The Athletics went 72-38 after June 1, the best record in the majors. They became the first team in big league history to come back from a deficit of at least five games with fewer than 10 remaining to win a division or pennant. The A’s then lost in five games in the first round of the playoffs to AL champion Detroit.
“We just tried to keep it day to day,” Melvin said. “It’s a credit to the guys each and every day going out there and just worrying about that particular day.”
Johnson received 23 of the 32 first-place votes, while Dusty Baker of NL Central winner Cincinnati got five firsts and came in second. Bruce Bochy of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants got four firsts and was third.
Washington won its second major individual award, both in the past two days. Bryce Harper was voted NL Rookie of the Year on Monday.
Before the season, a confident Johnson declared that if the Nationals didn’t win the NL East, he’d probably be fired. Washington went 98-64, taking over the division lead in late May and staying in first place the rest of the way. Boosted by Harper, Cy Young Award candidate Gio Gonzalez and their fresh “Natitude,” they brought postseason baseball to Washington for the first time since 1933.
“This award’s really nice, but I look at the award as an organizational award,” Johnson said. “Young players this year really stepped in when key players got hurt. … We had a lot of young catchers come up and everybody really produced and it was just a remarkable year. Actually, I didn’t think they overachieved, they just played up to their ability.”
The playoffs didn’t go quite so well. Minus Stephen Strasburg _ team execs decided the ace had pitched enough in his first “full” season following elbow surgery _ Washington blew a 6-0 lead and lost the deciding Game 5 of the division series to St. Louis. Voting for the BBWAA awards was done before the playoffs.
Johnson oversaw a diverse roster, one made up of young and old, Washington veterans and newcomers. A four-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, two-time World Series champion and the last big leaguer to get a hit off Sandy Koufax, Johnson spoke with a soft, raspy tone but always held his team’s attention.
He would occasionally raise his voice _ he liked to holler “whack-o!” when the Nationals homered.
“Davey Johnson’s legacy was secure well before he became our manager in 2011, but his performance this season has to rate among his best work,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He showed this club how to win despite being engaged in a pennant race for the first time. And he accomplished this with so many young players.”
Johnson managed the New York Mets to the 1986 championship and later guided Cincinnati and the Orioles. He returned to managing in 1999 with the Los Angeles Dodgers for two years.
In June 2011, Johnson was working as a senior adviser with the Nationals when Jim Riggleman suddenly resigned midway through the season. Johnson took over and agreed to be part of a search committee to select a manager for 2012, allowing that he could be a candidate for the post, too.
The Nationals finished 80-81, barely missing out on their first winning season, and Johnson was brought back for another try.
“What it really comes down to is, you’ve got to know the makeup of a guy. Know who he handles and when he’s going to have some tough times, tough matchups,” Johnson said. “So you go with your gut most of the time. You go with your instincts. You don’t even want to ask anybody if you’re getting ready to make a change or whatever, because you don’t want any ties or anything like that.”
Washington was without major league baseball for more than three decades. The Senators moved to Texas after the 1971 season, then the Montreal Expos moved to D.C. to start in 2005.