Washington Nationals clinch NL East crown as DC celebrates its first first ... - Washington Post
They knew. The word had spread from somewhere — perhaps an internet connection down in the clubhouse, or from the simple, feverish roar of the Nationals Park crowd. The Washington Nationals smiled and hugged as they gathered in their dugout, in the middle of the ninth inning, at 9:44 Monday night. Manager Davey Johnson climbed the steps of the dugout, the lights of the Capitol Dome glowed in the distance and the nation’s capital bore witness to its first clinching of first place since the Washington Senators won the pennant in 1933.
In Pittsburgh, the Atlanta Braves had suffered a 2-1 defeat that made the Nationals’ 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park moot. The Nationals had clinched their first National League East title since baseball returned eight years ago. As Johnson waved to crowd, the public address bellowed, “Now batting, for your National League East Champions, Michael Morse!”
Three outs later, the Nationals gathered at the top step of their dugout and grabbed commemorative gray T-shirts and red hats. The enormous video board in center field showed owner Ted Lerner, the native Washington who became a billionaire in real estate, standing and clapping in the owner’s suite. Red fireworks exploded behind home plate and lit up the pitch-black sky.
They players lingered on the steps of the dugout before retreating to their clubhouse. The Nationals had shipped their unopened champagne, Korbel and a few bottles of higher-shelf stuff, back from St. Louis. “There’s enough,” clubhouse manager Mike Wallace said before the game, smiling.
They soaked themselves and each other, and after 15 minutes they trickled back on to the field, led by left-hander Gio Gonzalez, the ace they acquired in a December trade. He sprayed champagne on the pitcher’s mound. Ryan Zimmerman, the first draft pick in team history, the face of the franchise who signed a $100 million extension to finish his career here, came next. Morse brought bubby to the left field corner, smiling his big, beastly grin. They gathered on the first base line, and the crowd remaining chanted, “Let’s go, Nats!”
Eight years after baseball returned to Washington, this city learned how good it could be, how wondrously draining and painfully exhilarating the sport becomes. Two games on parallel tracks, one a tease and one a relief, one on the field and one on the scoreboard, gave way to the championship.
In the ninth inning, as Drew Storen pitched to keep the deficit at two, fans began chanting, “Let’s go Pirates!” The Nationals had squandered chances all night, unable to match the two runs the Phillies scored in the second inning off starter John Lannan. The crowd realized their best chance stood in Pittsburgh.
That the Nationals lost could be forgiven. They have won 96 games this year, too many for the Braves to reach with two games remaining. They had reached the top of baseball four years after finding its bottom, three years after losing 103 games.
In the late afternoon, as the Nationals took batting practice, owner Mark Lerner greeted players and hobbled around the cage with a cane. He still wore a cast on his lower leg and foot as he recovers from a late-summer operation. “A little champagne will cure it, I’ll tell you that,” Lerner said.