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The Strike Zone

Watch: Nationals Park catches fire in potentially ominous metaphor for Washington's season

Trailing by a run and down to their final three outs in the bottom of the 11th inning on Thursday night, the Nationals needed to light a fire under their offense. Instead, one broke out in the lights above rightfield:

Three sections of stands below the fire were quickly evacuated and the fire was extinguished without further incident or injury. The game was not delayed, and neither was the Diamondbacks' 3-2 victory.

The unexpected fireworks show was a fitting symbol of the fact that the Nationals have never caught fire this season. Expected by many to be the best team in baseball, the defending NL East champions are back at .500 and are 5 1/2 games out of a wild-card berth On Thursday, they failed to capitalize on a strong start by Stephen Strasburg, who is still just 4-6 despite a 2.41 ERA. Washington must now hope that Bryce Harper's return on Monday can provide a more impressive metaphorical spark.

Though they lost on Thursday, the Nats can also hope that the incident does for them what a similar ballpark blaze did for the Braves in 1993. Atlanta, the two-time defending NL champions, were 53-41, nine games behind the San Francisco Giants, who had been bolstered by the offseason addition of Barry Bonds. On July 20, the Braves acquired Fred McGriff in a trade with the Padres but their game that night at Fulton County Stadium was delayed when a fire broke out during batting practice.

When the game eventually started, the Braves fell behind 5-0, but McGriff's sixth-inning homer tied the score and Atlanta went on to win 8-5. The fire proved to be prophetic, as the Braves blazed to a 51-17 finish to cap a 104-win season that gave them their third straight NL West title, one win better than the Giants.
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