If all went right for the Washington Nationals , they could have celebrated an NL East title in Philadelphia last week.
Now, with their magic number still at one, the Nationals will get a chance to close out the East with the Phillies in town.
Washington goes for its first division title - and the franchise's first in 31 years - on Monday night in the opener of a season-ending three-game series.
With its magic number for clinching the East down to 5, Washington (96-63) could have won the division in Philadelphia, but it won two of three while second-place Atlanta swept Miami.
The surging Braves took two of three from the New York Mets over the weekend to again delay a Nationals celebration after Washington lost two of three in St. Louis. The Nationals, though, are still in good position to win the franchise's first division title since the Montreal Expos did in 1981.
"It's better to clinch it at home anyway," manager Davey Johnson said after Sunday's 10-4 loss.
While the Nationals would prefer to take care of business themselves - Atlanta plays at Pittsburgh - Johnson's club is also locked in a tie with Central champ Cincinnati for the best record in the NL and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Reds close out the regular season in St. Louis.
The Nationals, winners of two straight against Philadelphia after losing seven of eight, will give the ball to John Lannan (4-0, 4.23 ERA) on Monday.
The left-hander will make his sixth start this season, and his fourth since taking over Stephen Strasburg 's spot in the rotation.
Lannan will go for a third consecutive win versus Philadelphia after going 1-12 with a 5.81 ERA in his first 16 starts in the series. He gave up two runs over 5 1-3 innings in Wednesday's 8-4 victory at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies (80-79) enter this series knowing it will be their last. It's been a difficult year for a club that was coming off a franchise-record 102 wins and a fifth straight East title.
All Philadelphia can do now is try to finish with its 10th consecutive winning record, and it'll turn to Kyle Kendrick (10-12, 4.08) to at least ensure a .500 finish.
The right-hander, though, is going up against a team that tagged him for a season-high three homers - one apiece from Bryce Harper , Ian Desmond and Kurt Suzuki - and five runs in two-plus innings on Wednesday.
"They put some good swings on some balls," Kendrick told the Phillies' official website.
Harper has been doing a lot of that lately, as he's batting .481 (13 for 27) with three homers and seven RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak. The 19-year-old hit his 22nd homer Sunday and is two shy of the major league record for teenagers set by Boston's Tony Conigliaro in 1964.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins leads the Phillies with five homers and nine RBIs versus Washington this season. He's hitting .176 (6 for 34) against Lannan since 2009 after going hitless in three at-bats last week.
Washington needs to sweep to clinch the season series for a second consecutive year.
|September 29, 2012||Ryan Howard||Day-to-Day||Broken toe|
|September 05, 2012||Placido Polanco||15-Day DL||Lower back inflammation|
|August 31, 2012||Raul Valdes||15-Day DL||Torn meniscus in right knee|
|August 29, 2012||Cole Hamels||Day-to-Day||Gastrointestinal illness|
|August 29, 2012||Vance Worley||15-Day DL||Loose bodies in right elbow|
|August 28, 2012||Domonic Brown||Day-to-Day||Left game - left knee soreness|
|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) -- Amid the postgame delirium on the field, the crushed beer cans and strewn champagne bottles collecting in the grass, pitcher Gio Gonzalez grabbed Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner and steered him toward the gaggle of players celebrating the club's first NL East championship.
"Ted, this is your party!" the effervescent left-hander yelled. Then, turning toward teammates, Gonzalez shouted: "Hey! Who's got the cooler? This is the man, right here!"
All in all, 21-game winner Gonzalez and the rest of the first team in 79 years to bring postseason baseball back to the nation's capital threw quite a victory party at Nationals Park on Monday night. Thanks to strong pitching from Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg , Bryce Harper 's burst of energy and Adam LaRoche 's slugging, the Nationals won enough from April through September that even a loss on the first day of October could not stop them from achieving the sort of success that seemed so far away only a few years ago.
"The puzzle came together," the 86-year-old Lerner said, "a little earlier than we expected."
Despite being beaten 2-0 by the Philadelphia Phillies , the Nationals earned their first division title since moving from Montreal in 2005, because the second-place Atlanta Braves lost 2-1 at the Pittsburgh Pirates .
"This is incredible. The excitement. The joy. The fans. Smiles on everyone's faces, the excitement that's going on," Gonzalez said. "Everyone here just witnessed history. Hopefully we can try to continue that journey."
