October 2012

Your Guide To NLDS Game 3

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The 2012 Postseason lands in Washington D.C. on Wednesday. We’re here to prepare you as best we can for Game 3 of the National League Division Series, with first pitch at 1:07 p.m. local time at Nationals Park.

Remember, while Wednesday is Game 3 of the NLDS, it is Postseason Home Game 1 for those of us here in D.C. Therefore your ticket should look like this:

If you don’t already have tickets to the game, there will be a very limited amount of standing room only tickets available beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, ONLY at the Nationals Park Box Office. 

Make sure you wear your Nationals red to the ballpark! While you’re at it, post a photo of you, your business or your school Igniting Your October #NATITUDE and post it to Twitter for a chance to win 2013 Nationals tickets and a Postseason Prize Pack!

All gates will open at 10:30 a.m., 2.5 hours before first pitch. There will be 40,000+ postseason giveaway items for every game of the NLDS. Giveaways will be available at all gates, so feel free to enter through any park entrance.

Face-painting, balloon art, caricatures, and more will be available at the Family Fun Area near the Center Field Gate once gates are open until the start of the game. Plus, live music will take place at the Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk once gates are open until the start of the game.

And, of course, the game itself features Edwin Jackson and the Nationals taking on Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals with the best-of-five series tied at a game apiece. More on all that right here.

While you’re at the game, don’t forget to stop behind Section 113, where we’ll have unique memorabilia from the Nationals first-ever postseason games last weekend in St. Louis.

Series Information:

Game 4: Thursday, 4:07 p.m. (moves to 5:07 p.m. if Detroit beats Oakland Tuesday night)

Game 5 (if necessary): Friday, 8:37 p.m.

If you have any other questions that are not answered on this post or on this link, feel free to ask them in the space below and we’ll do our best to answer as quickly as possible.

Some Motivation

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Around 1:05 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, after the Nationals take the field for their first home playoff game, the first in the franchise’s annals since the Montreal Expos in 1981, and the first in Washington’s Major League history since 1933, one song will blare out from the ballpark’s speakers, the chosen song of the home nine’s starting pitcher. After everything the Washington fan base has abided to get to this momentous day – from decades of postseason absence, to franchises twice leaving the District, to finally, a winning team being built from scratch to deliver this day – the song is appropriately entitled: “Waiting.”

You know the world is waiting…

Waiting on 103

The collected, experienced Edwin Jackson leads the Nationals into Game 3 of the NLDS.

For the Nationals fan base, it is waiting on Game 3. Their designated starter, the man who will take the hill with this music pumping behind him, will be looking to reestablish the team’s dominance at home, facing off in what has become a best-of-three series in D.C. between the upstart Nationals and the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, following a successful split of the first two games on the road. Now Washington will look to Edwin Jackson, who was a key part of that championship team against whom he will pitch on Wednesday, to deliver as he has done all year long.

We need some motivation,

So won’t you come motivate me?

When the Nationals made the surprise free agent signing of the offseason, inking Jackson to a one-year deal to bolster their starting rotation, many were caught off-guard. An already full rotation was now actually overflowing, prompting the eventual decision to start John Lannan at Triple-A to begin the season. And while it could be argued that Jackson was brought in to do what he has already done – post a double-digit win total and rack up nearly 200 innings in the middle of the rotation – he was really signed by EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo with Wednesday’s Game 3 in mind.

“You have to treat every inning like it’s the ninth inning,” stressed Jackson at his press conference Tuesday of the added pressure of starting in the postseason.

Jackson has been in this position before, pitching for the other side last season.

On a team full of rookies and other young players and a rotation with no postseason experience of any kind, Jackson is the elder statesman, the veteran, the man who has been to the top of the mountain before. He has twice pitched in the postseason, twice in the World Series, for two different teams in two different leagues. He has taken on the Red Sox and the Phillies, the Brewers and the Rangers, and made three starts as a part of that 2011 St. Louis team that won it all. It is only fitting that the same team, a year later, now stands in the Nationals way as they attempt to advance to the NLCS.

