When Davey Johnson walked into the press conference room following tonight’s 4-1 win over the Dodgers, a large group of fans looking on through a glass window in the Presidents’ Club started applauding.
“What’s the big deal?” Johnson said, a giant smile creeping across his face.
Oh, nothing. You just locked up a postseason berth for the first time in team history and gave D.C. its first playoff baseball team in the last 79 years. That’s all.
“That was fun but that’s not what I had my eye on,” Johnson said. “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 (new) playoff format, with a one-game playoff, the old style with where you’re in as a wild card, that was OK, but I don’t want this.”
The Nationals hadn’t planned to have any type of group celebration or pop any champagne. But when Johnson went into his office after the game to say goodnight to his wife, he got pulled back into the main area of the clubhouse. A little champagne had been poured into glasses for all the players, owners and team staffers (excluding the 19-year-old Bryce Harper, of course), and Johnson gave a brief toast.
“Well, we had a little champagne and I guess they wanted me to say something. I said, ‘What’s this? We ain’t done yet.’ Something like that,” Johnson said. “They all had the same feeling. That this was just a baby step to get to the playoffs. But we want to (win) the division.”
Immediately after Drew Storen put the finishing touches on the win by striking out the side in the ninth, red and white fireworks went off throughout the stadium and the Nats were handed hats that read “Playoffs” and red shirts with “Natitude Postseason” written across the chest.
Johnson bounced down the stairs of the dugout after giving a TV interview and got a loud ovation from the crowd. He gave the fans on hand a two-handed salute and the crowd roared even louder.
Clinching a wild card spot wasn’t what the Nats had their eyes on, but Johnson knows what it means to the D.C. area.
“Yeah 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. But I wasn’t really anticipating that. I knew what our magic number was to be in the playoff, but I didn’t lose any sleep over it last night thinking about it.”
Ross Detwiler gave the Nats six strong innings tonight, and he earned his 10th win of the season. Storen then put the finishing touches on the win by blowing away the heart of the Dodgers order in the ninth, striking out Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez.
“Det was masterful,” Johnson said. “He’s just growing up as a pitcher. In that last inning, he got to rushing a little bit and was a little wild, but I thought he handled himself great. And then the bullpen was good. ... I’ve never seen Storen so energized in my whole life. He was bouncing around there like a high-test rubber ball there, man. But he feeds off that. That was good to see, too.”
Johnson is now just the second manager ever to take four different franchises to the playoffs, joining Billy Martin. It’s also the first time he’s been to the postseason with a big league team since 1997.
“Has it been that long?” he asked, when informed of the 15-year span. “Don’t the Olympics count or something? You know, I mean I enjoy seeing a team get better. 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, that makes me feel good, like I haven’t hindered their progress. But it is a good feeling to know we’re back in that and I guess it’s been a number of years (for D.C.).
“But I’m awful proud of those guys and there was no over-celebrating in there. They had the same kind of subdued attitude that I did.”