[ed. note - "As of this moment, we have published a total of 1,561 stories in 2014. We know you can't read them all, so we spent the last twenty-four hours going back through those stories to pick out our five favorite articles of the year. We'll publish the top five stories over the next few hours, so keep checking back. No.2 on our list covers the Nats' division clinching win in Atlanta. Matt Williams quoted Frost, beer and champagned flowed. For the second time in three years the Nationals took the NL East."]
"Congratulations," Matt Williams told his players as they quieted down for a brief speech from the first-year skipper during the Washington Nationals' beer and champagne-soaked celebration of the second NL East title in the last three years.
The veteran of seventeen major league seasons and one-time World Series Champion then brought out the Frost. Robert Frost.
"We have promises to keep," Williams said, "and miles to go before we sleep."
The visiting clubhouse in Turner Field exploded in a shower of sprayed champagne once he'd delivered the line and the celebration continued.
In a rare moment of reflection, when Williams talked to reporters about what he and his team accomplished last night, he said it was the Nationals' ability to overcome injuries that allowed them to persevere and eventually take the division title.
Doug Fister went down with a lat strain before the season even started. Wilson Ramos went down on Opening Day. Ryan Zimmerman suffered a fractured right thumb in mid-April. Bryce Harper tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb at the end of the first month and surgery kept him out of the lineup for 57 games. Nate McLouth tore the labrum in his right shoulder. Gio Gonzalez missed a month with inflammation in his left shoulder.
Zimmerman missed 44 games, returned to play 43 games and then suffered a torn hamstring that has kept him on the DL since July 22nd.
The Nats' 29-year-old infielder just played his first rehab game at the Nationals' spring training facility on Tuesday while his teammates were in Atlanta preparing to play what ended up being the division-clinching game with the Braves. He's hoping to return soon.
Fister's first season with the Nats didn't start until the first week of May.
Ramos missed 32 games and suffered a hamstring injury that cost him two weeks in June.
"We're NL East champs?" "We're NL East champs." "Should we jump up and down?" "YEAH!" http://t.co/fh0pZesPef— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) September 17, 2014
Every team deals with injuries, of course, and the Nationals had their share and dealt with them.
"For everybody that was lost," Williams told reporters, "and everybody that missed time and continues to miss time in [Zimmerman], we work hard to get him back, we try to compensate for him and everybody that's been out for us this year and try to find ways to win. They have that mindset going in, that they try to find a way to win every night. They don't get beyond that. It's about tonight and tonight's game. Tomorrow will be about tomorrow's, but I'm proud of the fact that they've gone about it that way and they've persevered."
"For us, this isn’t good enough. We’ve got bigger goals in mind. That’s probably the difference. We’re not satisfied." -- Craig Stammen— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) September 17, 2014
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo too talked about the ability to compensate for the players they were missing at any particular time when asked what impressed him most about the 2014 NL East champs.
"The consistency and stick-to-it-iveness to this lineup," Rizzo said. "It's easily forgotten that we were without some key players for a long period of time and three of them at the same time for a long time. Other teams have folded at that time. We grinded it through. It's a testament to Matt Williams. It's a testament to those bench players who filled in as everyday guys when we were at our weakest."
Williams' demeanor never changed and played a big role in helping the Nationals keep it together.
"No panic," Rizzo said. "He's been there before. Whatever the situation is he's been there before. Don't forget, this is a multi-Gold Glove guy. A multi-All-Star player. But for the first couple years of his [career it] was up and down, struggling, so he can relate to all sorts of players, every talent-level he can relate to and he has a calmness to him that protrudes throughout the entire team and when things were at their toughest, he was at his calmest."
"You don't have a choice, right?" Williams asked rhetorically. "I mean that's the choice you have. The guys stepped up. When we didn't have Doug the guys stepped up. When we lost [Ramos] the first day, the guys stepped up. When Zim went down. When [Harper] went down. Everybody stepped up and that's not me, that's them. They play this game. They own this game. So, I'm proud of them for having that attitude."
In playing through the injuries, grinding out at bats, and eventually running away with the division, the Nationals have set themselves up with an opportunity to take the next step after their first postseason appearance in 2012, when the Nats brought postseason baseball back to the nation's capital for the first time since 1933.
"I think that they're focused and I think that they appreciate where they're at," Williams said. "They look for more and they want to have more. They've experienced it before and not gotten where they wanted to get to so I think they're hungry for that."
October baseball in D.C. It's coming.