Thanks to that experience, Jackson is able to keep a clear mind about the task in front of him, to keep everything in perspective.

“No one has to be a hero,” he explained. “We just need to go out and play the game we know how to play.”

Last year, after the Cardinals had lost Game 3 of the NLDS to the Phillies and found themselves down, two games to one in the best-of-five format, they handed the ball to Jackson with their season on the line. The strong righty allowed two runs in the first inning, but shut down the potent Philadelphia offense (one that had scored 11 runs in the first game of the series) the rest of the way en route to a 5-3 victory. St. Louis went on to win Game 5, and of course, the rest is history.

I done told y’all, and told y’all, and told y’all again

Play the game, play the game, play the game yeah to win

There will also be a measure of revenge available for Jackson, who struggled through his toughest start of the year in St. Louis earlier this month. However, lest Cardinals fans jump to quickly to the conclusion that they will find the same kind of success against Jackson here in Washington, they need only look back at Jackson’s start on August 30, in which he allowed a single unearned run on just four hits, striking out 10 over 8.0 masterful innings in an 8-1 Nationals victory over St. Louis. That contest was part of a four-game set in which Washington pummeled the Cardinals to the tune of a 31-14 score over the series, winning three times.

I ain’t lose, I don’t lose, I ain’t lose, never lost

Always on, keepin’ on, always on, never off

With emotions likely to be running high in the first Major League Postseason game in D.C. in 79 years, it’s hard to think of anyone better than the calm, collected Jackson taking the hill for the Nationals.

What to Watch For: NLDS Game 2

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Washington Nationals (1-0) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (0-1)

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (12-8, 2.94) vs. LHP Jaime Garcia (7-7, 3.92)

Trailing 2-1 into the top of the eighth inning, the Nationals got a two-out, two-strike, two-run pinch-single from Tyler Moore to flip the script and steal a Game 1 victory in St. Louis. Washington will send right-hander Jordan Zimmermann to the hill this afternoon in Game 2 against Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

From Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche on the importance of Sunday’s Game 1 win:

“Game 1 in a short series like this is huge. I think more than anything because now for the Cardinals, since we won Game 1, this is kind of a must-win.”

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Zimmermann RHP

IT HAS BEEN A WHILE

Entering the 2012 postseason, a big league club from Washington last won a postseason game on October 5, 1933 (79 years ago), when the AL Nationals topped the New York Giants, 4-0, at Griffith Stadium and southpaw Earl Whitehill tossed a five-hitter. Davey Johnson’s last postseason win came as the Orioles doubled up the Indians, 4-2, in Game 5 on October 13, 1997 (15 years ago).

WERTH NOTING

Jayson Werth’s 13 career home runs in 45 career postseason contests are tied for fifth among active players with Chipper Jones (13 in 93 games) and Alex Rodriguez (13 in 68 games). Only Derek Jeter (20 home runs, 153 games), Albert Pujols (18 in 74 games), Jim Thome (17 in 68 games) and Nelson Cruz (14 in 34 games) have more. In fact, in 44 career postseason games, Werth has more homers than the following October legends: Yogi Berra (12 home runs in 75 games), David Ortiz (12 in 75 games), Duke Snider (11 in 36 games), Johnny Bench (10 in 45 games), Frank Robinson (10 in 35 games), Chase Utley (10 in 46 games) and Barry Bonds (nine in 48 games).

D.C.’S POSTSEASON LEDGER

It’s well known that the Nation’s Capital has one MLB World Championship (‘24) on its resume. Washington, D.C. owns an all-time record of 9-11 in the postseason.

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Another Opening Day

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Stop us if this sounds familiar.

