Craig Heist, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - When spring training started in Viera back in February, Nationals manager Davey Johnson felt so good about his team he said, "If we don't win the division, they can fire me."
Well, Thursday night's 4-1 win over the Dodgers didn't win the NL East, but it assured the Nationals will be in the post-season for the first time since the team moved here from Montreal in 2005.
In fact, it's the first time the city of Washington D.C. has had a post season baseball team since 1933 and the first time this franchise has been to the post- season since 1981 as the Expos.
"Maybe this counts partial," Johnson said jokingly after the game. "I'm still in the hot seat but maybe I get some votes, just maybe."
There is no doubt Johnson gets the votes inside the Nationals clubhouse where almost every player gives the skipper credit for the Nats doing what they've done so far this season.
"There are a lot of people you can point fingers at around here that have a lot to do with changing of direction and everything that goes into that with the ballclub and the organization, but none may be bigger than Davey," said Nats outfielder Jayson Werth.
"When I got here last year this place was a mess. It was just upside down and we had a lot of work to do. At times it felt like we would never get to this moment but when Davey took over in the middle of the season and kind of did things his own way and went about business the way Davey goes about business, you could start to sense and see that the ship was turning around. I give him a lot of credit, I really do and I couldn't be happier and I'm really excited and I have to give a lot of thanks and praise to Davey," said Weth.
It's been 15 years since Johnson managed a postseason team. The Orioles came out of nowhere to win the Wild Card in 1996 and then the Birds went wire-to-wire the following year to win the AL East but both those teams fell short losing the ALCS both times.
Johnson hasn't changed too much as a manager since then; maybe a little more mellow with age but the philosophy has stayed the same.
Former Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina was part of those teams and said recently, "playing for Davey was interesting in that he had a veteran team at the time and he just kind of put us out on the field and said, ‘go get em' and I trust you guys will be prepared, I trust you know what you're doing.
"When you have a talented team that is experienced and knows what it takes to be prepared to play, stays healthy and goes out there and does what its asked to do, then you end up with seasons like that."
No question, Johnson has a talented team but it's a much different one than those Oriole playoff teams because there is a better blend of youth and veteran leadership with the Nationals.
"He did a great job," said Nats second baseman Danny Espinosa. "He let us be ourselves and I don't think he over-managed any of us. He never tried to control us and say you're this kind of player or that kind of player, he just allowed us to go out there and prepare the way we prepare and let us play good ball."
Johnson has dealt with a team that's had 19 different players go on the disabled list. He lost his 3-4 hitters, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse for an extended period of time. He lost Werth for three months and shortstop Ian Desmond for a month, yet he managed to plug in guys like Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi, Roger Bernadina, Chad Tracy and Mark DeRosa to fill the void.
"Less is what he brings to the table," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. "He just lets us play. He's in his office and he puts pretty much the same lineup out there every day, he goes with his guys, even when you're struggling, he's going to go with you and I think when everyone realizes that, that kind of helps everyone know their roles, too.
"He's a very straight forward, honest guy and you know, whether it's good or bad he's going to tell you and I think when you do it that way, people are going to respect you."