The Nationals victory Monday afternoon assured them of a winning season for the first time in decades. The importance of their 2-1 win over the woeful Chicago Cubs will barely register in the standings, where they are above every team in the major leagues.
But math and history raised the significance of Ross Detwiler's seven outstanding innings and Adam LaRoche's monster home run. Winning five of their last six games pushed the Nationals' record to 82-52.
That means the Nationals clinched the first winning season in Washington since 1969, the year Ted Williams managed the Senators to 86 victories while playing at RFK Stadium. Since the return of baseball in 2005, the Nationals had not done better than the 81-81 record of their inaugural season. Washington has 28 games remaining. Each passing day increases the chances of the District's first post-season baseball since 1933 for the squad whose lead over the second place Atlanta Braves held at 6 games.
Monday morning, general manager Mike Rizzo, manager Davey Johnson, and pitching coach Steve McCatty met with Stephen Strasburg to discuss his inevitable shutdown. In the afternoon, Detwiler pitched the entire game with no more than a one-run lead. His seven shutout innings lowered his ERA since the All-Star break to 2.79.
Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard wrapped up the win. Storen pitched a scoreless eighth with the help of Bryce Harper, who ran down a ball at the fence. Clippard got his 30th save, but not before he created a dramatic situation.
He gave up a leadoff single to Anthony Rizzo, before retiring the next two batters. He worked a 1-2 count on Welington Castillo, who fouled off several Clippard offerings. Finally, he hit a soft liner to left-center field. Rizzo, who had taken second base, scored.
Enter Tony Campana to pinch-run, Clippard made a wild pickoff throw to first base, which allowed the tying run to go to second. Having increased the anxiety, Clippard struck out Josh Vitters swinging.
Johnson exited the dugout a looked at owner Mark Lerner, who was sitting in the front row. Johnson tapped his chest and smiled, to signal how fast his heart was beating. The Nationals formed a line and shook hands, now the most successful baseball team the District has seen in more than forty years, and their best baseball could be ahead of them.