The Washington Nationals, trailing a tight, low-scoring game by one run in the top of the eighth inning, need a clutch hit late. This is, after all, their first time in such a position, with newfound expectations heaped on their collective backs, the attention of the sport and the nation at large turned to them for the first time in their young history. They need to find a way, through a raucous road crowd in one of baseball’s historic cities, to shut out the noise, the emotion, and find a way to win. Washington rides a three-hit day from Ian Desmond and a clutch hit late off the bench to a one-run road victory. It is Opening Day, April 5 in Chicago, and the Nationals have just beaten the Cubs to start the season.

Tyler Moore silenced the Game 1 crowd of more than 47,000 in St. Louis.

Six months and two days later, Washington began its “second season,” the postseason, in remarkably similar fashion. The Nationals use another three-hit game from Desmond and a two-out, two-strike, two-run pinch-single – the very definition of clutch – from rookie Tyler Moore to a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game One of the National League Division Series. Of course, it was Chad Tracy who delivered the big blow on Opening Day, with his ninth-inning double. On Sunday afternoon, Tracy again played a role, despite never even crossing the lines onto the field of play. His announcement as the pinch-hitter for Ryan Mattheus (more on him later) in the top of the eighth prompted Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny to pull setup man Mitchell Boggs in favor of his lone lefty reliever, Mark Rzepczynski. Davey Johnson countered by pinch-hitting Moore, and the chess game continued. Matheny opted against a second pitching change, leaving right-handed closer Jason Motte in the ‘pen. Moore delivered. Checkmate.

Asked if it was the biggest hit in his career, Moore, the fresh-faced 25 year-old tucked into his stock, grey postseason sweatshirt, kept it simple.

“Uh, yeah,” he laughed.

However, none of those events would have transpired if not for the tremendous, history-making postseason debut of Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus. Already leading 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, St. Louis had loaded the bases with nobody out on an error, a single and a walk against Craig Stammen, prompting Johnson to go to his ground ball specialist. Even he couldn’t have imagined things would work out quite so well.

In a game in which the Cardinals seemed to constantly be on the verge of breaking out, Mattheus delivered in the biggest spot. For starters, he got cleanup man Allen Craig – a .400 hitter (50-for-125) with 74 RBI with RISP during the regular season – to hit the first pitch on the ground to shortstop, Desmond throwing home for the first out of the inning, the bases remaining loaded. Then, on the very next pitch, he induced an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play off the bat of 2012 All-Star Yadier Molina, becoming the first pitcher in the history of postseason play to record all three outs in an inning on just two pitches.

Heroes Moore (left) and Desmond enjoy the spoils of victory at the post-game press conference.

“I sold out to the ground ball,” he said with a smile after the nail-biting victory. “I’ve done it all year, that’s been my MO to get ground balls. Look at my numbers – I don’t punch very many guys out. So I’m not going to go in there and try to strike out the side.”

To call Mattheus an unknown factor would be an understatement. As the official scorer called out the afternoon’s final totals over the public address system in the press box, he mispronounced the reliever’s name, calling him “Math-A-us” rather than “Matthews,” though the right-hander surely could care less. He had just, after all, recorded the three biggest out of his career.

“Absolutely, no question about it,” Mattheus agreed when asked if Sunday’s performance topped his career highlights. “I don’t think we care if we stole it. Any one we can get is a win, no matter how we get it.”

Desmond had a different view of the outcome.

“I don’t think we stole it,” he said. “I think we earned it.”

Indeed, the Nationals earned it through a mix of quality pitching from the whole staff, combined with a couple of big hits in key spots. As anyone who has followed the team this year knows, that should come as no surprise.

“That’s really been the formula,” explained Desmond. “Just some timely hitting and some really, really good pitching.”

On that much, he and Mattheus agreed.

“I think that’s how this team’s been the whole year,” said Mattheus, reflecting back to Opening Day. “Some nights we pitch, some nights we hit. We try not to make too much of these games. Hopefully we can treat them like games in April. That was the most exciting day in my career so far, Opening Day, but this has to trump that.”

