The Philadelphia Phillies knew they would be witness to a big party in Washington this week. Phillies fans like myself were already mourning that their five-year run as NL East champions was over - and that we would see the Washington Nationals officially claim the throne in front of the former kings. But at the least, Philadelphia got a win of its own to show for it.
The Nationals clinched the NL East on Oct. 1, but didn't do it by beating the Phillies. In fact, they backed into it when the Atlanta Braves lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates, moments before Philadelphia wrapped up a 2-0 victory that was quickly forgotten in Washington.
While the Nationals celebrated their first ever divisional title, the Phillies had their own semi-accomplishment by winning their 81'st game. They won't have their first losing season since 2002, and can actually salvage another winning season with one more victory - although it doesn't feel like a winning season.
If they had more games like this one, it might have been a different story. Although Philadelphia's only offense was a two-run triple by Darin Ruf in the second, Kyle Kendrick and the bullpen made sure it held up. With more wins like that, the Phillies might have at least been in position to win a wild card and put more heat on the Nationals and Braves.
Instead, Philadelphia was a mere blip in the road while Washington soared to unprecedented heights. But this historic night didn't have everything for the Nationals, since they did lose and did clinch the division a little later than expected. With their dominance up to mid-September, the Nats shouldn't have had to back into an NL East title on the third-to-last night of the regular season - and maybe it doesn't bode well for the playoffs.
This postseason will be shiny and new for the Nationals, nonetheless - a feeling that the Phillies outgrew after 2007. But although October baseball became old hat in Philadelphia, it remains a shame that the Phillies cannot wear that hat again.
Philadelphia can still make life harder for the new champions by keeping Washington from home field advantage throughout the playoffs. But if a Phillies team with nothing to play for can beat the Nationals at Washington on their historic night, maybe the likes of the Braves, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants can have that luck when it counts.
Seeing the Nationals crash and burn in the playoffs might make it easier for the Phillies to sit this October out. But even if Washington isn't ready to take the next step, Philadelphia can't afford to take more steps back itself.
The Phillies' 81'st win was an afterthought on this night, just like this entire team became an afterthought by the end of the season. At this point, not losing a game to give the Nationals their old NL East crown qualifies as a victory. Now Philadelphia just has to hope it doesn't take five more years for a new team - or an old one, in this case - to win this division again.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.
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