Results tagged ‘ Philadelphia Phillies ’
One of the fun aspects of Spring Training is getting to know the new players in camp. A baseball clubhouse is a mix of all types of personalities, and meshing them together can be a delicate balance. So as the new guys settle in, certain characteristics begin to emerge, like the introspective, self-awareness of new starter Dan Haren.
Haren absolutely baffled the Astros through two innings Tuesday, before allowing a walk and a pair of singles in a longer third frame, which would yield Houston’s lone run in a 7-1 Nationals victory. When asked about whether it may actually have been good for him to struggle a bit, Haren at first conceded that might indeed be true, the situation allowing him to get work throwing out of the stretch, and pitching a longer inning.
Then he paused, and broke down the barrier of clichés that so often comprise an athlete’s postgame comments.
“In Spring Training, if you do (well), you feel great,” he said. “If you feel bad, you’re just working on stuff. That’s what everyone says.”
He paused for the laughter of the reporter pool, before deadpanning his final thought.
“So yeah, I was just working on stuff in the third inning.”
That refreshing honesty, as well as a spot-on analysis of the way that athletes can sometimes revert to platitudes gives Nationals fans an early look at what to expect from the cerebral Haren this season.
Throwing only a single curveball and “two or three” split-fingered pitches, Haren has nonetheless dominated so far this spring, even while really only touching 60 percent of his repertoire. That’s good news for the 32-year-old, who says he feels completely healthy.
The Nationals also got three strong innings from Zach Duke on Tuesday, who allowed a single hit while holding the Astros scoreless to earn the victory. Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Jeremy Accardo – three of the four Nats in camp with a 30-save MLB season to their name (along with Drew Storen) – each pitched a scoreless inning of relief.
It’s off to Clearwater Wednesday for a marquee pitching showdown, featuring Stephen Strasburg against Roy Halladay and the Phillies. Check out the lineup, plus a complete list of Spring Training results to date.
1. Span CF
2. Lombardozzi 2B
3. Rendon SS
4. Moore DH
5. Brown RF
6. Marrero 1B
7. Rivero LF
8. Skole 3B
9. Solano C
2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3
2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2
2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4
2/26 @ Atlanta – L, 9-5
2/27 vs. Miami – L, 5-1
2/28 vs. New York (NL) – T, 4-4
3/1 @ Atlanta – W, 6-5
3/2 @ St. Louis – W, 6-2
3/3 vs. St. Louis – W, 7-6
3/5 vs. Houston – W, 7-1
Overall Record: 5-3-2
Years from now, when we look back at the turning point in the history of the Nationals franchise on the field, we may well pinpoint a three-day stretch in early May of 2012. After a hot start to the season, Washington hosted its bitter rival, the five-time defending division champion Philadelphia Phillies, in a much-anticipated weekend set in the Nation’s Capital. With the Take Back the Park campaign in full swing in the stands, the series became known as NATITUDE Weekend. The hometown nine responded on the field, winning in walk-off fashion in the opener, then riding Jayson Werth’s mammoth, three-run home run to a blowout victory on Saturday afternoon.
But while NATITUDE Weekend was the larger turning point in this budding NL East rivalry, the first inning of the series finale provided its signature moment. With the game airing on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball – the first such primetime national telecast since the first game ever played at Nationals Park in 2008 – the eyes of the baseball nation were fixed on Phillies ace Cole Hamels as he tackled his first run through the Washington lineup. After two quick outs, he faced 19 year-old Bryce Harper, batting third for the first-place Nats in just his eighth Major League contest. Hamels promptly plunked Harper in the back on the first pitch of the at-bat – an act he would later admit was intentional – sending the rookie to first base. It was a seemingly harmless price to pay for his “message.”
But when Werth singled to left field, Harper motored around second and tore for third, right in the face of left fielder Juan Pierre, who could do nothing to stop him. After the next batter, Chad Tracy, fell behind 1-2 in the count, Hamels lobbed a pick-off throw to first base and Harper measured out a long secondary lead from third, behind the left-handed hurler’s back. When Hamels repeated his check on Werth, once more casually easing the ball over towards first, Harper took off for home. First baseman Laynce Nix had no recourse to prevent the inevitable, his futile throw to the plate arriving behind the phenom’s slide. With his first career steal, Harper became the first teenager to swipe home since Ed Kirkpatrick in 1964. In so doing, he brazenly defined NATITUDE and set the visceral tone for a season that would end with Washington’s unseating of Philadelphia as champions of the National League East.
