- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — As Brett Myers threw his glove into the air, teammates mobbed him at the mound and a throng of Philadelphia Phillies fans roared with delight over the franchise’s first division title in 14 seasons, several Washington Nationals stood at their own dugout railing soaking in the scene.

The Nationals’ season was officially over with a 6-1 loss to the Phillies, but the party was just beginning at Citizens Bank Park. And for a young team that hopes to one day experience the same thrill, this was perhaps the final learning experience in a season full of them.

“You just want to see it, to see what it feels like,” said outfielder Nook Logan, one of the last Nationals players to leave the dugout.

Few on-field celebrations will top the Phillies’ NL East clincher. A city that hasn’t seen a playoff game since the 1993 World Series has gone baseball-mad after the its team overcame a seven-game deficit to the New York Mets in 18 days to win the division in stunning fashion.

“You can’t put it into words,” outfielder Aaron Rowand said. “Nobody gave us a chance.”

A dramatic afternoon of baseball and scoreboard-watching saw the Mets crumble to the Florida Marlins 8-1, putting the Phillies’ fate in their own hands. A sellout crowd of 44,865 burst into cheers every time the score from Shea Stadium was updated, the loudest explosion coming when the final was posted just as the ninth inning began in Philadelphia.

And when Myers made quick work of the Nationals in the ninth, retiring all three batters he faced and striking out Wily Mo Pena looking to end the game, the biggest September comeback in baseball history was complete. The Phillies (89-73) now will play host Wednesday to the winner of tonight’s wild-card playoff between the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies in Game 1 of the NL Division Series.

“With everything that’s going on this year, the people that have doubted us and counted us out, now we’re here,” first baseman Ryan Howard said. “We’re going to celebrate right now and get ready for Wednesday. There’s only one more celebration to try and go for now and that’s the whole thing.”

The Nationals (73-89) had a front-row seat to the drama that played out over the last two weeks, closing their season with 13 games against the Mets and Phillies. Manager Manny Acta’s team played a hand in determining both teams’ fates, winning five of six from New York but only two of seven from Philadelphia.

At no point during that stretch did Washington look overmatched by its superior division rivals.

“I’m very proud of my kids,” Acta said. “When we looked at the schedule at the beginning of the season, I’m sure the teams we were playing against said, ‘Well, we got it made.’ My guys went out there and played hard, didn’t roll over for anybody and made it interesting. We made it a full 162-game season.”

They couldn’t, however, spoil the fun yesterday and force a one-game playoff between the two contenders. The Phillies took control of this game from the start, jumping to a 3-0 lead on Chase Utley’s first-inning sacrifice fly and Howard’s two-run single in the third.

Washington starter Jason Bergmann lasted just three innings, outpitched by 44-year-old left-hander Jamie Moyer, who worked 51/3 stellar innings and allowed just one unearned run on five hits and no walks. He struck out six.

“They had the right guy on the mound,” Acta said. “This guy has been through every type of situation in baseball. There’s a guy who wasn’t going to be rattled, regardless of the situation.”

The Phillies tacked on two more runs in the sixth, highlighted by Jimmy Rollins’ RBI triple to right off reliever Luis Ayala. It was the capper to a brilliant afternoon for the MVP candidate, who had two hits, two runs, two steals and became only the fourth player in major league history with 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 homers and 20 steals in a season.

Howard’s towering homer off Mike Bacsik in the eighth was the final blow that sent Philadelphia back to the playoffs after a 14-year wait.

“A few years ago, they were in the same situation [as the Nationals],” first baseman Dmitri Young said an hour after the game ended. “They had a talented team. They just needed a few pieces coming in. Boom, there it is. They fought every single day all the way to the very end. And I mean, they’re still celebrating out there. That’s a beautiful thing.”

And something Washington’s players hope to experience for themselves some day.

“It was just nice, I guess, to see what it’s like,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “I mean, that’s ultimately where we want to be.”

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