Game in a nutshell: It had been 79 years since a Washington baseball team had the opportunity to celebrate a clinching victory, so no one would blame the Nationals had they partied like it was 1933 upon beating the Dodgers tonight and guaranteeing their place in MLB's 2012 postseason. All along, though, manager Davey Johnson and clubhouse veterans insisted they weren't going to make a big deal out of clinching a Wild Card berth, that the real celebration would come once they locked up the NL East. So the scene tonight at Nationals Park as Drew Storen recorded the final out, while joyous, was hardly over-exuberant.
Make no mistake, though: This is a major accomplishment for a club that had not posted a winning season during its first seven years of existence and a town that has not witnessed postseason baseball since the Roosevelt administration. The Nationals still have loftier goals to reach before this season comes to an end, but it's perfectly OK to celebrate this milestone, one few in Washington have ever had the chance to celebrate before.
Hitting highlight: Ah, the healing powers of cortisone. Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa can certainly attest to that, each having received the pain-killing shot within the last three days. Both guys delivered clutch RBI doubles to pace the Nationals' offensive attack in this game.
Zimmerman got things going with a two-bagger to the left-center gap in the third inning, bringing Bryce Harper all the way home from first base. One inning later, Espinosa sent a rope into the left-field corner, bringing Ian Desmond all the way home from first as well. The Nationals didn't need much offense in this one, but they did need a couple of timely extra-base hits from a couple of key contributors who are on the mend.
Pitching highlight: It's well-known that Ross Detwiler is the guy who makes the Nationals' postseason rotation because of Stephen Strasburg's shutdown, but what perhaps isn't as well-known is that the left-hander has pitched just as well as the presumed ace. With six innings of one-run ball tonight, Detwiler lowered his ERA to 3.10. That's a tick better than Strasburg's season-ending 3.12 ERA, over nearly an identical number of innings (157 for Detwiler, 159 13 for Strasburg).
He was in top form from the start tonight, retiring the first nine batters he faced and letting only one of them hit a ball out of the infield. Mark Ellis ruined any hope of a truly historic performance when he led off the top of the fourth with a bomb into the left field bullpen, but Detwiler didn't make another mistake the rest of the night and was pulled after six highly effective innings, having thrown only 82 pitches. He thus becomes the fourth member of the Nationals' rotation to win 10 games this season (with Edwin Jackson one away from joining the group).
Key stat: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Nationals are only the fifth team in MLB history to increase their win total by 10 or more three consecutive seasons. The others: The 1901-04 Cubs, the 1906-09 Red Sox, the 1981-84 Twins and the 1994-97 Marlins. (The Twins and Marlins likely would not have made the list if not for work stoppages in 1981 and 1994.)
Up next: As one Wild Card contender leaves town, another comes to town. The resurgent Brewers open a four-game series, beginning Friday night at 7:05 p.m. Edwin Jackson faces Shaun Marcum in the opener.