What To Watch For: NLDS Game 1

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Washington Nationals (98-64) vs. St. Louis Cardinals (88-74)

LHP Gio Gonzalez (21-8, 2.89) vs. RHP Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94)

The Washington Nationals begin the franchise’s first-ever Postseason in the home of the defending 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards knocked off the Atlanta Braves, 6-3 on Friday night, in the one-game Wild Card Playoff to reach the National League Division Series.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

From Nationals Manager Davey Johnson on leading his fourth different team to the Postseason:

“It’s not my first rodeo… We know who we are, we know what we do well.”

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Werth RF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Gonzalez LHP

ARMS RACE

Washington features the staff with the lowest ERA in the National League at 3.33, helping lead to a league-best 98 wins. Nationals pitchers also ranked third in the league with 1325 strikeouts. St. Louis, meanwhile, posted the league’s sixth best mark as a staff (3.71), including 10 shutouts. Gio Gonzalez’s only start against the Cardinals his season resulted in his first career shutout, a five-hit masterpiece in D.C. on August 31. St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright, meanwhile, had one great start and one rough one against the Nationals, going 1-1 with a 7.27 ERA (7 ER/8.2 IP).

BATTER UP

The Cardinals featured the second-highest scoring offense and second-highest batting average in the National League. However, they were out-homered by the Nationals, 194-159, and Washington actually posted better second-half numbers across the board.

MANAGING EXPECATIONS

This matchup features Major League Baseball’s oldest (69 year-old Davey Johnson) and youngest (42 year-old Mike Matheny) managers, marking the largest age difference between skippers in Postseason history.

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#CYGio

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“What did I tell you?”

It was less of a question than an expression of joy, of mutual appreciation for a plan well-thought and well-executed, celebrated by one of a thousand hugs in a night of jubilation in the clubhouse, on the field, and again in the clubhouse as the Nationals clinched their first-ever National League East title. The words were spoken by Nationals EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo to Max Gonzalez, father to Gio, the left-handed ace of the staff who, immediately after coming to Washington in a late-December trade, signed a five-year extension with his new ballclub, lending a mutual security to both parties for the foreseeable future.

Gonzalez won more games than anyone in baseball in 2012.

It was a contract Rizzo was happy to finalize, locking up a proven, All-Star southpaw to complement righties Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann in the Washington rotation. But even Rizzo was probably taken off-guard by just how good Gonzalez has been in his debut season in the Nation’s Capital.

The first pitcher in baseball to 20 wins, he finished the year 21-8, surpassing his previous career-best mark by five victories. He did so by pairing his mid-90’s fastball with one of the best curveballs in the game, occasionally mixing in his changeup to keep hitters off-balance. In so doing, he limited opponents to a .206 batting average, the lowest in either league among qualifying starters. He also struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings, the highest rate in the league of anyone who completed as many innings as Gonzalez (199.1). However, he has some competition in the NL for the rank of top arm and the Cy Young Award that comes with it, namely Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

Dickey’s is a great story, and he has turned in a remarkable season for any pitcher, much less one who has undergone the trials and tribulations that have led up to this point in his life. But he is not the best pitcher on the best team, nor is he the most unhittable. Those titles belong to Gonzalez, whose left arm accounted directly for 21 of his team’s Major League-leading 98 victories. The Nationals went 3-0 in the only games that Gonzalez started and did not receive a decision, finishing 24-8 overall in his outings.

Gonzalez earned the ball for Game One of the Nationals first-ever playoff series.

Gonzalez also allowed a meager nine home runs all season long, three fewer than the next closest pitcher who surpassed the 170-inning mark. Dickey, meanwhile, surrendered 24 longballs, nearly two-and-a-half times the rate at which Gonzalez allowed them.

Gio also finished strong, going 8-2 with an even 2.00 ERA (15 ER/67.1 IP) over his final 10 starts to lead his club into the playoffs as the top seed. Dickey, meanwhile, was solid but unspectacular over his last five outings (2-2, 3.28 ERA) and was beaten by Gonzalez head-to-head in New York on September 11.

