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Nationals capture one of most significant division titles in baseball history

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

Eight years ago, a motley crew of Nationals brought baseball back to the District of Columbia.

Monday evening, an unforgettable band of Nationals brought scoreboard watching back to D.C.

Crown the Nationals, and call it one of the most significant titles in baseball history. The moment came at 9:45 EDT, with closer Drew Storen on the mound. But it came in the most unexpected of ways, via Pittsburgh: Washington won it when the Braves' Brian McCann tapped back to the pitcher, sealing an Atlanta loss and a monumental D.C. celebration.

Next thing you knew, manager Davey Johnson was standing on the dugout steps blowing kisses.

Third baseman and franchise building block Ryan Zimmerman was hutting hitting coach Rick Eckstein inside the dugout.

A Lincoln Memorial-sized grin escaped from somewhere behind Jayson Werth's beard.

Anyone care to question either Werth or the Nationals for that $126 million deal now?

As the bright red fireworks exploded beyond the stadium walls, the Nationals made their way inside to tug on their "NL East Champion" T-shirts, splash champagne and, we can only assume, secure their place inside the Smithsonian.

When the last postseason baseball game was played in D.C., it was October, 1933, and Albert Einstein was just arriving in the United States and taking a job at Princeton University after fleeing Nazi Germany as a refugee. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president.

This is the first time in 44 years in Montreal or Washington, D.C., that this franchise has won a division title, the 1994 strike season -- when the Expos were in first when the season was cut short in August -- notwithstanding.

These Nationals gave us Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, and the return of manager Davey Johnson.

Significant? This is the sixth team Johnson will take into the postseason as manager, following the Mets (1986, 1988), Reds (1995) and Orioles (1996, 1997), and do you know what?

"This one's bigger than any of them," Johnson said on Nationals television when it was over. "Because I grew up over here, they haven't had it here and they all deserve it."

They deserve it 96 wins' worth. At 96-64, the Nats not only set a franchise record for wins, they're locked in a battle with the Reds for the best record in major league baseball.

They have either led the NL East or owned a piece of first place for 163 of the season's 173 days, second only to the Rangers (170 days).

"There's not a bad one in the bunch," principal owner Mark Lerner said amid the champagne. "Great mixture of youth and veterans, and the mentoring that goes on. ...

"And the beauty of it is, we've got most of them for a long time to come."

The beauty of is also is, even after they shut Strasburg down for the season, is there anybody out there who would dare bet against these guys?

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