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Today we take a closer look at another of Washington’s impressive rookies, Steve Lombardozzi.
While Bryce Harper captured the lion’s share of attention among Nationals rookies in 2012, there were a number of other first-year players who left an indelible mark on the campaign. One such player was Steve Lombardozzi, who as a 23 year-old broke camp with the big league club for the first time, following a September call-up the year prior.
Primarily a middle infielder, the Nationals called upon the Fulton, Maryland native to fill a number of roles early in the season when injuries had left the club short-handed. He played both left field and third base on multiple occasions in April and May, sparking the team when he got his opportunities. In his first home start of the year on April 16, he notched a career-high four hits and drove home the game-winning RBI in a 6-3 win over Houston. Lombardozzi also had three hits in each of the two wins over the Phillies during NATITUDE Weekend.
The former 19th round draft pick proved to be a huge part of the Nationals success. He batted .348/.392/.435 over 23 games in the month of May, when Washington leaned on him the most. But Lombardozzi really made his mark and secured his spot on the squad by posting a .308/.379/.385 line as a pinch-hitter as part of the Goon Squad. Factor in his defensive versatility, and he afforded Davey Johnson a myriad of options in late-game situations.
Lombardozzi’s impact in 2012 did not end in October, though. He teamed up with his dad – a former big leaguer himself – to spearhead Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Through their hard work, the affectionately nicknamed “Lombo Combo” collected and donated 27,784 pounds of food and supplies to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.
A local boy made good, Lombardozzi quickly grew into a fan favorite this year. He will not become arbitration eligible until 2015 and remains under team control through the 2017 season.
With months’ worth of build up and anticipation leading into NATITUDE Weekend, Nationals fans were ready to explode with enthusiasm. And despite the Nats hot start and the Phillies slumping out of the gates, the two teams were separated by just 4.5 games entering their first matchup of the 2012 season on May 4. The opening game of the series saw Washington fall behind twice by two runs, but the hometown nine battled back with single tallies in the sixth and eighth innings to tie the game at three runs apiece, eventually forcing extra innings.
The game remained tied into the bottom of the 11th when, with two out, Steve Lombardozzi singled. Bryce Harper then worked the count full, eventually drawing a walk, and Jayson Werth took a free pass as well to load the bases for the pitcher’s spot in the lineup. Down to his final reserve player on the bench, Davey Johnson took the gamble and pinch-hit Wilson Ramos, who fell into a 1-2 hole against Phillies reliever Michael Schwimmer. The right-handed pitcher tried to throw a slider off the plate away, but the Washington backstop reached out and served it into center field, Lombadozzi racing home with the winning run. As Ramos cruised up the first base line, he turned his outstretched arms into wings, carrying the Nationals to an epic, walk-off win.
My intent was to post my own blog on the eve of hosting Game One of the NLCS. But the offseason came rather quickly, and in an especially cruel fashion.
I want to sincerely thank Nationals fans near and wide for their support during what was in so many ways a DREAM season. Your words and notes of support meant so much, not only to me, but my family.
The roars heard in conjunction with Jayson Werth’s Game Four homer and the record crowd (45,966) for Game Five will long be remembered in these parts, but the 2012 season was so much more.
We, of course, began our journey together in the Grapefruit League. We survived an opener at Wrigley Field that appropriate for the Windy City. We Took Back The Park from the Phillies. We swept a series at venerable Fenway Park. We won The Pine Tar series from Joe Maddon’s Rays. We witnessed The Shark defy gravity in Houston.
We watched D.C.’s favorite teenager come of age right before our eyes. We watched our primary off-season acquisition exceed every expectation by winning 21 games and do it all with a smile. We watched our Opening Day starter win 15 games and provide us with the cushion needed to hold off Chipper’s 94-win Braves. And yes, in early September, we shut him down for all what we firmly believe to be the right reasons.
We won the NL East, arguably the toughest division in baseball.
We ended D.C.’s 79-year postseason drought.
We posted MLB’s best record.
We won 100 games.
We made a ton of history.
And, just as importantly, made a fleet of memories to keep us warm this offseason.
I want to acknowledge the efforts of Mike Rizzo, Davey Johnson, our coaching staff and especially the players themselves. What a fantastic season from top to bottom!
