Davey Johnson likes to say that he doesn’t view any one game as more important than the rest.
It’s a long season, and a game in May means just as much in the standings as a win in September.
But the Nationals skipper also acknowledges that games against the Phillies have a little bit of a different vibe to them. The crowd is more animated, the game feels tighter and a win, like tonight’s 4-3 walk-off victory, tastes maybe just a little bit sweeter.
“They kind of have a bigger feeling when you’re playing the Phillies,” Johnson said. “I felt they were the best team in baseball last year. To come in and beat them the first time in our house ... it was a big game for us, and I’m sure the Phillies felt the same way, because we’re sitting on top. It was fun.”
There were 34,377 on hand at Nationals Park tonight, a solid crowd which was predominantly pulling for the home team.
There were groups of Phillies fans, for sure. Stephen Strasburg pointed out that he had some people shouting “nasty things” to him as he was warming up in the bullpen, and some Nats players said they look forward to the day when their fans vastly outnumber the amount of Phillies supporters at Nationals Park.
But there were a few moments during tonight’s game - Bryce Harper’s first plate appearance, his at-bat leading off the bottom of the ninth and Jesus Flores’ game-tying double, to name a few - when the crowd went nuts, and you could feel those that stuck around for all 11 innings waiting to explode when the Nats loaded the bases prior to Wilson Ramos’ walk-off knock.
“It was nice obviously to have the crowd behind us tonight,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “I’d give it 70-30, probably. But better than 20-80 the other way.
“It was very refreshing.”
“It just made the game that much more exciting,” said reliever Ryan Perry, who picked up his first win as a National with a scoreless 11th inning. “You hear the Phillies fans get going and then our fans trump ‘em. That’s what you want.”
The Phillies have won the National League East five straight years and have averaged nearly 95 wins per season during that time frame. They’ve been the class of the division for as long as many of the guys on the Nats’ roster have been playing professional baseball (or at least have been in the majors) and so when the Nationals are able to open up a four-and-a-half game lead over their rivals to the north, it holds a bit of significance, even if it is still so early.
“I think that what they’ve done in the past, obviously, resonates in everyone’s minds that they’ve been on top for the last few years, by a pretty large margin,” Desmond said. “Obviously, we understand that they’re not at full strength. But neither are we.
“Right now, it’s just a game. It’s just one game. We’ve got to go out and play ‘em hard tomorrow ... and hopefully there’s meaningful baseball between both of us teams towards the end of the year.”