Thanks to strong pitching from Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper's burst of energy and Adam LaRoche's slugging, the Washington Nationals won enough from April through September that even a loss on the first day of October could not stop them from clinching the NL East.
Despite being beaten 2-0 by the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night, the Nationals earned their first division title since moving from Montreal in 2005, because the second-place Atlanta Braves lost 2-1 at the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Before the game, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said watching the Nationals take a division title while facing his team ``would just make me mad.''
``They've had a good season,'' said Manuel, whose team already was eliminated from playoff contention. ``They broke out early and got on top early and played solid baseball all year long.''
Well, except lately, perhaps.
The Nationals have lost three of four, and they were kept in check Monday by right-hander Kyle Kendrick (11-12), who threw seven scoreless innings and allowed only four hits. Kendrick was masterful for stretches _ he got 12 of 13 outs on grounders during one stretch _ and received some help, too. He caught Werth (in the fifth) and Morse (sixth) looking at strike three to end innings with a runner on third base.
Washington's starter was John Lannan (4-1), who was brought up from Triple-A Syracuse to join the rotation after Strasburg was shut down early, a year after returning from reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.
The stadium was loud as can be after Lannan got the game's second batter, John Mayberry Jr., to ground into a 1-6-3 double play, and fans rose to salute the lefty after the first half-inning ended.
But in the second, Lannan _ with curly brown hair sticking out of his cap and a scruffy beard _ walked Carlos Ruiz on four pitches and gave up a single to Domonic Brown. That set the stage for Darin Ruf's big hit, a triple that barely eluded Harper's outstretched glove in center and made it 2-0.
But for the Nationals, it turned out not to matter.