“Get used to it,” Werth replied. “Because this place [is] going to be awesome. This is how it’s going to be the rest of the way.”
The sun-splashed final day of the Nationals’ home season and the 37,638 at Nationals Park provided a vision for how the Nationals hope next fall will unfold — taut games packed with meaning before a frenzied crowd. They have won 12 of their past 15 games, and with a sweep in Florida they would finish with the first winning record by a Washington baseball team since the 1969 Senators went 86-76.
Their performance Sunday turned the 2011 farewell into a giddy afternoon for the present and future. Ross Detwiler closed his season with six scoreless innings, further cementing his place in the 2012 rotation. Henry Rodriguez, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen closed with an absurdly dominant final three innings, the crowd roaring with each out. Morse hit his 29th home run, a two-run, opposite-field blast in the seventh.
Around the time Morse took his curtain call, the video board at Busch Stadium in St. Louis was showing a replay of his homer to another roaring crowd. The Braves’ loss and the Cardinals’ 3-2 win over the Chicago Cubs reduced Atlanta’s lead in the National League wild-card race to one game. The Nationals had wandered into a playoff race, and in taking two of three from the Braves, they played like the team fighting for October.
“We know for a fact that we’ve got the best out of Atlanta,” Clippard said. “They’re fighting for a playoff spot, and we handled them pretty good. It gives us confidence going into these final three games and into the offseason for next year.”
Their recent opponents have let the Nationals puff their chests. They swept the 99-win Philadelphia Phillies over four games on the road, then came home, where they went 44-36 this year, and tried to ruin the Braves’ October. Afterward, they watched the Cardinals on clubhouse TVs and rooted for St. Louis.
“I definitely don’t think anything we’re doing is a fluke,” outfielder Jonny Gomes said.
Before the game, General Manager Mike Rizzo said the Nationals need only an outfield bat and one more elite starting pitcher to contend next year. If they do, they may point to Sunday as the day they convinced their fans to board the bandwagon. Detwiler compared the atmosphere to one of Stephen Strasburg’s starts.
“We have a core group of fans,” Werth said. “It’s small. There are die-hards out there. There aren’t a lot of them, not yet. It’s going to spread. It’s going to be contagious. It’s going to get good.”