The Nationals were ahead of schedule in 2012. They turned the corner from not-so-good, or worse, to fighting for the National League's best record.
So, on Oct. 1, the Nationals had their third chance in as many days to clinch the division and the organization's first playoff spot (as well as the first division title for Washington baseball in 79 years).
Meanwhile, Atlanta was in Pittsburgh. The Braves were trying to track down the Nationals in the final week of the season. They spent 10 days all season in first place, and the latest they held the top spot was May 21. Otherwise, the Nationals controlled the division on the way to 98 wins.
Atlanta was close most of the year. September 17, the gap closed to five games. It took another week to drop it to four games. Atlanta needed to gain faster. However, it was still around after a walkoff win in Miami on Sept. 25.
On Oct. 1, Paul Maholm started for the Braves. Jeff Locke started for the middling Pirates. Starling Marte's fifth-inning homer of Maholm put Pittsburgh in front, 2-1. Meanwhile, the Nationals were losing at Nationals Park.
Jared Hughes came in to pitch the ninth for Pittsburgh. Chipper Jones grounded out. Freddie Freeman reached first on an E-5 (Pedro Alvarez). Atlanta sent Lyle Overbay to hit for Reed Johnson. Overbay lined out. Two outs, Brian McCann up.
The Nationals trailed late when McCann came to the plate. An Atlanta recovery and Nationals loss would drive Washington's lead down to two games with two to play.
But, McCann's check-swing ground ball went back to Hughes. He took care of the out himself to finish his second save of the season. Atlanta was eliminated. Washington was in.
By the bottom of the ninth inning in Washington, the public-address announcer was fully into the celebration by introducing Michael Morse as "batting for the NL East champion Washington Nationals."
So, who were the Nationals playing that day on a way to a loss?
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