The Nationals magic number to clinch the NL East Championship was one at the beginning of game 160. The Nationals hoped to clinch the championship with a win. It didn’t quite work out that way, as the Nats lost to the Phillies 2-0. The Braves lost to the Pirates, which meant by the end of the game the Nats were crowned the NL East Champs.
It was a great day for the Nats faithful, even with a loss. It was especially enjoyable to clinch the division title with the Phillies in the park.
Nats fans packed the park hoping to see the Nats clinch. They got their wish. They also got to see great pitching performances by the Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick and the Phillies and Nats bullpens. John Lannan threw five effective innings, dancing in and out of trouble most of the night.. Lannan was assisted by great defense. The Nats turned three double plays while Lannan was on the mound. Lannan only gave up two runs during his five innings of work. The problem was, Kendrick stymied the Nats most of the night.
The Phillies scored the only two runs of the night in the top of the second inning. Lannan walked Carlos Ruiz, then got Ty Wigginton to flyout. Domonic Brown singled and Darren Ruf smoked a triple, scoring Ruiz and Brown. Lannan got the next two batters, but the damage was done.
The Nats threatened in the bottom of the second. Michael Morse and Ian Desmond hit back to back singles after Adam LaRoche ground out. Danny Espinosa ground out, advancing the runners. With two out, the Phillies decided to walk Kurt Suzuki to load the bases and pitch to Lannan, who ground out.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Nats had a chance to push a run across the plate and couldn’t get it done. Espinosa started the inning with a groundout, then Suzuki singled. He got to third on a throwing error by Kendrick on an attempted pick off of Suzuki at first. Roger Bernadina pinch hit in Lannan’s spot and popped up. Jayson Werth struck out, stranding Suzuki at third. The Nats had another scoring opportunity in the sixth inning, when Bryce Harper lead off the inning with a double, getting to third with only one out on a Zimmerman flyout. LaRoche popped out and Morse struck out, stranding Harper at third.
Craig Stammen came in from the bullpen in relief of John Lannan and had one of his most dominating performances of the season. Stammen faced six batters over two innings and struck out every one of them. Ryan Mattheus pitched the eighth for the Nats, getting three outs in a row.
The Nats got two more runners on in the bottom of the eighth on a Werth single and a walk by Harper, but Zimmerman and LaRoche could not produce, Ryan flying out and Adam striking out looking.
The top of the ninth arrived with Drew Storen taking the mound against the Phillies. The crowd, who had been scoreboard watching all night, was aware that the Braves-Pirates game was also in the top of the ninth. With the crowd chanting “Let’s Go Pirates”, Storen got three quick outs, sitting down Ruiz, Wigginton and Brown in order. The Braves-Pirates game went final, the Braves had lost and the Nats had clinched the NL East Division Championship.
The crowd and Nats players had a mini-celebration at that point, with the scoreboards flashing the news that the Nats had won the pennant. The Nats still had to come up to bat in the bottom of the ninth. They were set down in order, but it didn’t matter to the fans, the players or anyone in the organization. The celebration was on.
The Nats players donned their NL East Champions T-shirts and hats and celebrated a bit on the field before going into the locker room to have the traditional champagne spray. Some of the smarter players had donned swim goggles or scuba diving goggles for the celebration. After a short time in the locker room, the Nats came back out onto the field to celebrate with the fans.
Michael Morse sprayed champagne into the crowd. Most of the Nats got interviewed one after another down by the dugout. Wilson Ramos went around the field carrying the Nationals flag, stolen from Screech. Most of the team went around the field with him. All Nats fans sincerely hope that Wilson Ramos will get the chance to play next year and celebrate another championship and post-season appearance during a season when he gets to play the entire year.
Since the Nationals went 15 out of their last 20 games last year, your could feel this moment coming. The team did not want the season to end last year. They were so eager for this season to start they all reported early to spring training–the position players came to camp when pitchers and catchers reported, even though they didn’t have to. No matter what essential player got injured, the team pulled together and picked up the slack. When the hitters were not connecting at the beginning of the year, the pitching held the team together. When the pitching got a bit shaky, the hitters started producing. The defense has been terrific all year.
This team deserves this championship. They earned it.
Champ of the Game: The Nats Bullpen. Craig Stammen faced six hitters and struck out all six. Ryan Mattheus and Drew Storen did not allow a baserunner either. They did their part to keep the Nats in this game.
Chump of the Game: Adam LaRoche was 0-4. During two of those at bats he had a runner in scoring position in a game in which the Nats were only down by two runs. The Nats really needed him to come through, and he didn’t.
Unsung Hero: Kurt Suzuki, who called a good game for Lannan, went 1-2 with an intentional walk, and got Kendrick to try to pick him off first base (really, did Kendrick think Suzuki was going to try and steal?) causing Kendrick to make an errant throw which sent Suzuki to third.
Next Game: Your Division Champions play the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on Tuesday, October 2nd at 7:05 p.m. Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89 ERA) pitches against a Phillies pitcher to be determined.