Our long Nationals nightmare is over.
No, not the Washington Nationals clinching MLB’s best record, which they did with a 5-1 win over their bitter rival, the Philadelphia Phillies. No, not the idea that with the best record, and the N.L. winning the All-Star game, the Nationals would have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs regardless how far they advance.
No, it was none of those things actually baseball related: Teddy Roosevelt finally won the President’s Race.
In all seriousness, the Nats benefitted from 6 2/3 solid innings from Edwin Jackson and three home runs — one each from Ryan Zimmerman, Tyler Moore and Michael Morse — to defeat the Phillies Wednesday afternoon, finishing the 2012 regular season with an MLB-best 98-64 record. The Nats will open post-season play in the League Division Series against the winner of the wild-card play-in game between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, to be played Friday evening.
The biggest development might have been that manager Davey Johnson revealed after the game that he spent the last couple of innings in the clubhouse, receiving x-rays and treatment from team doctors after he experienced numbness in his left leg, due to nerve irritation in his back. Johnson said he was okay after the game and more concerned that he would take a misstep than anything else, and team doctors prescribed him anti-inflammatories and pain-killers.
Bench coach Randy Knorr handled managing duties for Johnson in the late innings.
As for the game action, the Phillies actually scored first, scratching a run in the top of the fourth against Jackson (W, 10-11, 4.03). Carlos Ruiz doubled to lead off the inning, took third on a ground out, and came home on rookie Darin Ruf’s sacrifice fly to center field. It’s all the Phillies would get off Jackson, as he was as effective today as he’s been all season. For the day, the soon-to-be free agent right-hander gave up just the one run on six hits and a walk, striking out six.
The Nationals got that run back — and more — in the bottom half of the inning against Phillies starter Cliff Lee (L, 6-9, 3.16). Zimmerman lead off the frame with his 25th home run of the season. Morse followed with a double into the left field corner and scored on Moore’s double right after him to take a 2-1 lead.
Washington bolstered that lead in the sixth, when Moore launched his 10th homer of the year 10 rows deep into the bleachers in straight-away left field. The Nats capped the scoring in the eighth inning, as Morse clubbed his 18th of the year to the stands in right center field. After the game, manager Davey Johnson said Morse actually tweaked his left hamstring jogging out the homer and required treatment, but that Morse should be fine for play Sunday.
Christian Garcia, Sean Burnett and Michael Gonzalez went 2 1/3 scoreless inning to finish up for Jackson.
THE TAKEAWAY: All week long, Davey has said he wasn’t concerned about securing the top spot in the division, but finishing ahead of the Reds means the Nats don’t have to fly all the way across country and face Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner on the road. Instead, they’ll get either the Cardinals or Braves No. 2 starter, as the two teams face each other Friday evening to decide who moves on to face the Nats.
THE GOOD: Edwin Jackson. Even though the Phillies were playing for nothing and fielding a lineup that didn’t include Ryan Howard or Jimmy Rollins, it was important for him to go out and give a good effort after being hit around his last start against the Cardinals.
THE BAD: Jesus Flores. He’s seen his playing time significantly diminish since the arrival of Kurt Suzuki, and in his first game in two weeks, the backup catcher went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts to finish the season hitting .213.
THE UGLY: Seriously, there were about 10,000 ways the marketing folks could have come up to allow Teddy to finally win the President’s Race. They could have played it straight. They could have imported other real mascots to impede the other big-head presidents. Shoot, they could have just had him come out and run it all by himself. [Photo Gallery]
But instead, they had an imitation — and rather shabbily designed, at that — Philly Fanatic hop over the rail and tackle George, Abe and Tom was perhaps the ridiculously appropriate way to end the thing. Teddy crossed the line ahead of his competition before only to be disqualified, so it’s kinda lame that he got assistance in his first qualified win, but whatever. It’s over, a blogger needs a new gig, and we can all go on with the President’s just being mascots and not some call to arms.
THE STATS: 11 hits, 1 BB, 10 Ks. 1-for-10 with RISP, 7 LOB, no GIDP. No errors, no DPs.
NEXT GAME: Sunday, Game 1 of the N.L.D.S., location and time to be determined.
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Nationals coverage on Twitter @NationalsDSP.