Nationals post 98th win to grab top seed in NL playoffs
The National League East champion Washington Nationals secured home-field advantage throughout the post-season by beating the Philadelphia Phillies 5-1 Wednesday for their major league-best 98th victory, with Ryan Zimmerman homering moments after the Teddy Roosevelt mascot won the Presidents Race at Nationals Park for the first time.
By winning their regular-season finale, the Nationals clinched top seeding for the NL playoffs and will open on the road Sunday at the winner of Friday's wild-card game between Atlanta and St. Louis. Game 2 will also be at the wild-card winner's stadium, before the best-of-five series shifts to Washington.
Before Wednesday's game, the Nationals were fitted for hats with post-season patches.
Davey Johnson misses end of game
Nationals manager Davey Johnson missed the end of Washington's regular-season finale because of numbness in his left leg that was traced to pinched nerves in his back.
After NL East champion Washington's 5-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, the 69-year-old Johnson — the oldest skipper in the majors — said he started losing feeling in his leg during the third inning and took a muscle relaxer and aspirin.
Still not feeling OK by the seventh inning, he left the dugout, turning managing duties over to bench coach Randy Knorr. A team doctor took a series of X-rays, discovered that Johnson had bulging discs pressing against nerves, and gave him anti-inflammatory medicine.
Johnson said he expected to be given an injection on the team's day off Thursday to help the problem.
He doesn't anticipate having any trouble travelling or managing during the playoffs. The Nationals will fly Saturday and open their NL division series at the Atlanta Braves or St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday.
After walking to a Nationals Park interview room without any apparent problem, Johnson opened his postgame news conference by saying: "I'm OK. Nothing wrong with me."
A team from the nation's capital hasn't participated in Major League Baseball action beyond the regular season since the Senators lost the 1933 World Series.
All in all, it was a festive day for the announced crowd of 37,075 and the Nationals (98-64), a club that hadn't finished higher than third place since moving from Montreal in 2005 and twice lost 100 games in a season. This is the first time the Expos/Nationals franchise has finished first in a complete season.
Philadelphia finished third in the division at 81-81, ending a streak of nine straight winning seasons and five consecutive playoff appearances. The nine winning seasons matched the team record set from 1975-83 — the Phillies followed that by going 81-81 in 1984.
Edwin Jackson (10-11) became Washington's fifth pitcher with at least 10 wins, giving up one run and six hits over 6 2/3 innings. He left to a standing ovation, one of several on a muggy afternoon with the temperature in the 70s.
Rookie Tyler Moore's solo shot in the sixth inning made him the seventh member of the Nationals with at least 10 homers this season.
And then, of course, there was Teddy's triumph in the middle of the fourth inning, ending a losing streak that drew attention even from the White House press secretary and Sen. John McCain.
Teddy had lost more than 500 times since 2006, when the Nationals began holding races among 10-foot-tall foam renderings of Roosevelt, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln at home games.
The Nationals' very next batter, Zimmerman, led off the bottom of the fourth with his 25th homer, his team's first scoring off Cliff Lee (6-9).
The hitter after that, Michael Morse, doubled and eventually scored, too. In the eighth, Morse added his 18th homer, a two-run shot off reliever Jonathan Papelbon that drew a curtain call.
Lee, who finished with a losing record for the first time since 2007, departed after the sixth. He allowed eight hits and three runs, didn't walk a batter and struck out seven.
In the eighth, Papelbon lost control of a breaking pitch that buzzed near Zimmerman's head, drawing boos from the stands. Papelbon wound up walking Zimmerman, who tipped his cap in reaction to loud cheers as he walked to the dugout, replaced on first base by pinch-runner Bryce Harper. Morse followed with a drive to right-centre.
The 19-year-old Harper and first baseman Adam LaRoche were out of the starting lineup — a chance to get a breather before the grind of the post-season begins.