The Nationals are a team that is unique in its ability to be a kind of lovable oddball. I am not sure what it is that makes the Nationals’ luck, but one thing is certain, it is strange. On October 1st, 2012 the Nationals were able to clinch their first ever division championship, but it came in a most peculiar way and had some strange follow up moments to boot.
I once wrote about the moment Drew Storen showed the Washington fanbase that he was a true National. It happened at the trade deadline on a blown save, win. Friends of mine have heard me say that I knew Ian Desmond was a true National in his MLB debut. This was a game against the Philadelphia Phillies that saw Ian Desmond not only pick up his first hit (an RBI double), but also saw him hit his first home run (a 3 run shot off Joe Blanton of the Phillies). Amazingly, after all that Ian Desmond managed to commit his first career error in the 9th inning. Fans who were there will remember how that one E6 put sweat on the brow of every Nationals fan and player. The Nationals would go on to win with a lucky double play from (wait for it….) Ron Villone. A true Nationals MLB debut, really.
There we were on the night of October 1st, 2012 watching the Nationals, who had a magic number of 1 trailing. The Nationals seemed to have been pressing in their last couple of games, scoring no runs on this night. Of course, the Nationals were playing the Philadelphia Phillies. Down 2 runs to none, the deficit seemed a lot deeper. Suddenly, fans at Nationals Park glanced at the scoreboard to see the Atlanta Braves down to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Atlanta 1 – Pirates 2 top 9. “2 outs!” A nameless fan yelled. The Nationals still trailing. The game slowing to a hault from an offense that had, at times, come out of nowhere. No one would say it, but the fans were holding their breath. “Braves lose!! Braves lose!!” one fan yelled as the Nationals walked off the field shortly after Espinosa throws the unnoticed Phillies batter out at 1st. The Phillies were still up 2-0. Suddenly, Nationals Park exploded. Nationals players seemed confused at first, Ryan Zimmerman was put on the scoreboard as he looked around confused, an unknown source said something that made him smile. What was it that was said to Ryan Zimmerman? Probably something to the effect of: “The Pirates won, you are a National League East Division Champion.” Time seemingly froze, Nationals Park was on fire with celebration. Cheering, shouting, and unrelenting celebrating. Michael Morse was announced, “Now batting for your National League East Division Champion Washington Nationals… Michael Morse!!” Take On Me over the PA system came on. The park sang the chorus in the past, but on this night they put everything into it. It could have only been more perfect if the score had been reversed. The Nationals went out in order, game over. Nationals lose. Fireworks exploded, champagne flew, and the subhorn sounded. The Nationals were NL East Champs, it only took 96 wins and waiting until the last 2 games of the season. It was a genuine Nationals moment.
Lost in all this was the Philadelphia Phillies being forced, yes, forced to watch the celebration. The Pirates won before the game was over and the Phillies had to stand on the field watching what they had once cherished, the Division. It must have been like watching someone they loved leave them for someone younger and more attractive. The Phillies saw the Nationals Park scoreboard and ribbon boards flash National League East Division Champions, but it was not for them. It must have really angered the Phillies and the city to have to accept that their season had been nothing short of a failure. Bad luck, shoddy play, and sad Nationals fans are what the Phillies had become accustomed to, but the roles were completely reversed. Not all the Phillies “fans” seemed to hurt though. One can be seen here, seemingly over the fact that his team was not the one celebrating (yes, this Phillies fan is standing in line to buy a Nationals NL East Champions hat and shirt. Don’t mind the grainy pic.):
All in all it was a great moment for the Nationals to clinch their first ever Division Championship in a true Washington Nationals sort of way. I guess it was nice to offend the Phillies and the entire city of Philadelphia when we took what was not rightfully theirs. The Phillies could easily be back in it next year, but will leave it with a message to the Phillies season (you are…):