Setting aside the outcome of the World Series for a moment, I can honestly say that there is not one franchise in our game that I would swap futures with.
The 2013 season will not be without its own unique challenges. We are quite aware that there are no guarantees in this game. But I like where we are standing as a ballclub.
Let’s talk again soon, perhaps during MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville in early December.
Thanks again for an unforgettable journey…
“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”
These are the words of A. Bartlett Giamatti, from his classic essay “The Green Fields of the Mind,” which warrants a full read, whenever you are ready to digest the entirety of the end of the baseball season.
Even if you are not ready, though, not ready for baseball to come to such a sudden, screeching halt after riding an express train into October, do not run from it, do not abandon your feelings. Own this moment, as it is now an inescapable part of your team’s history, one that will, over time, earn you respect from fellow Nationals fans and opposing fans who have been through the same. It will make you stronger next year, and in the years after that. When the champagne comes again, it will taste sweeter.
More so, remember the many other aspects of this season that will define it more than the final inning. In a season that began with modestly hopeful predictions, the 2012 Nationals won the most games in baseball. In the fever of the pennant race, that fact was reflected in home-field advantage, but some of its impact was no doubt overlooked in the moment.
As a young, hungry team and fan base, our time began on Opening Day and continued all summer long, as the Nationals held down first place longer than any other division winner, exceeding even the most optimistic of expectations. When the year began, Mike Rizzo explicitly stated that his goal this year was “to play meaningful games in September.” Instead, he and Davey Johnson guided the team into October.
The Nationals played, by far and away, the three most meaningful games in the history of the young franchise in Washington this week, and went toe-to-toe with the defending World Series champions in front of over 135,000 rabid, red-clothed fans. The city and the fan base showed a National audience that they have arrived, that baseball in Washington is a force to be reckoned with.
Fans ignited their NATITUDE well before this week, though, as crowds averaged over 30,000 per game for the first time since baseball returned to the Nation’s Capital in 2005. Nationals fans proudly took back the park in May during a pivotal series vs. the Phillies. And though the division rival fans to the north chirped mightily all season long, the Nationals came through on the field, wresting the division crown away from the five-time division champs.
In a season full of signature moments (which we will relive in more thorough detail throughout the coming weeks), the division clinch during the season’s final series may not have been the most dramatic, but it was certainly the most meaningful, representing a shift in the NL East balance of power.
Any opposing fan who believes this was a one-year fluke is, at best, blissfully oblivious to what has been built in Washington. With a roster overflowing with young talent just beginning to grow into itself, this is merely the end of chapter one, with many volumes remaining to be written in the coming years. So wear your Curly W’s proudly today and hold your heads up high throughout the winter. Baseball will spring anew again next year, and we will all be a year wiser, a year stronger, and ready to – in the words of Teddy Roosevelt – strive valiantly once again.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
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
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.
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.
Major League Baseball announced on Tuesday that Bryce Harper was awarded National League Rookie of the Month for September. While that trophy will no doubt find a nice home on the mantle next to the identical one he took home in May, we’re more interested in the 19 year-old’s candidacy for a larger award: National League Rookie of the Year.
Harper should not win the award because he’s the most famous first-year player in the league. He shouldn’t win because television networks choose to portray him as the face of the Nationals as they storm into their first-ever postseason. And while Harper may reap the benefits of his notoriety when the final vote comes down, it is his performance on the field and his unmistakably profound impact that will have earned him the award, should he win it.
Why? Harper changes the game around him. His ability – and propensity – to bunt, forces the third baseman to play near the line and square with the bag. His success against righties prompts pitcher-for-hitter bullpen moves from opposing managers. His speed prevents infielders from double-clutching, lest he turn a routine grounder into an infield single. Gather the ball too casually as an outfielder and a single becomes a double, or a double a triple. Did we mention he leads the team and ranks in the top 10 in the league with nine triples? In fact, he’s the first rookie with nine triples and 20 home runs since Nomar Garciaparra who, you guessed it, won Rookie of the Year back in 1997 with the Boston Red Sox.
On May 6, the Nationals hosted the Philadelphia Phillies in the final game of NATITUDE Weekend. Cole Hamels decided to “welcome” the rookie to the big leagues by plunking him on his first pitch with two away and no runners on base in the first inning. When Chad Tracy followed with a single to left, Harper raced all the way to third base, right in the face of left fielder Juan Pierre. And we all remember what happened next, as the 19 year-old timed Hamels’ pick-off lob to first base, breaking for the plate and stealing home.
