Nationals beat Dodgers to clinch D.C.’s first playoff berth since 1933

Detwiler’s strong outing leads to pitcher’s 10th victory

The ball nestled safely into the glove of catcher Kurt Suzuki as the scene behind him exploded. The final out in a win D.C. had waited 79 years to celebrate coming on a swinging strikeout. Drew Storen pumped his fist into the air as 30,359 fans danced in the aisles at Nationals Park.

For weeks the Washington Nationals downplayed what this moment would be like and how they’d react. Fireworks shot from the roof of the stadium, and while pandemonium began to take hold in the seats around them, players calmly went into their usual post-game handshake line.

With their 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers Thursday night — a crisp fall evening in Washington — a D.C. baseball team sealed its first postseason berth since 1933.

“It was one of those feelings you’ve never had before,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the face of a franchise that had spent most of its existence dreaming of a day like this but perhaps not believing it would ever come to fruition. “I had no idea what to do. I haven’t won anything since friggin’ Little League.”

They slipped on red t-shirts and gray ‘Playoffs’ hats. The scoreboard behind them beamed the good news: ‘Nats Clinch,’ it blinked in enormous block letters. They bounded into the clubhouse, a small champagne toast waiting for them with a dual meaning: to acknowledge what they’d accomplished, and remind them of what still lies ahead.

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Ross Detwiler (48) throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first  inning of a baseball game at Nationals Park, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Enlarge Photo

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Ross Detwiler (48) throws a pitch against the ... more >

“This is no doubt a big day for this organization and this city,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “Not to downplay the day at all, but guys aren’t satisfied in here. We don’t look at this like ‘mission accomplished.’”

The Nationals are playoff bound, into the one-game wild card playoff at least, and needing any combination of their own wins or Atlanta Braves losses totalling eight to ensure the National League East crown and a spot in the division series. The Nationals have a 5½-game lead on the Braves with 13 games to play.

What they ensured Thursday is that for the first time since baseball returned to Washington in 2005, they’ll play more than 162 games in a season. They’ll keep the gates to Nationals Park open at least a little bit longer.

“That was fun,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, the same man who said in spring training that the organization could fire him if they didn’t make the playoffs and back in the postseason himself for the first time in 15 years. “But that’s not what I had my eye on. It’s a nice step to get here, but every manager that’s leading the division, that’s the only thing that matters, winning your division … I don’t want this.”

But Johnson could hardly contain his smile as he spoke, despite the words coming out of his mouth indicating that he took little satisfaction in this seat at the play-in game table. He raised his glass to the players, pulled out of his office for the toast, and said to them what they already knew “We ain’t done yet.”

“We’ve got way too much focus in here to be celebrating this,” said shortstop Ian Desmond. “I’ve got a much bigger picture in my mind. This basically means that if we lose every game from here on out we get to play one more game. We’re way beyond that. If we come out and play as good as we can the rest of the year hopefully we’ll be celebrating much bigger things.”

For months it seemed like a formality, as the Nationals ran roughshod over almost everyone they met and surged ever further above a .500 mark that appeared a lofty goal in years past. They were the only team in the major leagues to post a winning record in every month of the season, including what is now an 11-7 mark in September.

But for all of the various forms the Washington Nationals have taken on this season, all of the ways they’ve proven that they’re better than just about everyone, they’ve always come back to one ultimate truth.

At their core, the Nationals are a team built on exceptional pitching.

So in a game that meant perhaps more than any other in their organization’s eight-year history, they delivered with their strength. On a night that ensured they’d join nine other teams this October with a legitimate chance to win a World Series title, their 91st win of the season came on the back of a signature pitching performance.

Story Continues →

View Entire Story

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Get Adobe Flash player
You Might Also Like
  • **FILE** In this April 23, 2013 photo, Cuba's former pitcher Conrado Marrero, the world's oldest living former major league baseball player, holds up a baseball with his signature at his home, two days before is 102nd birthday, as he holds an unlit cigar in his mouth in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

    Oldest ex-MLB player dies in Cuba, 2 days shy of 103rd birthday

  • Washington Wizards guard John Wall, left, and Bradley Beal celebrate the Wizards' 101-99 win as Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich walks off the court after missing two free throws during the overtime period of Game 2 in an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series Tuesday, April 22, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

    HARRIS: D.C. not yet spellbound by Wizards, but they’re no illusion

  • Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III watches Baylor and Central Florida play during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football game, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

    Robert Griffin III to drive pace car before Richmond NASCAR race

  • Washington Wizards forward Nene, left, guards Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer during the first half in Game 1 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series in Chicago, Sunday, April 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

    Early returns show projections of physical Wizards-Bulls series were correct

  • Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (10) celebrates after catching a 25 yard touchdown in the first quarter as the Washington Redskins play the Philadelphia Eagles in Monday Night NFL football at FedExField, Landover, Md., Monday, September 9, 2013. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

    Dan Snyder: DeSean Jackson ‘really a good guy’

  • Celebrities In The News
  • ** FILE ** In this March 19, 2013, file photo, Justin Bieber performs during a concert at Bercy Arena in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

    Justin Bieber apologizes for Japan war shrine trip

  • FILE - This Jan. 8, 2014 file photo shows singer Chris Brown, right, arriving at the District of Columbia Superior Court in Washington. After a brief postponement, singer Chris Brown's trial on an assault charge is scheduled to begin in Washington. Brown's trial had been set for Monday but was delayed while lawyers tried to work out whether his bodyguard will testify. It's unclear whether the trial will start Wednesday, as Brown's lawyers seem to want, or if further legal maneuvering will delay it.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

    Chris Brown assault trial delayed again

  • Justin Bieber seeks delay in Fla. DUI trial