When reporters entered the Nationals’ clubhouse after last night’s 10-0 shellacking of the Cardinals, the Braves-Phillies game was showing on every TV in sight.
As we huddled around Ryan Zimmerman, asking the third baseman about a third straight Nats win, Phillies outfielder John Mayberry crushed a fly ball to deep left in the 10th inning of a tie game. Shouts came out from different parts of the clubhouse.
“Get him! Get him!” one player yelled, as the ball traveled towards the left field seats.
“Got him!” a few guys bellowed seconds thereafter. Mayberry’s three-run homer handed the Braves another loss, and coupled with the Nationals’ win, gave the Nats a 6 1/2 game lead in the National League East and made their magic number to clinch the division 25.
In past seasons, on a late-August night like last night, the majority of the TVs in the clubhouse would have probably been turned to one of the few college football games that were still going on. But this season, there’s no chance of that.
The Nats are part of a playoff run. They’re not getting ahead of themselves just yet, but they’re enjoying the ride.
So too are the fans, who are coming out to Nats Park in increasing numbers. The announced attendance last night was just short of 30,000, but it felt like a much larger crowd than that. And those in attendance made their presence known late in the game, chanting Gio Gonzalez’s name as he made a push for a complete-game shutout in the ninth.
“I’ve played for a while and I’ve maybe heard that a couple times,” Adam LaRoche said of the late-game chants for the Nationals starter.
“That was great,” Zimmerman said. “We have a long ways to go and we haven’t done anything yet, but what we have done is kind of give this city a baseball team to cheer for. And they’ve kind of wanted that for a long time.”
After a five-game losing streak sent some fans reaching for the panic button a few days ago, the Nats have gotten right back on track the last three days. They put up only six runs during that five-game slide, but have outscored their opponents 26-5 in the three wins since.
The timing of the winning streak coincides with Davey Johnson holding a team meeting in Miami prior to Wednesday night’s game. The meeting was somewhat out of character for Johnson, who prefers to just let his players play and not force organized speeches on them. Apparently it did the trick, though.
Multiple players wouldn’t reveal what Johnson said during the speech, opting to keep that inside the clubhouse. One player said it wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary and, in reality, probably hasn’t factored into the turnaround. “We were playing good ball before, and we’re playing good ball again,” he said.
But Gonzalez said Johnson’s speech might have hit a nerve with the players. Sometimes a manager will hold a team meeting largely for show, because he feels he has to. But that wasn’t the case Wednesday afternoon, Gonzalez says.
“I don’t think there was show in that,” he said. “He did a great job, sparked us up and did what we had to do. That’s all. It was a little breakthrough and I guess he found it.”