But they barely escaped the division series, needing a deciding Game 5 to topple the Indians. The Yankees, who carried the second-best record in the majors, defeated them in the ALCS in five games behind the pitching of Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
‘Any team is good enough’
“Because it’s a short series, the margin of who’s better is such a small one it could come down to in each game, you could have an unlikely hero, a fluke play. It could swing on that,” La Russa said. “. . . If you look at our stats last year, we didn’t have a defensively strong season and we ended up winning 11 games [in the playoffs] because we were playing better defense later. Any team that is good enough to get to October, is good enough to win a best of five or best of seven.”
In 1997, Nationals Manager Davey Johnson, then the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, famously filled his lineup with backup players Jeff Reboulet, Jerome Walton and Geronimo Berroa over better hitters Rafael Palmeiro and B.J. Surhoff because right-handers fared better against the Mariners’ dominant ace Randy Johnson. The result: two wins against him in a week and a playoff series victory.
“The important thing is just getting in,” Werth said. “That’s all you can control. You’ve got to get hot, you’ve gotta be lucky, things gotta go your way. It’s not easy, that’s for sure.”
For weeks, Johnson contended that he cared little about obtaining the best record and that winning the division was his biggest priority. The sooner the better, he said, so he could begin lining up his rotation. But as the Nationals neared that goal on Monday, Johnson admitted that he wanted the top seed because it would allow him to take advantage of Gio Gonzalez starting Sunday on regular rest against the wild-card winner.
“I’d like to play Sunday,” Johnson said. “That would be Gio’s game. Whoever that is, I don’t care. I’d like to start with my 21-game winner. How all that happens, there’s a lot of things that have to get in line.”