The Washington Nationals are no longer the laughingstock of baseball. They won their first National League East title Monday night before an ecstatic crowd of more than 30,000 at Nationals Park. They lost the game to the Philadelphia Phillies 2-0, but because the Atlanta Braves lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates, it didn't matter. That was enough to keep the Nationals' division lead at three games with just two games remaining. Despite the loss to the Phillies, the race was over.
"This is one of those moments in life all I can do is just smile and enjoy this moment," Nats pitcher Gio Gonzalez said. "Words can't even describe the excitement that went through my mind."
When last night's game ended on a softly hit ground ball to second base, the fans still cheered and the players came out of the dugout to bask in the moment. Among them was left-handed pitcher John Lannan, who after five years with the team spent most of 2012 in the minor leagues when the front office decided toward the end of spring training that it had five better starters.
Lannan pitched well in only his sixth start of the season, giving up two runs in five innings, and inducing three double plays. Four of Lannan's appearances this season came in September as the franchise looked for a replacement for ace Stephen Strasburg. As he pitched for Triple-A Syracuse in August, Lannan wouldn't have dreamed of being a part of this championship celebration.
"There was a time in the season where I didn't really know what was going to happen," Lannan said. "But now everything makes sense. This is why everything happened."
Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick, who was lit up by the Nats last week in Philadelphia, gave up just four hits and a walk in seven shutout innings. Washington also left runners on first and second with one out in the eighth.
But it didn't matter. After the final out of the top of the ninth the final score for the second-place Braves in Pittsburgh flashed on the big scoreboard. They had lost 2-1 there, and the Nats had captured the division title.
"A lot of other guys have been here for a while," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has been with the team since late in the 2005 season. "This whole year was a huge group effort and everyone came together and did so many things to help us get to where we're at now."