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Washington Nationals one win away from clinching NL East title

With a win tonight in Nationals Park, the Washington Nationals can clinch their first NL East pennant. Only their NL East rivals from Philadelphia stand in the way.

James Lang-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The 1924 Washington Senators were 8-2 in the ten games leading up to their Monday, September 29th match-up with the Boston Red Sox on the road in what was then a 12-year-old Fenway Park in Boston, MA. Left-hander Tom Zachary, in his seventh MLB season, his sixth with Washington, was (15-9) that year heading into his final outing of the regular season having won six of his previous seven starts. The night before, in the first game of the series with the Sox, Zachary had been called upon late to close out a 7-5 win, earning his second save of the season.

In his 27th start of the year the next day, however, the Senators' lefty gave up five hits, two walks and two earned runs in 3.0 IP before he was lifted by manager Bucky Harris in favor of Senators' reliever Frederick "Firpo" Marberry, who according to a 9/29/24 Washington Post article by Frank H. Young, "... held the Red Sox scoreless for the last six innings," and, "was the hero of this deciding game." The Senators took a 3-1 lead in the second, but the Red Sox cut the lead in half with a run in the bottom of the third. It remained a 3-2 game until top of the eighth when Washington added a run to make it 4-2. That's how it would end.

With the win, the Senators clinched the first pennant in D.C. baseball history. According to the Washington Post's Frank H. Young's report, the 15,000 fans in attendance in Boston cheered Washington's win, in part because it helped the Senators beat the hated-even-then New York Yankees and in part, as AP baseball writer Frederick J. Frommer wrote in an October 2010 article, because, "... the underdog Senators were national sentimental favorites that year," and, "Fans were especially pulling for Walter Johnson, by then 36 years old and at the end of his career, to finally make it to the World Series."

As Mr. Frommer wrote in the article, the humorist Will Rogers noted at the time, in 1924, that there was, "... more genuine interest in [Johnson] than there is in a presidential election." The pennant clinching win left the Senators 92-61, having claimed the first American League crown after 23 years of futility on the part of the franchise which had resulted in the oft-repeated description of the team as being, "First in war, first in peace and last in the American League."

As Washington Post writer William Gildea wrote in a March 1999 article on the last century of Senators' history, not many people saw the 1924 Senators coming. "Even in the spring of 1924," Mr. Gildea wrote, "virtually no one imagined that the Senators – then referred to as the Nationals, or Nats – would win their first pennant by displacing the Babe Ruth-led New York Yankees."

Well, one person did actually. After he was named the manager in February of 1924, Bucky Harris, "... vowed that the team would win the pennant," Mr. Gildea noted.

The fact that they did manage to win the pennant that season came as a shock, with even Yankees' great Babe Ruth writing in his autobiography (as quoted in the WaPost article), that, "Washington got hot quicker than almost any club I ever saw." As the Senators claimed the pennant in Boston, fans in the nation's capital received the news. As the Washington Post's Frank H. Young reported at the time, President Calvin Coolidge's secretary C. Bascom Slemp telegraphed Bucky Harris to let him know Washington was proud of what the team accomplished.

Had the 2012 Washington Nationals clinched the pennant in St. Louis yesterday, it's unlikely even the self-appointed best fans in baseball would have joined in the celebration as the residents of Boston did after the Senators' clincher in 1924. Word would have reached the nation's capital a lot quicker, however, with all the live reports and tweeted updates that have come to define coverage of the sport in modern times.

President Coolidge's secretary wrote in his telegraph to Bucky Harris in 1924, that the President would be waiting to welcome the Senators back to the nation's capital after the win, once they made the train ride home to D.C. two days later.

Would the 2012 Nationals have been greeted at home when their flight arrived back in the nation's capital last night? Would the President have praised the team? Would Davey Johnson have received a special message thanking him for bring the pennant to Washington? Perhaps.

The Nats couldn't clinch the pennant in St. Louis on Sunday, however, so the first pennant in the history of the third franchise to call D.C. home will have to be won in Washington if the Nats can take just one of the next three from the Philadelphia Phillies. It didn't take the newest baseball team to call the nation's capital its home quite as long to put themselves in this position as it took the original Senators, but to most of the baseball world it's come as as much of surprise as the 1924 Senators' win did.

Not many people saw the success of the 2012 Nationals coming, with the team just a few seasons removed from back-to-back 100-loss campaigns. But just like in 1924, there was one true believer from the start.

Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said on day one that a pennant was the goal for the team this season. With one more win, he'll join Bucky Harris as another prescient manager who made good on his prediction.

The Nationals have failed to clinch the division, thus far, but the loss yesterday gives them the chance to win it in front of the hometown crowd. It's unlikely that fans in the nation's capital will storm the field like the Boston fans did in 1924, but if the Wild Card-clinching win in D.C. a few weeks back was any sign, the baseball fans in Washington are ready to celebrate a pennant-clinching win.