Monday night, Jayson Werth stood on the Nationals Park field, soaked in champagne and smiling wide, the celebration of the Nationals’ NL East title just beginning. He was asked for the moment when he realized they could reach this point. He did not hesitate.
“Last September,” Werth said. “When Davey had been for a couple months and the team really settled in. The mentality we had on a day-to-day basis, I think last September was the turning point.”
To a man, the Nationals believe Manager Davey Johnson played a crucial role in lifting them to the division title. Now, they’ll find out how far he can lead them in the playoffs.
This year’s postseason field is filled with experienced, seen-it-all managers. Jim Leyland, Bruce Bochy and Joe Girardi, like Johnson, have each won a World Series ring as a manager. As of Saturday morning, that will be half the managers left in the playoff field with rings.
Dusty Baker has been to the World Series, and Ron Washington has lost the last two. Bob Melvin went to the NLCS in 2007, and Buck Showalter has taken two different teams to the playoffs.
Every manager in this year’s postseason has playoff experience … except for the two who may be staring across the diamond at Johnson’s leathery face. The Cardinals’ Mike Matheny is in his rookie year as a manager, and Fredi Gonzalez of the Braves has managed two seasons prior this one.
Every decision a manager makes in the playoffs is magnified. That is cliche, but it is very true. Johnson’s defining characteristic is his faith in himself and the belief he has in his players. The biggest mistake a manager can make in October is to allow the stage to alter his demeanor and his decisions, to let the pressure make his team something it is not. Johnson’s swaggering edge makes him immune from falling prey. How will Matheny and Gonzalez respond?
We don’t know, and neither do they, because they’ve never where Johnson has been so many times before. In that one sense, the Nationals caught a break drawing the Braves or Cardinals. Until further notice, the Nationals will have edge in the manager’s office no matter which team they play in the first round.
FROM THE POST
Boz will be producing must-reads daily for the next month, and today’s column about what a good baseball team means to Washington will be tough to top. Chills.
George Solomon says Shirley Povich would have been proud of these Nationals.
In Atlanta, James Wagner writes that your opinion on the wild card game depends on how you got there.
Jim Riggleman has no regrets as the team he walked away from reaches the top of the major leagues.
The Nationals will watch and wait on the first day of the postseason.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL