Three times over the past five years the Philadelphia Phillies have clinched the National League East crown while playing the same team: the Washington Nationals. In 2007, 2008 and 2010, their clubhouse was covered in plastic sheets and champagne joyously sprayed all over after playing the Nationals.
“Kind of embarrassing when everyone in the stadium is clapping against you when you’re at home,” said Ian Desmond after a division-clinching 8-0 loss to the Phillies on Sept. 28, 2010 in which the stands were filled with chants of “Phill-ies! Phill-ies!”
Much has obviously changed since then. Earlier this season, the Nationals rid themselves of many of their demons against the Phillies, beating them down in the first two series. The Phillies surged again and are the only NL East team that the Nationals have a losing record against, beating them in eight of their 15 meetings this season.
But now the Nationals will face the Phillies again, eliminated from the playoffs, for the final three games of the season. Baseball and fate work in curious ways, but it’s only fitting for the Nationals that they are in prime position to claim a division title against the team that relished doing the same against them.
“We played all season to get in position to win one game and now we get to do it in front of our own fans,” said Jayson Werth following Sunday’s 10-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, and the player who draws the most ire of Phillies fans. “Can’t wait.”
Despite an improved second half, the Phillies are limping towards the end. They are 17-10 in September — taking two of three from the Miami Marlins — but will be without first baseman Ryan Howard (broken toe) and starter Tyler Cloyd (forearm tightness), who would have made Tuesday’s start. The Nationals will face Kyle Kendrick on Monday, who is riding a wave of inconsistency and they hammered for five runs and three home runs in a 8-4 loss on Sept. 26. Cliff Lee is slated to start Wednesday’s game.
Nothing is a given, but the Nationals have three shots to land one win and the odds are on their side. If they claim their first division crown, they will likely take a small measure of pride given the opponent watching from the other dugout.