When the story of the Washington Nationals’ 2012 season is written, it’s expected to hold plenty more celebratory moments with which they cannot just mark their organization’s progress, but assert its dominance.
Their plans contain champagne celebrations and filling the blank space left on the pennants that fly above their scoreboard.
Those have not yet been fulfilled.
But there was historical significance in their 82nd win, sealed Monday with a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs in which Ross Detwiler spun seven scoreless innings. And it was the kind that should go underappreciated if the Nationals continue on the path they have set in the season’s first 134 games.
For the first time since 1969, a winning baseball team plays in Washington. Even with all these Nationals (82-52) have accomplished, even with a 6½ -game lead in the National League East, that was never a certainty until Tyler Clippard struck out Josh Vitters to seal his 30th save.
No Nationals team since baseball returned in 2005 had eclipsed 81 wins, a mark that signified only a team just as good as it was bad, until it happened Monday. On Sept. 3. With 28 games remaining in their season. A mark that was once nearly impossible for them to reach now is one they intend on sprinting by.
“We obviously haven’t really done anything yet, and we’re looking for bigger things,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the only man who’d played in every season that didn’t reach this point.
“But I guess having a winning season and it not being a major story kind of shows how far we’ve come. It’s fun to be a part of. And it makes all the stuff in the past even more sweeter because we’ve all been through that stuff.”
“I think that’s huge for the city,” Detwiler said. “Obviously, we’re not done yet.”
But for the most part, the reaction to reaching this point was most often greeted with a shrug. Manager Davey Johnson hardly even offered that when asked if the number was significant. “I guess,” he said dryly. “I wasn’t really concerned about that.”
Instead, what he was concerned about was the nine innings that had played out before him and a Labor Day crowd of 23,215 on a hot, muggy afternoon.
He was concerned with watching his 26-year-old left-hander, a fifth starter in name only, take one more step toward the type of dominant pitcher he can be on a regular basis.
“Det was awesome,” Johnson said. “He’s been pretty awesome all year long, but today he was real special.”
Detwiler was never unhittable, and he put runners on in five of his seven innings. But he pounded Chicago’s hitters with his heavy sinker — 41 of the 78 fastballs he threw were sinkers — and complemented it with his off-speed and breaking pitches when he had to.
He was reliant on the fastball, but not exclusively committed to it, and he allowed his defense to work behind him.
“I think he kind of learned that a 94 mph fastball that moves everywhere is a really hard pitch to hit, and he should throw a lot more of those, and he has,” said Zimmerman, who helped turn an impressive double play on a curveball to end the seventh inning.
Zimmerman also delivered a key insurance run with an RBI double to left field in the eighth that scored Bryce Harper from first.
Detwiler was the embodiment of the potential the Nationals have seen in him for years, taking another step toward becoming someone they want to rely on as their season gets to the point that will make wins such as Monday’s a nice but insignificant milestone.
“I’m learning myself and what I need to do in different situations,” said Detwiler.
The results show it. Detwiler has put together a 3.00 ERA since returning to the rotation June 24 and a 2.79 mark since the All-Star break.
“I see a guy whose confidence is growing daily,” said first baseman Adam LaRoche, who hit his 25th home run of the season into the upper deck in right field in the second inning. “I think he’s turning into a big-game pitcher. … He’s doing it. He’s been doing it for us.”