The Nationals’ 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched Washington’s first baseball postseason in 79 years, an achievement that sent fans into delirious celebration and caused a knock on Manager Davey Johnson’s office door not long after 10:02 p.m., when the last pitch crossed the plate.
He was in his office, saying good night to his wife, Susan. Players dragged him into the clubhouse, where a long table had been set up. Bottles of Korbel and empty flutes had been placed on top. Every player got a glass. “Of course,” right-handed pitcher Jordan Zimmermann said in reference to Bryce Harper, the team’s underage outfielder, “Bryce had water.”
His team encouraged Johnson to speak, and the 69-year-old manager, back in the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, responded not with a valedictory, but a rallying cry.
“We ain’t done yet,” Johnson said.
The Nationals toasted and sipped the champagne. They did not spray it. The victory had guaranteed only a wild-card berth, a one-game play-in. As they acknowledged the moment, they kept their sights set higher.
“This is no doubt a big day for this organization and this city,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “Not to downplay the day at all, but guys aren’t satisfied at all. We don’t look at this like mission accomplished.”
The victory lowered the Nationals’ magic number to clinch the National League East to eight with 13 games remaining, and it increased their lead to 51
2 games over the idle Atlanta Braves. They also stayed a half-game ahead of the Cincinnati Reds, who won Thursday afternoon, for the best overall record in the majors.
“That was fun,” Johnson said of clinching at least a one-game playoff. “But that’s not what I had my eye on.”
That they had clinched any kind of playoff berth, though, begged for reflection. Owner Ted Lerner, the Rockville native who made a fortune in real estate and bought the team in 2006, stood outside the clubhouse, holding one of the hats in his left hand. “Great,” he said, unable to find any more words. “Great.”
Ryan Zimmerman gave an interview on the field, as he was the first player to yank one of the shirts over his head. He was the Nationals’ first draft choice in 2005, not long after the franchise stopped operating out of trailers in the RFK Stadium parking lot. He played on teams that lost 298 games from 2008 to 2010. He moved here for the offseasons, signed a career-long contract and proposed to the love of his life here. He stayed for the worst. Thursday night, after he ripped a double and scored a run, he experienced the best.