The Washington Nationals will have to wait at least one more day to clinch an inevitable postseason berth, but that doesn't seem to matter much to a team expecting to play deep into October.
The Los Angeles Dodgers don't have nearly the same comfort level.
Washington can clinch the franchise's first playoff appearance in 31 years by putting a damper on Los Angeles' postseason chances in Thursday's series finale in D.C.
The Nationals won the first game of Wednesday's doubleheader 3-1, bringing them within one victory of securing at least a wild-card berth. Their rally fell short in a 7-6 defeat in the second contest, delaying any sort of celebration.
There may not have been much excitement anyway from NL East-leading Washington (90-58), which hasn't appeared in the postseason since the 1981 Montreal Expos were one win from winning the NL championship."Clinching a playoff berth is just one of the small steps in our grand plan," general manager Mike Rizzo said.
Manager Davey Johnson, who has guided three other teams to division titles and the 1986 New York Mets to a World Series championship, shares the same sentiment."The only thing that's going to mean anything to me is when we clinch the pennant," Johnson said. "That's the only thing, the only number, I'm concerned with."
The Dodgers (77-72), meanwhile, would celebrate simply qualifying for the postseason. They nearly blew a 6-0 lead in the second game Wednesday, when Washington's six-run eighth tied it before Matt Kemp homered leading off the ninth.
Los Angeles, which has dropped nine of 14, is two games behind St. Louis for the second wild-card spot with only 13 to play. The deficit may have been more, but they received a gift run in the fourth inning despite replays showing Kemp crossed the plate after Adrian Gonzalez was tagged out to end the inning.
"At the end of the day, you split and you've got a chance to win the series," manager Don Mattingly told the team's official website. "That's what we talked about. We've got five series left, or four after tomorrow. So if we win five series, we're going to take our chances."
The Dodgers will look to win their first series since taking two of three from Miami from Aug. 24-26 behind Chris Capuano .
Capuano (11-10, 3.60 ERA) hasn't won since beating Miami on Aug. 12, and he's 0-2 with a 6.26 ERA over his last five starts. He tied his shortest outing of the season when he gave up four runs - two earned - in 4 1-3 innings of Friday's 8-5 loss to St. Louis.
The left-hander is 3-3 with a 3.72 ERA in seven career starts versus Washington after allowing three hits and striking out nine in 6 2-3 innings of a 2-0 win April 29.
Ross Detwiler (9-6, 3.16), who is 2-0 with a 2.66 ERA over his last four starts, counters for the Nationals. He's winless in his last two, though, despite giving up one run and striking out five during Washington's 2-1 walkoff loss to Atlanta on Friday."Det pitched a hell of a ball game," Johnson said. "He showed me something. He was in trouble and he got out of it."
The left-hander has a 3.77 ERA over two starts and one relief appearance in his career versus the Dodgers. He gave up three runs in six innings of a 3-2 loss in his most recent outing against them April 27.
|Jerry Hairston Jr.||3||.000||0||0||0||2||1||.400||.400||.000|
|Los Angeles Dodgers|
|September 15, 2012||Clayton Kershaw||Day-to-Day||Torn labrum, right hip|
|September 11, 2012||Adam Kennedy||60-Day DL||Strained right groin|
|September 09, 2012||Clayton Kershaw||Day-to-Day||Sore hip|
|September 08, 2012||Adam Kennedy||Day-to-Day||Strained right groin|
|September 08, 2012||Matt Kemp||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder strain|
|September 03, 2012||Javy Guerra||15-Day DL||Left oblique strain|
|September 12, 2012||Michael Morse||Day-to-Day||Torn cuff and bone bruise in left wrist|
|September 03, 2012||Michael Morse||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right thumb|
|September 02, 2012||Jayson Werth||Day-to-Day||Sore hamstring|
|August 24, 2012||Ian Desmond||Day-to-Day||Strained right hamstring|
|August 24, 2012||Michael Morse||Day-to-Day||Left game - right hand contusion|
|August 13, 2012||Jayson Werth||Day-to-Day||Sore right ankle|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Bryce Harper was unaware of the significance of the Washington Nationals ' latest victory until the fireworks started going off and he was handed a playoff T-shirt and hat.