On June 5, the Nationals were embroiled in the tightest division race in baseball, as they opened a three-game set at home against the Mets in a three-way tie for first place with New York and Miami. The opening game of the series dragged into the 12th, as Ian Desmond kept the Nationals alive long enough for Harper to plate the winning run on a two-out, two-strike, bases loaded liner to left field. It was the first walk-off hit for any teenager since Gary Sheffield in 1988, three years before Harper was even born.
Harper leads all National League rookies with 57 extra-base hits, including 22 home runs. He is just the second teenager in history to hit 20 or more longballs in a season, joining Tony Conigliaro, who belted 24 for the ’64 Red Sox. Harper is doing more than standing out among his fellow rookies, though, as he is tearing up the league at a pace almost unfathomable for a teenager.
His 98 runs scored are 17 better than his closest competitor and ranks him fifth in the National League, ahead of Atlanta leadoff man Michael Bourn. His .651 slugging percentage and 69 total bases were both the second-highest marks in all of baseball for the month of September, while his 26 runs scored led the Majors. That’s right – no Major League Baseball player crossed home plate more times than Bryce Harper in the month of September.
After his second inning steal Tuesday night, the center fielder and two-hole hitter on the best team in baseball sat just two swipes shy of a 20-20 season, with an OPS north of .800 for the season.
Harper doesn’t need his Rookie of the Year case made for him. But hey, we figured we’d do it anyway, to remind everyone of just how historic a season he has delivered. Share your own favorite Harper moments in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #HarpeROY.
Philadelphia Phillies (81-79) vs. Washington Nationals (96-64)
RHP B.J. Rosenberg (1-2, 6.86) vs. LHP Tom Gorzelanny (4-2, 2.90)
The Nationals clinched their first-ever NL East title Monday night, with two games remaining in the 2012 regular season. As such, Tom Gorzelanny takes the place of 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez as tonight’s starter as Washington takes on the Phillies in the middle contest of a three-game set.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
From Adam LaRoche, former Pittsburgh Pirate, on Pittsburgh beating Atlanta 2-1 to eliminate the Braves from NL East contention, giving the Nationals the division crown:
“It’s the first time in my life that I’ve rooted for the Pirates.”
1. Lombardozzi 2B
2. Harper CF
3. Moore LF
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Tracy 3B
6. DeRosa SS
7. Bernadina RF
8. Leon C
9. Gorzelanny LHP
NL EAST CHAMPS
Last night, the Nationals won their first-ever NL East crown and secured a spot in the National League Division Series. Their magic number, which began the day at one as the result of a 96-win campaign, reached zero when Atlanta lost, 2-1, on Monday at Pittsburgh. The District will experience its first postseason October baseball since the 1933 AL Nationals lost a five-game World Series to the Giants. Those AL Nationals also won AL pennants in 1924 (World Champions) and ‘25. This marks the second postseason trip for the franchise, as Montreal lost to the Dodgers in the five-game ‘81 NLCS.
GORZO GETS THE BALL
Replacing scheduled starter Gio Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny today will make his first start since July 23, 2011. The lefty is 35-42 with a 4.62 ERA in 110 career starts and owns 50 quality starts over that span. In his last outing on Friday, he struck out one en route to scattering a hit and two walks in 2.2 scoreless innings.
DATE IN DC BASEBALL
October 2, 2009: The Nationals win their fifth straight (part of a seven-game win streak to end the season), as Livan Hernandez leads them to a 6-3 victory at Atlanta. Mike MacDougal notches his 20th save with a scoreless ninth inning, while Ian Desmond homers and drives home three runs.
Every signature moment in this 2012 Washington Nationals season has composed its own storyline. With dramatic victories woven throughout the tapestry of a thrilling campaign, it would have been understandable to expect some sort of coup de gras to cap off a season’s worth of celebration. Maybe the Nationals didn’t provide the storybook clinching moment that television producers dream of, with a dog-pile on the pitcher’s mound, as they missed their first chance to wrap up the division title on Sunday in St. Louis. There was a pretty brilliant, sparkling silver lining, though, knowing that the team would return home leading by 3.0 games with three games left on the regular season slate.
