The Nationals clinched the NL East last night in what must have been the most Nationals way possible. As the top of the ninth ended with Drew Storen recording the final out the scoreboard at Nationals Park flashed that the Nats were the 2012 NL East champions and the Nationals stared hugging and high-fiving. The only small issue was that Drew Storen was in the game to preserve a two run deficit and not to close it out.
The Nationals happened to trail by 2-0 thanks to a second inning two run triple by Darin Ruf. To the Nationals and Nationals fans this game suddenly no longer mattered. It was an ancillary event. This game that had been causing so much angst and frustration all night was all of a sudden a non-factor. The Nationals had clinched the NL East.
After Michael Morse, Ian Desmond, and Danny Espinosa all made outs in the bottom of the ninth the sub horn blew and Pink’s Raise Your Glass blared at Nats Park. The Phillies once again were the team celebrating on the field at Nats Park after an NL East title had been clinched. Only it wasn’t their title and the real celebrating was only beginning as Nats players huddled in the home team dugout ready for the explosion.
It didn’t take long. Once the Phillies players left the field bottles of champagne and beer were opened. Michael Morse ran around the field spraying fans within his reach. Nationals player after Nationals player gave a speech on the scoreboard. The happiness and muted confidence that had to be held in check while the Braves roared through September with a record of 19-8 while the Nationals could only hold them back with a September record of 16-12. It was enough though and on the first day of October the Washington Nationals became 2012 NL East Champions.
It may not have been on their terms and it played out in a very surreal moment, but it happened, and that is what is important. A division championship isn’t a singular moment. The 162 game nature of a baseball season will factor out the truly good teams from the teams that are simply hot for a month or three. It took until the 160th game of the season for the Nationals to finally separate themselves enough from the Braves to be crowned champions, but it happened, and it happened with the Philadelphia Phillies celebrating a victory on the field of Nats Park.
Now what is left is to find out how the Nationals can do in the rest of October. Up and down the roster are players who can get hot and carry a team for a month. At the top of rotation there is Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. Both pitchers that, this season, were named pitcher of the month. The team that wins in October isn’t always the best team. It is often the hottest team, but the Nationals have as good a chance as anyone to be that team, and the best thing about the 2012 season is it doesn’t end on Wednesday for the Washington Nationals.