In a quick interview between games during Wednesday's doubleheader with Los Angeles in Nationals Park, Davey Johnson was asked if the Nationals winning their 90th game of the season and becoming the seventh team he'd led to a 90-win season, meant anything to him. Johnson wasn't too interested in that or any other mile posts along the way. "The only thing that's going to mean anything to me is when we clinch the pennant," Johnson said, "That's the only number I'm concerned with. It's down to nine [games] and that's good. We need to get it down to eight and go from there."
The fact that the Nats were one win away from clinching the first postseason berth by a Washington, D.C.-based team in 79 years didn't seem to mean much to the Nats' 69-year-old skipper either.
Washington Times writer Amanda Comak noted that before play started on Wednesday, Johnson was asked if he'd thought at all about the fact that it could be the day the Nationals clinched the first playoff berth by a team from D.C. since 1933. "'Not really,' [Johnson] said flatly. 'I’m a math major, so I can count, you know? But I’m only concerned with the number 10,'" which was the number of wins it will take to clinch the division, which was, of course, down to 9 after the Nats' win in game one against the Dodgers and eight after their win Thursday in the series' rubber game.
It may not mean much to the Nationals' manager, or the players, and that's probably the right approach to take for a team that has much larger goals in mind this season. But it does mean something to fans in the nation's capital, and even some who followed the franchise when they resided north of the border, that the Washington Nationals clinched the first postseason appearance by a D.C.-based franchise in 79 years Thursday night.
I was six years old when the Montreal Expos I've followed my whole life as a baseball fan made their one and only postseason appearance during the strike-shortened 1981 season. I have vague mental images of seeing Expos like Warren Cromartie, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Gary Carter and Steve Rogers that Fall, just flashes of a tv screen really, as my only memories of seeing the team I grew up watching in a playoff game. I can remember seeing Expos uniforms in Veterans Stadium that year as Montreal beat Philadelphia in a five-game series to make it to the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. I definitely recall seeing the Expos in Dodgers Stadium that October against Fernando Valenzuela, Mike Scioscia, Steve Garvey and the Dodgers, but I'd be lying if I said I remembered anything about the actual games that I haven't looked back at and pieced together since.
Valenzuela (and NLCS MVP Burt Hooton) led the Dodgers' to a 2-1 win in the deciding game five of the NLCS that season, helping L.A. cap off a comeback with a second straight win after they'd fallen behind Montreal two games to one. The Dodgers went on to win the 1981 World Series over the New York Yankees.
That was Montreal's only postseason appearance from its founding in 1969 to its relocation after the 2004 season.
The Expos were leading the East and the Atlanta Braves by six games when the 1994 season ended after 114 games. It was somehow the second time a strike had affected Montreal's postseason ambitions. This time it stopped them cold.
When the Expos made a run again in 2003, battling in the Wild Card race, they were denied the opportunity to make September call-ups by their owners (MLB). It was a move that most saw as the last straw for baseball in Montreal.
Two years later, the Expos became the Washington Nationals, inheriting a history of postseason success that skipped the second Senators, who played eleven years in D.C. from 1961-71 without ever finishing higher than fourth in the American League, and went all the way back to the original Senators who last made a playoff appearance 79 years ago in 1933.
Between 1924 -- when Walter Johnson, Goose Goslin and the Washington Senators were able to win the only World Series in D.C. baseball history -- and 1933, when General Crowder, Earl Whitehill, Joe Kuhel and the Senators lost the '33 Series to the New York Giants, the nation's capital's original Senators made three postseason appearances, winning it all in '24 and losing to the Pirates in '25 before the five-game loss in the final postseason appearance by a D.C.-based team eight years later in '33.
It had been 79 years, many of them with no team calling the nation's capital home, before the Thursday's win guaranteed a return to the postseason. 79 years from now, will people remember what Ross Detwiler did on the mound Thursday, when he pitched six IP for the W? Will they remember Bryce Harper hustling to beat out a potential double play grounder, then scoring from first on an RBI double by Ryan Zimmerman? Will they remember the dominant ninth inning Drew Storen pitched to seal the win? Probably not. At least not as much as they'll remember the first actual postseason game and the memories made in October. But no one who's followed this team and watched what happened last night will ever forget it.