WASHINGTON — Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel decided it was time to let his real feelings out.
Yes, he was upset that he had to watch another team, the Washington Nationals, clinch the National League East title Monday night.
He also was not pleased about the way his team’s season went.
“I’ve been mad for three or four weeks; hadn’t really been coming out. We’ve got to regroup and we’ve got to play much better. We’ve got to play smarter. We’ve got to know the game better,” Manuel said. “And we’ve got to play better defense, have more knowledge of the game, what to do.”
His Phillies beat the Nationals 2-0 on Monday night. But that meant very little. The Phillies already were eliminated from playoff contention, while Washington earned a division title because second-place Atlanta lost to Pittsburgh 2-1.
Thanks to strong pitching from Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper’s burst of energy and Adam LaRoche’s slugging, the Nationals won enough from April through September that even a loss on the first day of October could not stop them from celebrating.
Washington, in first since May 22, leads Atlanta by three games with two to play in the regular season. The Braves’ loss finished as the top of the ninth inning ended in Washington, and the Nationals congratulated each other in their dugout with hugs, high-fives and spiked gloves. The celebration then moved into the clubhouse, before spilling out onto the field.
Asked if it was odd that his team won the game but Washington was the club that was really excited, Manuel replied: “That’s the beauty of the game, I guess.”
When Michael Morse led off the bottom of the ninth, the PA announcer informed the crowd that the home team was the champion, and when the game ended red fireworks lit the night sky with the Capitol building off in the distance beyond left field. The scoreboard declared “NL East Division Champions.”
“They’ve had a good season,” Manuel said. “They broke out early and got on top early and played solid baseball all year long.”
Well, except lately, perhaps.
The Nationals have lost three of four, and they were kept in check Monday by right-hander Kyle Kendrick (11-12), who threw seven scoreless innings and allowed only four hits. Kendrick was masterful for stretches — he got 12 of 13 outs on grounders during one span.
Washington’s starter was John Lannan (4-1), who was brought up from triple-A Syracuse to join the rotation after Strasburg was shut down early, a year after returning from reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.
In the fifth, Kendrick was charged with an error for a bad pickoff attempt that bounced behind the bag at first base, allowing Kurt Suzuki to scramble all the way to third with Jayson Werth up. But a called strike three drew boos from the stands and led Werth to chuck his bat and helmet.
In the sixth, Harper led off with a double to the warning track in deep center, clapping his hands vigorously while standing on the base. He took third on a popup to shallow right, barely beating the throw, then slapping palms with third base coach Bo Porter (who’s already been announced as the new manager of the Houston Astros).
Cleanup hitter LaRoche, who leads the Nationals with 32 homers and 99 RBIs, popped out on the first pitch of his at-bat. That left it to Morse — he of the fake-swing grand slam the other night — but he struck out.
The Nationals had two runners on with one out in the eighth against reliever Justin De Fratus, but center fielder John Mayberry Jr. raced in to make a diving catch of Ryan Zimmerman’s sinking liner. Left-hander Jeremy Horst then entered to face LaRoche, who struck out.
But for the Nationals, it turned out not to matter.
“Obviously they’ve had a good year,” Kendrick said, “but it was nice to end the season like that for me.”
Notes: Manuel said that reliever B.J. Rosenberg (1-2) will start for the Phillies today. ... Nationals reliever Craig Stammen struck out all six batters he faced in the sixth and seventh. ... SS Jimmy Rollins was out of Philadelphia’s starting lineup because of an injured right calf. He only had missed three games in 2012 before Monday. Rollins is hitting .250 with 23 homers, 68 RBIs and 30 steals in 2012.