Houston (AFP) - Written off after a 19-31 start and given a .01 percent oddsmakers chance to win the World Series, the Washington Nationals ignored the doubters and captured a fairy-tale championship.
The Nationals rallied to defeat Houston 6-2 on Wednesday to capture Major League Baseball's best-of-seven final 4-3 in a reversal of fortune unseen in more than a century.
Not since the 1914 Boston Braves had a club been so far below .500 and battled back to seize the trophy, the Nats matching Houston's 74 wins after May 24 for the most in baseball.
But manager Dave Martinez stressed going "1-0 today" and seeing what happened from there. The results proved historic.
"What a weird year," Washington's Ryan Zimmerman said. "What a weird team. We just kept going, man. Could've quit. Could've rolled over. But this group of guys, we bounce back. It's almost fitting that we won this way."
The last time a Washington team won the World Series was 1924, when Calvin Coolidge was US President, the Roaring '20s were in full swing and Al Jolson and George Gershwin were chart-topping musicians -- and the Senators beat the New York Giants in a dramatic game seven.
Two Senators teams moved away. The city went 33 years without a club.
Even after the Nationals fought into the playoffs in the last week of the season, there were plenty of doubters.
They hadn't won a playoff series since 1981 when they were the Montreal Expos, moving to the US capital in 2005.
The team had lost superstar Bryce Harper to Philadelphia for a 13-year deal worth $330 million.
Their past playoff heartbreaks had devastated devoted fans.
In 2012 they took a 6-0 lead in the deciding game and were one out from victory but gave up four runs in the ninth to lose to St. Louis.
They blew a two-game lead to fall in 2016 to the Los Angeles Dodgers and squandered a 4-1 lead in the final game against the Chicago Cubs in 2017.
"All of a sudden if you don't get past the first round of the playoffs, you're a huge disappointment," said Zimmerman, who has been with the club since its start in Washington.
"So it all happened kind of fast. Which, if you play at this level, that's kind of the expectations you want. You want your fans to be disappointed if you don't make the playoffs. But it all happened very fast."
Stephen Strasburg, the World Series Most Valuable Player, recalled Zimmerman handing him his first Nats jersey as a rookie.
"He has been here from day one. I'm so happy for him," Strasburg said. "He's the face of the franchise. For us to come through as a group it's a big moment for him."
There was hefty praise as well for Max Scherzer, who won the opener in Houston and limited Houston to two runs over five innings in the series finale just three days after being unable to lift his right arm due to neck spasms that kept him out of game five.
"Best free agent signing of all time, what he's done since he's come here," Zimmerman said of Scherzer. "He's a special guy and special teammate.
- Sky's limit for Soto -
Anthony Rendon, a Houston native, drove in eight runs in the World Series and his home run in the seventh began the Nats fightback in the decider.
"He's such a good player," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Like his swing is nearly flawless. His zone control is tremendous. His defense has been lights out. But how much fun does he look like he has playing?
"He's under the radar. And yet he's one of the most impressive superstars in our game. And I think on this national stage we've gotten to see it."
Rendon set a Nats record with 126 runs batted in this season and scored 117 runs while batting .319.
Nats outfielder Juan Soto, who turned 21 last week, hit five homers and made critical plays to spark the club in key moments.
"Juan has kind of been doing this literally since the day he came up," Zimmerman said. "And the scary thing is he's only going to get better with the more experience. The sky's the limit for him."