Washington, in first place since May 22, leads Atlanta by three games with two to play in the regular season. The Braves' loss finished as the top of the ninth inning ended in Washington, and the Nationals congratulated each other in their dugout with hugs, high-fives and spiked gloves.
"The way it happened tonight doesn't really matter," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman , the Nationals' first draft pick in June 2005. "We put ourselves in that position to have the luxury of having the other team have to play perfect baseball. We played a great 159, 160 games to get to that point, and we should be commended for that."
When Michael Morse led off the bottom of the ninth, the PA announcer informed the crowd that the home team was the champion, and when the game ended red fireworks lit the night sky with the Capitol building off in the distance beyond left field. The scoreboard declared "NL East Division Champions."
It was the second division crown in franchise history. The Montreal Expos won the NL East in 1981, a strike-shortened season, by beating the Phillies in a best-of-five playoff.
When the game ended, the Phillies - winners of the previous five NL East titles; already eliminated from playoff contention this year - gathered in the middle of the diamond for regular post-victory handshakes.
The Nationals, meanwhile, collected in their home clubhouse for alcohol-spraying. They gathered around general manager Mike Rizzo and dumped bubbly over his shaved head. Harper, who has more homers (22) than years on earth (19), shared some apple cider with LaRoche's 9-year-old son, Drake.
"I'll remember being in the scrum in the middle of the clubhouse with all the guys, just elated and all together," Rizzo said later, once the excitement had moved out to the field, where some fans stayed to clap and chant. "We live with each other for seven months a year. Culmination of all that emotion and such a successful season for us."
On Sept. 20, the Nationals assured themselves of no worse than an NL wild-card berth - and guaranteed Washington a postseason game for the first time since the Senators lost the 1933 World Series to the New York Giants.
But even on that night of success, Washington manager Davey Johnson made clear he wasn't all that interested in merely getting a chance to play in a one-game, in-or-out, wild-card playoff. No, he wanted his team to focus on bigger prizes at hand, including a division championship.
With Washington back home from a six-game road trip and on the verge of a big accomplishment, the first roar of the night from the crowd of 35,287 came a few minutes before the first pitch, when a booming voice over the loudspeakers let everyone know that the home team's "magic number is down to one!"
Ready to roar, the spectators often rose at key moments, whether their team was at the plate or in the field. Fans also reacted with applause and cheers when the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field showed that Pittsburgh had taken a lead against Atlanta in the fifth inning.
All in all, quite a contrast from the mostly silent, mostly empty ballparks that were home to Nationals teams that lost 100 games apiece in 2008 and 2009. Then again, those worst-in-baseball clubs earned No. 1 overall picks in the amateur draft that turned into Strasburg and Harper.
Rizzo also oversaw a rebuilding of a farm system and two very key additions from outside the organization: Gonzalez, acquired from Oakland for four prospects last offseason; and Jayson Werth , signed away from Philadelphia with a $126 million free-agent deal in December 2010.
"These guys have been through a lot. That just goes to show you it's not easy. It's not easy getting to this point," Werth said. "Luck plays into it a lot. You've got to be on good teams - and I'm on a good team."
Werth was brought to Washington, in part, to show the club how to win, having been a part of the Phillies' perennial division champions and 2008 World Series winners. And so it was somehow fitting that the Nationals' title came on a night when they were facing the Phillies.
"Made me mad. Yes it did. Very much so. I'm a bad loser," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said about watching Washington clinch against his club. "Nobody should be a good loser. I'm a bad loser and I always will be."
Zimmerman lived through plenty of losses in past seasons, but twice decided to re-sign and stay with a team close to where he grew up in Virginia.
As he spoke Monday, Zimmerman wore a pair of white ski goggles around his neck, the better to protect his eyes from the spray of beverages.
Not his purchase. Whose?
"This is from Werth," Zimmerman said. "He's been through a few."
NOTES: Kyle Kendrick (11-12) pitched seven scoreless innings for the win. John Lannan (4-1) gave up two runs in five innings for Washington. ... Nationals reliever Craig Stammen struck out all six batters he faced in the sixth and seventh. ... Harper's No. 34 Nationals uniform ranks fourth among jersey sales this season. MLB and the players' union released the list of most popular jerseys Monday. Harper trails No. 1 Derek Jeter of the Yankees, No. 2 Josh Hamilton of the Rangers, and No. 3 Ichiro Suzuki of the Yankees. ... SS Jimmy Rollins was out of Philadelphia's starting lineup because of an injured right calf. ... Manuel said reliever B.J. Rosenberg (1-2) will start Tuesday for the Phillies.