Washington manager Davey Johnson insisted earlier this week that getting Edwin Jackson his tenth win of the season was more important to his club than securing the National League’s top seed heading into the postseason. Wednesday, his team was able to accomplish both.
Jackson rebounded from his worst start of the year with one of his more solid outings and his teammates slugged three home runs to power the Nationals to a 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies that clinched home field for Washington throughout the playoffs.
With the NL East sewn up and the club in playoff mode — the team was fitted for postseason caps before the game — Game 162 was a chance for the players and fans to have a pressure-free show of mutual admiration, with everyone able to revel in the team’s accomplishments so far this season before shifting focus to the Division Series. Mark DeRosa started for the second straight game, this time in right field, and almost picked up his first home run of the season in his first at-bat but was robbed by Juan Pierre, who reached over the wall to deny the Nats veteran.
Other signs this wasn’t a standard-issue game were the late appearances of Bryce Harper, who came on to run for Ryan Zimmerman in the eighth inning and came around to score his 98th run of the season on a Michael Morse homer, and Gio Gonzalez, who was scratched from his start on Tuesday to prepare for Game 1 of the NLDS and pitched the ninth inning Wednesday as a final regular season tune-up.
But perhaps the most jaw-dropping turn of events came in the Presidents Race, where Teddy shook off more than 500 straight losses to finally pick up his first victory.
Teddy’s good fortune quickly coincided with some for the Nationals, as Zimmerman led off the fourth inning directly after the historic win and lined a home run into the right field corner to tie the game at 1-1. Morse and Tyler Moore followed with back-to-back doubles off Phillies starter Cliff Lee (6-9) and the Nats had a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Moore, starting at first base in place of 100-RBI man Adam LaRoche, clubbed his 10th home run of the season in the sixth, a no-doubter to left that doubled the Washington advantage to 3-1. That was plenty of support for Jackson (10-11), who pitched into the seventh inning allowing only one run on six hits while striking out six. It was a complete 180 for Jackson from his last start in St. Louis, where he was tagged for eight runs in 1 1/3 frames.
With the regular season now complete, the list of franchise bests compiled by this 2012 club is impressive. The 98 wins is the most in franchise history going back to the team’s days in Montréal and it is the first time the club has finished a season in first place. The Nationals finished every month of the season with a winning record (including a 2-1 October) and the season’s home attendance of 2,370,794 is the highest for the team since Nationals Park opened in 2008. Now fans in Washington get to experience something the city hasn’t seen since 1933 — postseason baseball in the nation’s capital.
Champ of the Game: Michael Morse. The Beast seems to be locked in as the playoffs approach, smacking three extra-base hits on Wednesday, scoring twice and driving in two. For the Phillies, Darin Ruf drove in the only run of the game with a sac fly, meaning the rookie plated all five runs the Phillies scored in the three-game series.
Chump of the Game: Jesus Flores. In what could be the last start of his Nationals career, Flores went out with a whimper, fanning three times. For Philadelphia, Juan Pierre struck out twice in his four hitless at-bats.
Next Game: The location is yet to be determined, but we do know Gio Gonzalez will take the mound Sunday for the Nationals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. Washington will travel to play the winner of Friday night’s play-in game between the Cardinals and Braves in Atlanta.