"I said, `Well, I guess we're going to the playoffs,"' the 19-year-old center fielder said.
Yup, that's right. Postseason baseball is returning to the nation's capital for the first time since 1933.
The Nationals used Ross Detwiler 's six strong innings and Ryan Zimmerman 's RBI double to lock up a playoff spot Thursday night with a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers .
"Nats Clinch" flashed on the scoreboard as Washington was ensured of at least an NL wild card, delighting the crowd of 30,359.
"That was fun, but it's not what I had my eye on," manager Davey Johnson said. "I don't want this."
The fans stood and cheered in the ninth inning, then got even louder when Drew Storen struck out Hanley Ramirez to end it. Johnson saluted the crowd as he left the field and the team wore caps and T-shirts acknowledging the playoff berth.
"I noticed like in the fifth or sixth, some signs, some different things that kind of keyed me into that this wasn't going to be an ordinary evening," Jayson Werth said.
"That was not an ordinary win."
Washington's magic number to win the NL East was reduced to eight. The Nationals lead idle Atlanta by 5 1/2 games.
"We've been through a lot and a lot of us in here have been through a lot of not-good times and these are the beginning of hope for a lot of good times," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman is the only Nationals player to appear in each of the team's eight seasons.
"It's a first step, and it's a long ways to go," he said.
Washington became the second team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot this year. Cincinnati earned its slot earlier in the day.
The Nationals celebrated with a private champagne toast. No spraying and no protective plastic over their lockers.
"I think there was some talk about not celebrating at all, but I kind of talked them out of that," Werth said.
"The next one would not be as subdued, I would imagine," Zimmerman said.
Washington last reached the postseason 79 years ago, when player-manager Joe Cronin and the Senators lost to the New York Giants in five games in the World Series.
"I can't remember that year," Johnson said with a laugh.
Until this year, the Nationals had never had a winning season - nor finished above third place - since moving from Montreal for the 2005 season. It will be just the franchise's second postseason berth and its first since the Expos came within a game of the World Series in 1981.
The Nationals lost more than 100 games in both 2008 and 2009, allowing them to draft pitcher Stephen Strasburg and Harper.
The loss dropped the Dodgers three games behind St. Louis for the NL's second wild-card spot. Milwaukee moved ahead of Los Angeles with its win over Pittsburgh.
Manager Don Mattingly agreed the team's playoff chances dimmed after the Dodgers' 10th loss in 14 games.
"You know, honestly, it does. It feels like it is a little bit, and I don't think there's any way for us to look at it other than that," he said. "I mean, it's, yeah, we're going the wrong direction.
"For us at this point, we're going to have to put a run together that's going to be more than just win a series."
Detwiler (10-6) allowed Mark Ellis ' fourth-inning home run and two singles. Storen pitched the ninth for his third save.
Zimmerman's third-inning double scored Harper with Washington's first run. Zimmerman then took third on an infield out and scored on a wild pitch by Chris Capuano (11-11).
The Nationals added two runs in the fourth on a walk to Ian Desmond , an RBI double by Danny Espinosa and a sacrifice fly by Kurt Suzuki .
Werth, who signed a $126 million, seven-year deal with the Nationals before the 2011 season, is most eager for the postseason to begin.
"I've got a lot to prove. I've got a lot of people to prove wrong, and I can't wait," Werth said.
NOTES: Mattingly said that LHP Clayton Kershaw was continuing with his throwing program. Kershaw will have to demonstrate he's free from pain in his right hip before he'll be able to pitch again, the manager said. ... Johnson said RHP Chien-Ming Wang will start on Sunday. Wang hasn't started since June 19. He missed nearly two months with a right hip injury.