That presented the opportunity to clinch the division at home against the five-time defending division champion Phillies, who had thrice celebrated their own glory with wins over the Nationals. But what if Washington didn’t win, and instead had to rely on Atlanta, one of the hottest teams in baseball down the stretch, to lose? Would that turn of events scrub some of the luster from Washington’s shiny division crown?
On Sunday afternoon, more than 24 hours before the division would be decided, Nationals broadcaster Dave Jageler refused to allow such a scenario to take anything away from the accomplishment.
“There’s no such thing as ‘backing in’ when you win 96 games,” he declared.
Based on the celebrations taking place on the field Monday night – after the Nationals 2-0 loss to the Phillies became a mere footnote in their 2012 National League East Championship season, thanks to the Braves 2-1 defeat in Pittsburgh – the players agreed. While they maintained their composure nearly two weeks earlier, following the clinch of the first postseason berth in D.C. baseball since 1933, they held nothing back upon taking the division.
They jumped around in jubilation, spraying each other with any beverage available. When Mike Rizzo was being interviewed live on MASN, Wilson Ramos emptied an entire bottle of champagne over his head. As soon as players huddled together in the clubhouse in celebration, Michael Morse unleashed a tidal wave of water from a Gatorade bucket into the middle of the fray. By the end of the night, Jayson Werth’s home white number 28 jersey was stained pink from his red undershirt bleeding through the mix of beverages.
“It was kind of odd,” said Werth, of the way the evening unfolded. “We’re getting beat, but we’re celebrating. But this team deserves this. We’ve come a long way.”
This was, after all, what Werth envisioned when he made the decision to leave the team occupying the visitor’s dugout for the final series of the regular season to join the Nationals before the 2011 campaign. He has become a leader on this Washington club, not only taking rookie Bryce Harper under his wing, but guiding the offense at the top of the lineup since his return from a broken wrist in early May. He is batting .308 with a .392 on-base percentage, scoring 32 runs over 53 games during that span, and his ability to continue to set the table will be key for the Nationals in the postseason.
“It’s gratifying, it’s quite an accomplishment,” he said, of winning the division. “We’ve come quite a long way in a very short time, and we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a good young club. I think we should do this every year.”
Before Werth’s strong stretch drive, and before Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse helped Washington assert itself as one of the National League’s top offensive clubs in the second half of the season, another veteran made his biggest mark on this team. Adam LaRoche carried the club through the early part of the year, on his way to matching his career-high in home runs with 32, sitting just one RBI shy of the century mark with two games to play. For his efforts, he will be rewarded with his first trip to the postseason since 2005.
“It means a lot personally,” said LaRoche as he gazed up from the field at the fans behind the Nationals dugout, still screaming and cheering nearly an hour after the end of the game. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the playoffs.”
Asked if he had forgotten the feeling of clinching, the mix of ecstasy, accomplishment and relief, he admitted that he had.
“You do, when it’s been this long,” he said. “You see the other team celebrate, you want to be out there and be a part of it. There’s a big difference.”
Amid the mess of congratulatory hugs, handshakes and post-game interviews, one tall, shaggy-haired man stood to the side, shivering in the cool fall night, his freshly printed NL East Champions shirt already steeped in celebration. Perhaps no man’s journey to standing on this field, literally soaking in the division title, was as trying as John Lannan’s, who took his first loss in six starts for the Nationals this season Monday night, despite pitching well yet again. It was his first start, the back-end of a doubleheader on July 21, that proved to be a turning point for Washington, stopping the division-rival Braves after they had narrowed the division gap to a game-and-a-half, never letting them pull any closer. Looking up at the fans, he was happy to enjoy every bit of the moment at hand.
“This has been awesome,” he said of the celebration. “These guys (the fans), they deserve it as much as we do. It’s something special. I’m just glad to be a part of it. The win would have been icing on the cake, but as soon as the champagne was popped, it was all forgotten.”
The man who seemed to be enjoying the moment the most, though, may have been Gio Gonzalez, who alternated celebrating with his teammates, family and the fans, ducking in and out of interviews. His Cy Young-worthy season has marked the difference between a team that may have simply been competitive and one that has brought the first division title to D.C. in 79 years. Coming from an Oakland team that never made the playoffs during his tenure, his first taste of such success left him living in the moment, riding the wave of emotion, not worrying yet about the challenges that lie ahead.
“This is unbelievable,” he exclaimed. “I don’t want to wake up, boys. I’m still dreaming.”
Here’s to hoping the dream doesn’t end until November.