Who says you can’t win for losing? The Washington Nationals managed to do just that last night when they lost a game—2-0 to the deservedly maligned defending National League East champion Philadelphia Phillies—then were handed the National League East title when news came—quickly, thank God—that the Pittsburgh Pirates had beaten the Atlanta Braves.
Nationals Park rocked. Champagne ensued. The mighty Nationals had won the NL Eastern Division title, and we could all let out a sigh of relief because this thing had been stringing out just a little too long.
Now, the Nationals and their forefathers, other Washington baseball teams, not only are in the playoffs and post-season play of any kind for the first time since 1933—now, there was an economy in the dumpster—but are division champs. They can now think seriously about winning the World Series, something that no Washington team has done since the mighty Walter Johnson had pitched the Senators to a title in, let’s see . . . 1924.
National fans are, of course, of a recent vintage—when the Nats first came to Washington they had been something called the Montreal Expos. The new Nats were as bad as they might have been but not as bad as they could have been, given the fact that first-year-manager, the venerable, tough Frank Robinson managed them to a .500 record at RFK Stadium.
Times have changed. There is a new stadium which everyone pretty much loves and which bodes well for the future in terms of redevelopment, new businesses and restaurants and further buzz generating from the Washington-is-a-major-league-city quarters. The Lerner family, owners of the Nationals, have turned out to be a class act, as is general manager Mike Rizzo and the redoubtable manager Davey Johnson who is in the fine tradition of grizzled but not frazzled major league managers and ex-player. In other words, it’s fair to assume, just by looking at him, that he might have hung out with Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra.
It should be noted here as we’re popping the champagne that kudos should also go here to former Mayor Anthony Williams and also to Councilman Jack Evans, both of whom lobbied energetically and continually for a team in Washington.
Now, thanks to a vastly improved farm system, we have a stellar pitching staff. We had the big buzz of the debut of Stephen Strasburg, and the contratemps over the early ending of Strasburg’s season (they were right). We have Bryce Harper, a teenager who plays baseball like a jalopy driver at Indianapolis, that is to say, full-tilt boogie, recklessly, with great bravado and speed. The steady guys—Desmond, Morse, Zimmerman, Espinosa and LaRoche—produced runs and homers in bunches, but it was Harper who gave the Nats a huge spark when he was called up.
As for 2012, we knew the Nats might be good and improved this year, but who figured the best? Who thought of the World Series? We’re thinking it now. Imagine the 2012 World Series: Washington Nationals versus Baltimore Orioles into the seventh game. Does anybody have a guy named Muddy on their team? Go, Nats, and congrats.