Sometimes overlooked, thanks to the collective dominance of the staff – owners of the lowest ERA in the National League – Gonzalez has become the leader of the rotation and has more than earned his spot as Washington’s Game One starter for the NLDS. While the lefty is always happy to deflect the credit to his catcher, his offense, and his defense behind him – and while the Nationals have bigger goals in front of them – the Cy Young Award would be an appropriate honor for the breakout season of the league’s best pitcher.

Do You Know Your Enemy?

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There was much speculation as to who the Nationals would be better off facing in the National League Division Series heading into last night’s Cardinals-Braves Wild Card game. With the dust now settled and the team in St. Louis, we’re here to provide an objective analysis of the three National League teams that Washington has the possibility of encountering this postseason and how well the Nats match up against each. First, though, let’s take a look at what the Nationals have working in their favor, regardless of their opponent.

SERIES BUSINESS

For the Nationals to be successful in the postseason, they will need to stick to the same approach they have had all season long: win the series. That has been the mantra since day one, and while a five or seven-game series differs from a two, three, or four-gamer, the principle remains the same. In that vein, the Nationals finished the 2012 regular season with a 32-12-8 series record. In other words, they won 32 of their 52 series outright (61.5%), and earned at least a split in 40 of them (76.9%). Washington was swept only four times all season long, while returning the favor on nine occasions, including three-game sets at Atlanta in late May and at home against San Francisco in early July.

SHOW ON THE ROAD

While Washington’s 50-31 home record was tied for the top mark in the National League, it is their nearly equal 48-33 road mark that stands out. Not only is that the best away tally in all of baseball, but it includes 2-1 records in both Cincinnati and San Francisco and a 5-4 mark in Atlanta. The Nats ability to win away from D.C. will be a crucial factor in how far their October ride will take them.

OPPONENTS

St. Louis Cardinals

88-74 overall, 11.0 GB in NL Central (Second Wild Card)

Nationals record vs. St. Louis in 2012: 4-3

World Champions until they are eliminated, the Cardinals are a dangerous opponent that features the highest scoring offense of any postseason club in the National League. Combined with their veteran rotation and playoff experience, the Cards will not be an easy out, but it’s hard to say how Washington will match up, with both teams winning their home series convincingly during the regular season. The good news: the Cardinals rotation (Garcia: 0-1, 10.13; Lohse: 0-0, 6.94; Lynn: 1-1, 9.82; Wainwright: 1-1, 7.27) has not fared well against the Nats bats. We’ll have more on the Cardinals in a full NLDS preview tomorrow.

Cincinnati Reds

97-65 overall, NL Central Champions

Nationals record vs. Cincinnati in 2012: 5-2

Reds fans will point out that all of the seven matchups between these two teams occurred very early in the season, when ace Johnny Cueto was on the Disabled List. However, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman both missed the second series, while Bryce Harper was still in Syracuse for the first matchup and Michael Morse was absent for both. It could be very reasonably argued that the Nationals team the Reds could face in October is significantly better offensively (perhaps defensively as well, with Zimmerman and Harper) than the one that took five-of-seven from Cincinnati in April and May.

San Francisco Giants

94-68 overall, NL West Champions

Nationals record vs. San Francisco in 2012: 5-1

The Giants have improved offensively down the stretch, despite the loss of Melky Cabrera, but will rely on their formidable starting rotation to try to replicate their 2010 World Series run. However, the Nationals have fared particularly well against the San Francisco starters as well, with Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong’s worst individual starts of the year ALL coming against the Nats. In fact, add in top starter Matt Cain and the quartet that went a combined 55-36 with a 3.42 ERA (294 ER/772.2 IP) against the rest of baseball managed just a 1-4 record with an 8.80 ERA (30 ER/30.2 IP) against Washington this year.

Breaking Down the Signature Moments of 2012

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The Postseason Issue of Nationals Magazine is on sale now through the end of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park.

