PHOENIX - Tonight's 2-0 Nationals win had some special significance to manager Davey Johnson as his managerial career comes towards its end.
It guaranteed that Johnson will finish with a lifetime record of at least 300 games over .500.
That stat took particular meaning for Johnson in recent days, as silly as it might sound to some, but his players were able to deliver for him here in Arizona, picking up back-to-back wins over the Diamondbacks to push Johnson to 302 games over .500 in his career with just one game remaining on the schedule.
"Yeah, I mean those guys are great," Johnson said. "I think they were feeling it as much as I was, and that was wonderful. The effort was outstanding and I can't even put words on it. Tomorrow I'm gonna play the young guys and some of the (veteran) guys, their seasons are finished. They battled hard, I really thanked them a lot for all the effort. And I know they're in a good place going forward. I feel good about it."
Jayson Werth will be the only true veteran starting tomorrow. I've posted tomorrow's lineup below. You'll notice it doesn't have Gio Gonzalez's name in there; Johnson has decided to scratch Gonzalez from tomorrow's start and go with Tanner Roark as his starter in the season finale.
So how did Johnson come to realize that the 300 games over .500 thing was within reach, and why does he care? He says he initially saw it in the game notes punched up by PR maven John Dever.
"I read it, and I was at 303 wins over losses," Johnson said. "I said, 'Well that'd be nice to have 300.' Not that I could hit .300, but it'd be nice to have that number. So that's why I was pushing them. I even told Desi (Ian Desmond) and a couple guys, 'I'd like to have 300 over the loss column.' So they were all grinding. They didn't do too good of a job in St. Louis, but they did great in Arizona."
After the game, Nats players gave Johnson a round of applause and presented him with a bottle of wine, and Johnson offered a few words of thanks to everyone for playing hard down the stretch for him.
The game did more than just secure Johnson's personal milestone, of course. It got Dan Haren his 10th win of the season after the veteran right-hander worked seven scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and a walk. And it also allowed Chad Tracy to boost his average to .202 with a 2-for-3 day that included a solo homer in the seventh inning.
"Haren pitched an unbelievable ballgame," Johnson said. "I mean, he's done that quite a bit this second half. And Tracy, it was important for Tracy coming in here. I wanted to get him a start, and he got over the Mendoza line. That was big. Big home run. Actually should've had three hits or something. Hit the ball hard all night. Played a great first base. It was a fun way to reach a little goal that I had in the back of my mind."
Haren gets to finish a tough season on a positive note, and it continues a recent strong stretch for him. He'll finish the season having put up a 3.29 ERA in his final 15 starts.
"Oh it was great," Johnson said. "For him to get 10 wins after all he's been through and the arm issues and the struggles and pitch a magnificent ballgame. ... No question, he's still got it. I love his demeanor, I love his professionalism. He knows what he wants to do and he goes out and does it. He makes very few mistakes when he's right. And he's fun to watch."
If Johnson was a talent evaluator for a team this offseason, would he be interested in signing Haren, who will be a free agent?
"I mean, he's a big-game pitcher," Johnson said. "I still think there's a lot left in the tank. I think there's no question pitching's hard to come by, and I'm sure he'll get somewhere. Maybe even here, who knows?"
The Nats got a scoreless eighth from Drew Storen, who has been tremendous since returning from Triple-A Syracuse, and Rafael Soriano closed things out despite a very shaky ninth that saw him put two runners on and push the potential tying run into scoring position.
Johnson has just one game remaining as Nats manager, and he might have some emotions bubble to the surface tomorrow, but he was all smiles after today's win.
"I'm cooked," he said with a laugh. "It's such a great group of guys, and they battled so hard. They were feeling for me, too. Soriano had to make it hard on me, but the outcome was great."
Tomorrow's Nats lineup:
LF Jeff Kobernus
3B Anthony Rendon
RF Jayson Werth
1B Tyler Moore
SS Zach Walters
2B Steve Lombardozzi
C Jhonatan Solano
CF Eury Perez
RHP Tanner Roark