WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are in the playoffs and they were able advance to the postseason on a great effort from left-hander Ross Detwiler, who pitched six solid innings in a 4-1 victory over the Dodgers at Nationals Park on Thursday night.
The Nationals will become the first D.C.-based baseball team to play in the postseason since the Senators played in the World Series in 1933.
The Nationals had a subdued champagne toast after the game. Manager Davey Johnson was in his office talking to his wife on his cell phone when some of the player called him to make a speech in the clubhouse. While he was happy to make the postseason, Johnson reminded his players that they still have a long way to go. For one, they still need to win the National League East. The magic number to win the division is now eight.
"What's the big deal?" Johnson jokingly asked the local media. "That's fun. It's not what I had my eye on, you know. It's a nice step to get there, but every manager that is leading the division, that's the only thing that matters, winning your division."
Although winning the division is more important for him, Johnson and his players said they were happy for the 30,359 fans in attendance. To say the fans were ecstatic to see their team in the postseason was an understatement. They were delirious. After the game ended, the fans stayed and watched the fireworks go off and their team take off their game jerseys and put on their postseason gear.
"I didn't really know what to visualize. We haven't won the East yet. It's a baby step, like Davey said," Detwiler said. "It's on the horizon, but we are not there yet. I was surprised they gave us hats and shirts and everything. But we are in the playoffs, we want to miss that first [one-game Wild Card] round. The whole year, we said we wanted to win the East and we still have to do that."
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has been with the Nationals since September 2005. He has seen the team lose 100 games twice and lose 90 games two other times. Can you imagine how he felt watching his team advance to the postseason for the first time?
"It's one of those feelings I've never had before," Zimmerman said. "We've accomplished something that none of us on this team has ever done. Guys have done it on other teams and other organizations, but for us to do it here and to come as far as we have, it's a sense of satisfaction is the best word."
The Nationals were able to go the postseason because of their starting rotation, and Detwiler was an integral part of that group. Detwiler had a perfect game during the first three innings of the game. However, he gave up his first hit in the top of the fourth inning, when Mark Ellis hit a solo home run.
"Det was masterful. He is just growing up as a pitcher," Johnson said. "In that sixth inning, he was rushing a little bit and was a little wild. I thought he handled himself great."
But the Nationals already had a 2-0 lead before Ellis hit his home run. They scored two runs in the top of the third inning off left-hander Chris Capuano. Bryce Harper scored all the way from first on a double by Zimmerman.
After Zimmerman advanced to third on a groundout by Adam LaRoche, Michael Morse came to plate. A few seconds later, Zimmerman scored on a wild pitch by Capuano to make it a 2-0 game.
After the Ellis home run, it was all Nationals. They added two more runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Ian Desmond scored all the way from first on a double by Danny Espinosa, who advanced to third on an error by shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Espinosa would later score on a sacrifice fly by Kurt Suzuki to make it a three-run game.
"Well, they've got a good club, obviously. I think it's kind of built around their pitching," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "They've got some power. Actually, they've got a little bit of everything. They've got speed, they're really athletic in the infield. They can beat you a few different ways. They can basically shut you down, they can beat you with a stolen base if they have to, maybe get you with the long ball. So they can beat you a few different ways."
After Detwiler left the game, Christian Garcia, Ryan Mattheus and Drew Storen blanked Los Angeles the rest of the way. Storen struck out the side to end the game. Johnson felt it was fitting to have Storen close the game.
Last year, Storen saved 43 games. This year, he missed the first half of the season because of bone chips in his right elbow and lost his closer's job to Tyler Clippard because of injury
"I've never seen Storen so energized my whole life," Johnson said. "He was bouncing around like a high-test rubber ball, man. But he feeds off that and that was good to see."
It also helped that the crowd was pumped and wanted Storen to get the last three outs of the game.
"I was just having fun. I was real into it. If you are not out there having fun in that situation, you shouldn't be out there," Storen said. "It was an incredible moment. At the same time, this is just one step in the process. It's nice, especially the long year that I've had. It's nice to go out there in this big situation."
The Nationals improved their record to 91-58. They are 5 1/2 games ahead of the Braves in the division standings.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.