Takeaways from Part One of ‘Improbable’

By: Joe Pohoryles

Last night, the first part of the documentary recounting the Nationals’ run to the World Series premiered on MASN, and before Part Two premieres tonight, I will be listing my takeaways from Part One.

I would say “Spoiler Alert,” but unless you are totally unfamiliar with the events of the 2019 MLB postseason, there’s really nothing to spoil.

However, if you have not seen the documentary yet and want to watch it without hearing outside opinions, you may want to wait to read this until after viewing.

I’ve been spoiled by ‘The Last Dance’

After spending the past month rushing to the TV every Sunday night to take in all 10 parts of the ESPN documentary about Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, I was used to documentaries showing a bunch of behind-the-scenes action, going in-depth on the stories within the story, and everything else you could love about “The Last Dance.”

Of course, when you have 10 hours of air time, there is room to show all of that. The first part of “Improbable,” meanwhile, was just 90 minutes (including commercials), so it’s understandable that this film didn’t have the time to delve into most of the storylines.

Still, I felt the majority of the documentary was made up of game highlights that one could look up on YouTube, and while there was also clips of the players describing those moments, I felt they could have dedicated a larger portion of time to the players and coaches detailing those moments from their own perspective rather than just showing it on the screen.

I’m sure it was difficult to balance, and with a Wild Card game and two full series to go through, they couldn’t afford to linger on any one moment, but “The Last Dance” definitely had an impact on the way I viewed “Improbable.”

The short sequence about Aaron Barrett was a cool way to start things off

Again, I wish there was time for them to tell even more about stories like Barrett’s, but it was nice that he was mentioned at all given he did not play a big role on the field during the playoff run.

After two major injuries and a long time of battling back, Barrett finally made it back to the major leagues after four years when he took the mound in September 2019. It was a great moment to take in, and by throwing out the first pitch prior to the Wild Card game, it really set the whole run into motion.

You could really see how much the crowd and the team was feeding off that energy, and while Milwaukee obviously took an early lead, and the Nats’ bats didn’t heat up until late, it was still a great way to start things off.

Hearing the assistant coaches breaking down different plays was the highlight of the film

Seeing the players and manager Dave Martinez give their perspectives is definitely cool as well, but interviews and press conferences allow us to hear from them on a more consistent basis. You never usually hear from the third base coach, or the pitching coach, or any of the other guys on the coaching staff, so getting their takes was really cool.

Third base coach Bob Henley was especially interesting. As soon as he said, “you may want me to scoot back because I’m probably going to get physical,” I knew he was going to tell a great story. As a third base coach, Henley gets to observe the action on the field closer than anyone besides the players, so for him to run through his train of thoughts on Juan Soto’s lead-taking hit in the Wild Card game was awesome.

In fact, the entire combination of people recounting Soto’s hit, like owner Mark Lerner explaining he didn’t have a view on Trent Grisham’s misplay in the outfield, so he had no clue why the players were still rounding the bases, or Soto himself simply saying, “I [was] just thinking, ‘Run, run, run!'” was probably my favorite sequence of Part One.

Poor Charlie Slowes was stuck doing commentary, didn’t contribute too many thoughts of his own

The Nats radio commentator was primarily featured in testimonial shots doing exactly what he’s normally paid to do during games: commentate. Except the games he was commentating happened less than a year ago. And the film featured highlights with audio from the real-time commentary.

I guess it was a way to transition into different moments, but it didn’t feel totally necessary. I guess I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who has rewatched the highlights of their run a countless number of times and fully remembered how each game played out.

For the casual fan that didn’t really remember every part, I suppose it would be helpful, but even then there was already in-game commentary during the highlights to explain what was going on.

I would have liked to hear his own thoughts about the moments as he experienced them from the booth, which we got a little bit of, but he was mainly utilized as a plot device to set the scene for the next play.

That said, I’ll never get tired of hearing him say, “Bang! Zoom go the fireworks!”

When the documentary did go slightly in-depth on different topics, it was fantastic

As I mentioned, the doc was largely made up of highlights, but the parts that went beyond simply recounting the plays is what really made the film interesting.

I found Yan Gomes to be among the most captivating players to hear from. As a catcher, his view of the field allows him to see everything, and his connection with the pitchers is stronger than any other position player’s.

Hearing him break down what went wrong at the beginning of Game 1 of the NLDS, and also recount what it was like catching for Aníbal Sánchez’s no-hit bid in Game 1 of the NLCS was incredible. (Patrick Corbin’s and Sanchez’s own accounts about those respective situations also complemented it well).

I also thought it was good of the film to take a little background into the significance of Ryan Zimmerman’s late home run in Game 4. It tends to get a little lost in both of Howie Kendrick’s go-ahead home runs, but it was a huge moment, and for it to come from Zim was pretty special.

Barrett’s story about superstitiously going to the tunnel prior to Anthony Rendon’s home run in Game 5 of the NLDS, and then staying in the tunnel for Soto’s home run right after was a funny little insider moment to be shared.

Kendrick even called his grand slam in Game 5 the greatest moment of his career over the go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the World Series, which I found interesting. Both are obviously comparable, but I feel like everyone dreams about making the winning play in Game 7.

All those moments were given a little extra background that added extra intrigue to the overall story of the playoff run, and I hope we get even more of that in Part Two.

Bo Porter had the best line of the entire film

MASN reporter Bo Porter had the best reaction to Kendrick’s grand slam, and the documentary even showed the live footage from the studios.

“He got the whole village!”

Aside from the line itself, it was pretty much how I reacted while watching in my dorm room at school (except there was a lot more yelling and jumping around on my part).

Seeing Porter going nuts as fellow reporter Dan Kolko sat beside him in genuine shock saying “I’m paralyzed right now,” was the perfect representation of how the entire fanbase reacted to that moment: Half of us jumping around like crazy, the other half unable to comprehend what had just happened.

Another great sound byte came from an emotional unnamed fan the camera crew got as people were leaving Nationals Park following the Wild Card game victory:

“From 19-31, a four-game sweep in New York, to a two-game sweep in Atlanta, a seven-run comeback [against the Mets on Sept. 3], a Wild Card series win. I’m so proud of this team, man. I’m so proud of this team.”

We’re proud too, unnamed fan, we’re proud too.

Expectations for Part Two

Since Part One ended with the team’s victory in Game 4 of the NLCS, it’s pretty obvious that the entirety of Part Two will focus on the World Series itself.

Since there will only be one series to focus on rather than two (plus a Wild Card game), the extra time will either be dedicated to more in-depth coverage, or more highlights being shown. There will probably be a mix of both, but hopefully more of the former.

Without much else going on in sports, it’s been a real treat to relive this incredible World Series run, and I hope the Nats can get another run going soon, whenever baseball returns.

(Cover Photo Credit: Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports)

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