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Nationals win NL East, 1st team to clinch playoff spot

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POSTED September 10, 2017 10:01 p.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The shortest game of the season at Nationals Park turned into a lengthy afternoon for Washington. It was well worth it when the champagne corks started flying in the locker room.

Stephen Strasburg extended his scoreless streak to a franchise-record 34 innings, and the Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 on Sunday in a tidy 2 hours, 16 minutes. About 90 minutes later, Washington clinched its fourth NL East title in six seasons when the Braves beat the Marlins on an 11th-inning homer in Atlanta.

Several hundred fans remained in the stands to watch the Braves rally with three runs in the ninth, and fireworks erupted from the upper deck after Atlanta finished off Miami, making the Nationals the first team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot this year. Players poured out of the dugout wearing ski goggles, embraced their wives, girlfriends and children and flung hats and T-shirts into the crowd.

“This one was very, very gratifying. Even though it looked like we had a comfortable lead, it was still a struggle,” manager Dusty Baker said in the booze-soaked clubhouse. “A lot of our top guys were hurt.”

The Nationals also won the NL East in 2012, 2014 and last year, but they haven’t advanced past the divisional round of the postseason.

“It’s the most well-balanced team that we’ve had,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We’re very efficient offensively. We don’t strike out nearly as (much as) we did in ‘12, ‘14 and ‘16. We think that we have more ways to score. Our rotation is our rotation. It’s as good as it gets.”

Baker had the luxury of resting nearly all his regulars on Sunday, but one player who didn’t need a break was Strasburg, who was infamously shut down before the playoffs in 2012 in his first season after Tommy John surgery. Strasburg has just one career postseason start, a loss in 2014.

 


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