Washington win division, first to clinch playoff spot


Tue, Sep 12, 2017 - Page 16

The shortest game of the season at Nationals Park turned into a lengthy afternoon for Washington. It was well worth it when the champagne corks started flying in the locker room.

Stephen Strasburg on Sunday extended his scoreless streak to a franchise-record 34 innings as the Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 in a tidy 2 hours, 16 minutes.

About 90 minutes later, Washington clinched their fourth National League East title in six seasons when the Braves beat the Marlins on an 11th-inning homer in Atlanta, Georgia.

Several hundred fans remained in the stands to watch the telecast as the Braves rallied with three runs in the ninth and fireworks erupted from the upper deck after Atlanta finished off Miami, making the Nationals the first team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot this year.

Players poured out of the dugout wearing ski goggles, embraced their wives, girlfriends and children, and flung hats and T-shirts into the crowd.

“This one was very, very gratifying. Even though it looked like we had a comfortable lead, it was still a struggle,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said in a booze-soaked clubhouse. “A lot of our top guys were hurt.”

The Nationals also won the National League East in 2012, 2014 and last year, but they have not advanced past the divisional round of the post-season.

“It’s the most well-balanced team that we’ve had,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We’re very efficient offensively. We don’t strike out nearly as [much as] we did in ‘12, ‘14 and ‘16. We think that we have more ways to score. Our rotation is our rotation. It’s as good as it gets.”

Baker had the luxury of resting nearly all his regulars on Sunday, but one player who did not need a break was Strasburg, who was infamously shut down before the playoffs in 2012 in his first season after Tommy John surgery. Strasburg has just one career post-season start, a loss in 2014.

Now, he is pitching better than ever, joining Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez in a formidable trio that Washington will carry into the playoffs.

“Stras has been a big part of this franchise since he joined it. He’s been an elite major league pitcher every time he toes the rubber,” Rizzo said. “I couldn’t be happier that he’s going in the right direction going into October and it’s a place he belongs.”

Strasburg (13-4) threw two-hit ball for eight innings and struck out 10. He has not allowed a run since Aug. 19 in San Diego, California, which was his first start since coming off the disabled list with an elbow nerve impingement.

“It just comes with trust. That’s the biggest thing,” Strasburg said. “Trust your ability, trust your stuff, and you go out there and kind of sleep well at night, no matter what happens.”