Over the course of 162 regular season games, there are too many dramatic moments to recount in just a few short pages. So, we’ve picked out a few that we believe were some of the most vital and memorable in the Nationals 2012 campaign for our Postseason Issue of Nationals Magazine. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to reflect on each of these Signature Moments and realize that, of course, in their own unique way, each would prove pivotal to this memorable Nationals season. But in the excitement of the moment, with the rush of adrenaline still coursing through our veins, did we really, fully appreciate the splendor of what we had just witnessed? We dust off our coverage of each to help you relive every last detail. Once you’ve soaked it all in (again), vote for your favorite in the poll at the bottom of the page.

OPENING STATEMENTS
Lost in the fanfare of the home opener at Nationals Park, or even Gio Gonzalez’s sparkling home debut on the mound, was the southpaw’s handy-work with the bat as he notched his first career hit that day. Here’s how we saw it:

As Gonzalez ran to first, he watched the ball the whole way. As it finally fell to the grass, he whipped his head towards the Nationals dugout, mouth open in an ecstatic, toothy grin. After he rounded first, he walked back to the bag with his head tilted back skywards, an expression of relief, yes, but more so pure happiness. As the bat boy returned the ball to the dugout for safekeeping, he also retrieved the pitcher’s big red jacket, to help keep the hurlers arm warm through the rest of his sparkling home debut.

As for Edwin Jackson’s gem later in the series, do you recall who provided the offensive support? Hint: You could look up Jackson’s no-hitter with Arizona back in 2010. Or just visit the link above.

NATITUDE WEEKEND
NATITUDE Weekend just about speaks for itself, but they say a picture is worth 1,000 words, right? Check the post from that series for even more of our favorite fan photos.

TURN BACK THE CLOCK NIGHT

The Nationals and Giants went all out in recreating the feel of the 1924 World Series, from the throwback scoreboard and uniforms all the way down to a walk-off win for Washington. But if you haven’t seen the retro-inspired game highlights, there’s no time like the present to refresh your memory.

BEAST OF A COMEBACK
The improbable comeback win in Milwaukee – led by Michael Morse – undoubtedly stands as one of the signature moments of the 2012 season, but Curly W Live to puts it in its proper historical perspective:

Perhaps most importantly, it capped a 6-1 road trip that kept the Nationals a full four games ahead of division rival Atlanta as the weekend came to a close. It also left them at 61-40, the first time the franchise has been this many games over .500 since its relocation to the Nation’s Capital.

See You In Knoxville

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This morning, Jeffrey Hester and his son Alan jumped in their car to begin a journey of over 400 miles, from their home in Winchester, VA to Knoxville, TN. They are going as baseball fans, but not going to see the Tennessee Smokies, the Double-A affiliates of the Chicago Cubs, whose season ended a month ago. Hardly a baseball hotbed this time of year, Knoxville is simply the logical stopping point in a larger journey, the yield sign at the fork in the road between St. Louis and Atlanta, the two possible destinations where their beloved Washington Nationals will play their first-ever playoff game, set to take place this Sunday.

Nationals season ticket holder Jeffrey Hester at Fenway Park in June.

“I looked at the map and Knoxville seemed to be a good halfway point,” said Hester over the phone on Thursday, a day after he watched the Nats wrap up the best record in baseball in person at Nationals Park.

Originally an Orioles fan, Hester gave up his old fandom in the late ‘90s, only to pick it up once again when the Nationals moved to the Nation’s Capital in ’05. A season ticket holder ever since, he has found his baseball spark reignited this year from a fitting source.

“They broke my heart when they fired Davey Johnson,” recalled Hester of the Orioles and their former skipper parting ways. “It’s kind of funny how things come around.”

Hester’s son Alan took the week off work to join dad on the trip.

Now Hester and his son are all in on the Nats, and are prepared for both contingencies. Should the Braves knock off the defending World Series Champions at home, the Hesters will have just over 200 more miles left ahead of them to get to Turner Field for Game 1 of the NLDS. Should the Cardinals finally solve Kris Medlen and extend their season, it will mean another nearly 500-mile trek to the Gateway to the West.

