25, went from last place to the World Series. They started young, thought victory a birthright and won 14 straight division titles.
Because Washington baseball has been so terrible for so long, when it existed at all, it’s hard for fans to grasp what is clear to the Nats: Their opportunity is open now, and it has nothing to do with the past. The proper way to start this period is to squash the Phils, Mets and Marlins in years when injury and age have hobbled them and face down the Braves in the stretch.
What will this postseason bring? That may actually be the less stressful test, though, against teams that may prove to be better, or better-tested, than the Nats.
Someday, what may matter most in retrospect in this jubilant season of emergence was that Washington, once comfortably ahead, finished the job convincingly. There is now an exclamation mark at the end of this joyous summer.