It is with a bit more than just a little irony that the Nationals have three chances to clinch their first NL East title, at home, against the Phillies, and with none other than left-hander John Lannan getting the call.
Lannan gets the start because it is his turn in the rotation in a season where he has made only five starts with the Nationals.
Right-hander Stephen Strasburg? No, he reached his innings limit. Gio Gonzalez? He gets the chance Tuesday. Edwin Jackson, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler? They all started in the Cardinals series.
It seems like every big game the Nationals have desperately needed to win this season has come down to Lannan starting. During the second doubleheader game back in late July, when it appeared the Braves were on the verge of winning both three in a row against the Nationals and a sweep for the division lead, Lannan came through with a signature performance.
Lannan will be handed the ball to face the team with which he made his professional debut against in July of 2007. It was a game in which he hit Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and then was ejected by the home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt.
That very same team, the Phillies, has pretty much dominated the NL East since the Nationals arrived in D.C. They have seemingly celebrated clinching the NL East every season against the Nationals, and it feels like it was always at Nationals Park.
Well, guess what? Not this year.
No, this year it is the Nationals that have a chance to clinch the division on their home field and a chance to represent the Eastern Division of the National League as pennant winners. And the first opportunity in the series will be with Lannan as the starter, five months after he was sent to Triple-A Syracuse to begin the season and then asked general manager Mike Rizzo to look to trade him.
Monday could also be Lannan’s last start ever in a Nationals’ uniform. Or, will this abbreviated series of starts for Lannan this year keep him with the Nationals in 2013? That remains to be answered.
But Monday against the Phillies, Lannan steps in at 4-0 with a 4.23 ERA this season in five starts for the Nationals. The Nationals’ magic number remains at one.
The Nationals need just one win to earn their first NL East pennant in D.C.
This sixth start may be his most important in his career and could bookend his legacy in the history books for this young franchise.
And if you had a chance to ask Lannan about all this?
I bet he would just say, “I just want a chance to pitch.”
Monday, he gets that chance, big time.