“My son and I, we don’t want to do the trip in one day, especially if it’s St. Louis,” explained Hester of the journey, which could end up being over 1,800 miles round trip.

Either way, they plan to be back in D.C. in time for Game 3 on Wednesday and each of the eight possible postseason home games. The elder Hester estimates he has attended between 25-30 games at Nationals Park this season, but this won’t be the first time he has seen the Nationals away from the District, as he was able to catch the Sunday finale of the Nats sweep at Fenway Park in June. In Boston for a friend’s wedding on Saturday, it was the only logical way for a die-hard fan to complete the weekend. Now, their journey will take them to eastern Tennessee as they await the Nationals next opponent – and their weekend destination – to be determined.

A Perfect Beginning

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The final day of the regular season brought with it a great baseball game, a tremendous crowd, and one huge surprise. The Nationals defeated the rival Phillies, 5-1, to capture the final accolade the regular season had to offer them, home field advantage throughout the 2012 Postseason. But the game also gave the fans a chance to revel in the magic of the season, and celebrate a victory many of them thought they would never see: Teddy winning a race.

The moment was one to behold, as the crowd went nuts upon the 26th President breaking the tape for the very first time. Teddy became a trending topic on Twitter all over the nation as word of his victory spread. But equally important to many fans was the question of what would happen to Teddy – and to the Nationals – after he finally won. While we will have to wait to see if Teddy gets an even bigger head until the first postseason game at Nationals Park next Wednesday, October 10, we found out immediately how the team would respond.

Teddy finally breaks the tape first.

It was only fitting that Ryan Zimmerman, the Face of the Franchise, who has lived through the thick and thin of the Nationals first eight seasons in Washington, would step to the plate as the first batter in the post-Teddy win era. With Washington trailing former Cy Young Award-winner Cliff Lee and the Phillies 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth, Zimmerman worked the count to 1-2, then drove the fifth pitch of the at-bat to the opposite field, down the right field line which Teddy had just raced along to victory. Domonic Brown ranged back on the ball, but could only watch as it cleared the wall and landed in the Nationals bullpen for a game-tying home run.

The next two batters, Michael Morse and Tyler Moore, both doubled, giving the Nationals a lead they would never relinquish on their way to their 98th Curly W of a truly charmed season.

“I think I said last year it was going to be tough to win without Teddy winning,” said Jayson Werth, an outspoken fan of Teddy Roosevelt. “But I guess he was waiting for us.”

Zimmerman, who wrote the part of the script a Hollywood producer could only dream of duplicating, spoke with a blend of sarcasm and relief when discussing the race.

“Yes, I’m excited Teddy won,” he deadpanned in closing. “I’m ecstatic.”

There could have been no better follow-up to Teddy’s win than Zimmerman’s home run.

Some Phillies fans on Twitter chirped that the post-race cheer was the loudest the Nationals fans have produced all season, but those who were in attendance on May 5 know otherwise. Nothing has matched the decibel levels following Jayson Werth ‘s three-run home run that landed in the Philadelphia bullpen, punctuating a blowout win during NATITUDE Weekend. Nevertheless, Wednesday’s cathartic release delivered an exclamation point at the end of a six-month season that has provided the same feeling for Nationals fans.

It was a fitting reminder that these are not the Washington Nationals of old. This is a team to be reckoned with, a team that knows how to win. The Nats victory also ensured that the Phillies would finish their first season since 2002 without a winning record, as they dropped to 81-81 with the consecutive losses to end the year.

Meanwhile, at 98-64, Washington finished the 2012 regular season with the best record in the 44-year history of the Nationals/Expos franchise. The club that improved from 59 wins in ’09, to 69 in ’10, to 80 victories last season has broken through for its first winning record, its first playoff berth, its first National League East title and now, to punctuate it all, the best record in Major League Baseball.

You could call it a perfect ending, except that it’s really only the beginning.

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