"What's the big deal?" Davey Johnson asked reporters as he sat down for last night's post game press conference following the Washington Nationals' playoff-spot-clinching win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. With their 91st win of 2012, the Nats guaranteed that they'd at least make an appearance in the Wild Card game. That's never been the goal, however. The Nats' 69-year-old skipper, after the curly-W guaranteed a return to the postseason 79 years after a D.C. baseball team last made it to the playoffs, explained once again, as he did in Spring Training, that the pennant was the ultimate prize. "It's not what I had my eye on," Johnson said of the playoff clincher, "It's a nice step to get here, but every manager that's leading the division, that's the only thing that matters. Winning your division. The playoff format, with the one-game playoff... the old style, when you're in as the Wild Card, that was okay. But I don't want this." Davey Johnson wants a pennant.
But the Nationals' manager did acknowledge that he was surprised by the reaction the Nationals' win got from the crowd of 30,359 who turned out in the nation's capital last night and from the team itself. "That was a great feeling," Johnson said, "We have great fans, and everybody seemed to be real excited in the clubhouse and that was fun. And I wasn't really anticipating that, I knew what our magic number was to be in a playoff, but I didn't lose any sleep over it last night thinking about it."
26-year-old Nats' lefty Ross Detwiler (who was described as effectively-wild by Chipper Jones on NBC Sports special "Caught Looking") gave up just one run on three hits last night, holding the Dodgers at bay aside from Mark Ellis' solo home run in the fourth. "Det was masterful," Davey Johnson said of the pitcher whose transition to a reliable starter he's overseen in his year and a half at the helm. "He's just growing up as a pitcher. In that last inning, the sixth inning he got to rushing a little bit and was a little wild, but I thought he handled himself great."
After Detwiler, it was up to Christian Garcia, Ryan Mattheus and Drew Storen's to lock down the Nats' 91st win. The Nats' manager wanted to rest Tyler Clippard, so he turned to the Nationals' 25-year-old right-hander in the top of the ninth. Storen, who saved 43 games last year, threw a 13-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth to earn his 3rd save of a 2012 season that started with the '09 1st Round pick having surgery to remove a bone chip from his elbow. "I've never seen Storen so energized in my whole life," Johnson said after the win. "He looked like [he] was bouncing around there like a high-test rubber ball, man. But he feeds off that."
"I think it was, now that we've clinched a berth in the playoffs, it was only fitting that the guy that carried the load last year with 43 saves, that it would fall on him," Johnson explained, "And I know it meant a lot to him because it's been a rough year for him, not closing. So that was kind of a [fairy tale] ending, that part."
Johnson approached last night's game as he's approached every one this season, explaining again last night that he's tried to keep an even keel all year. "I've tried to set that attitude," the Nats' manager said, "Don't get too high, don't get too low. Let's try kind of be ready for every game with the same mindset." It's that approach, after winning streaks, losing streaks and playoff-clinchers that's helped the team keep everything in perspective. His approach remained the same after win no.91, even as the Nationals had a subdued champagne celebration in the clubhouse after the win.
"We had a little champagne," Johnson said, "And I guess they wanted me to say something. I said, 'We ain't done yet. What's this?' something like that. They didn't have anything to do with it, but they all had the same feeling. That this was just a baby step to get to the playoffs. But we want the division."
"When you know you're in the division," the Nats' manager said, "Then you pop the champagne and spray it everywhere. You know you've got more than a one-game playoff. And I think that was the sense in the clubhouse."
For the first time in 79 years in the nation's capital and for the first time in 15 years for the manager, however, the Nats guaranteed a return to the postseason with last night's win. The pennant has been the goal for Davey Johnson since the day his return to the bench was annouced last Fall. He did admit to taking some enjoyment in the improvements he's seen from his team already this year though. "I enjoy seeing a team get better," Johnson said, "That's the joy of managing. The wins and losses are important, but it's just seeing all the players do the things you know they're capable of doing."
"And when that happens," the Nationals' manager said, tapping his chest near his heart, "That makes me feel good. Like I haven't hindered their progress. But it is a good feeling to know we're back in... and I guess it's been a number of years... it's probably a first for D.C.?"
"Since 1933, 79 years," reporters told the manager.
"I can't remember that year," Johnson, who was born ten years later joked, "But it's close." And the Nationals are one game closer to clinching the division. Eight wins away, in fact. Davey Johnson's aware of that number.